Mar 2007

A World Without America

I was over at Chicken Yoghurt just now (reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated I’m happy to say) and discovered, via this post, one of the strangest videos ever to grace YouTube… A World Without America. I had to watch it a second time to confirm that the first hadn’t been an acid flashback. It’s so absurd in fact, that I’m at something of a loss as to how to interpret it. As a pro-American statement it fails so miserably as to come across as a badly-executed self-parody. But as a satirical look at political propaganda in general, it commits the cardinal error of being literally unbelievable. We already live in a world where energy companies talk about tackling climate change by increasing fossil fuel use (honestly!). So it takes an especially bad writer to produce satire so over-the-top as to seem silly rather than scathing.

Employing the device of short fictional news reports, the video presents a quick glimpse at an alternative recent history of… wait for it… a world without America. Literally. The world map has an extra ocean where the USA should be. It’s clearly aimed at two audiences. Firstly (though perhaps incidentally) it’s aimed that those of us who would describe ourselves politically as anti-American, and who — by virtue of our opposition to what we see as an aggressive foreign policy carried out by an extremist administration with only tenuous legitimacy — clearly want nothing more than to wipe an entire nation completely off the map, and live in a world where all the little children have polio (seriously… watch the video). Secondly and most importantly, it’s aimed at those who support America’s self-selected role in the modern world but who maybe get a little concerned that all this talk of A Perpetual State of War sounds a wee bit dodgy. It does this by assuring them that if it wasn’t for America (and by implication, America as it presently exists) then we’d all be commies, either living in perpetual fear of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons, or dying of polio.

After the news reports, the video continues by flashing up a list of — what I can only suppose are — America’s greatest achievements. I was bemused to see “The liberation of the Falklands” listed along with “the bra”, “Elvis Presley”, “the motor-car”, “a democratic Nicaragua” (no, really) and “31% of global wealth”.

That last one is perhaps the most revealing of all. It tells you a lot about a person or organistion if they actively celebrate the expropriation of almost a third of global resources by less than 5% of the global population. A World Without America is a video celebrating, amongst other things, greed.

This should surprise nobody however, as A World Without America is produced by 18 Doughty Street… the online propaganda unit of the British Conservative Party. That’s not how they pitch themselves it goes without saying. Indeed, if it wasn’t for some recent intra-blog warfare, the fact that 18 Doughty Street is edited and financed by people with close ties to the Tory Party (including a prospective London mayoral candidate) wouldn’t be common knowledge.

Basically… and at the risk of blogging about blogging, 18 Doughty Street did an exposé on a NuLabor think tank which was using a legal loophole to register itself as a charity and get all manner of interesting tax benefits. Legal, but pretty damn unethical I think you’ll agree. Chalk one up to 18 Doughty Street, right? Well, no. It turns out that the person responsible for the video — a Mr. Iain Dale — was himself involved with a tory think tank. Guess what? Uh-huh… they use the same legal loophole. If all of that seems a bit vague, it’s because this all happened during my recent 2-month break from blogging and I can’t be arsed to go back and read every single post on the issue (there are many).

Anyways, the details are irrelevant. The relevant point here is that 18 Doughty Street is Tory public relations. Luckily for the rest of us, it’s run by a bunch of not-very bright people who seem to know even less about P.R. (no budding Edward Bernays is didactic doughty Dale) than they do about politics. And that’s not (just) me being insulting, it’s by their own admission. Well, the bit about not knowing much about politics. In a recent email, Iain Dale claimed not to know what the word “nihilism” meant. This is despite using the word himself in a prior broadcast. Now, I don’t know about you dear reader, but if you run a serious website under the tagline “Politics For Adults”, I’d like to think you have a rudimentary grasp of political theory. Perhaps I expect too much.

But back to A World Without America. It’s shoddy and it’s insulting and it’s as far from “Politics for Adults” as it is possible to get. I have no doubt that you could find a handful of people who describe themselves as anti-American and who genuinely seek a world without America. The trouble is; those people are lunatics. Serious people who consider themselves anti-American have a view that’s a little more nuanced than that. And if 18 Doughty Street wants to engage in politics for adults, then I suggest they put their money where their mouth is and address the anti-Americanism of rational adults, and not that of the lunatics.

I love America. I adore New York and wish I could visit my American cousins more often. And that’s literal cousins by the way. Like many Irish families, we spread a bit further west than Galway. I lived for a year in Chicago. And as for listing the praiseworthy achievements of Americans… believe me, I could go on for a lot longer than 18 Doughty Street’s strange little list. Though admittedly Elvis would be on mine too.

But in political terms, I describe myself as anti-American. I oppose the self-selected role America plays in the world. If it wants to play global policeman, then I have news for it… everyone in the world has to vote in US elections. Otherwise it’s a global tyrant. You can’t have it both ways. The people of Iraq did not elect George Bush. They had no representation in the political forces that decided to reshape their nation four years ago. That’s textbook totalitarianism.

And I oppose totalitarianism. I’m not claiming that the actions of despots can never have positive consequences (though in the case of Iraq, I would suggest that they have not). But I am suggesting that — excepting in clear cases of self-defence (anyone who tries to claim that the invasion of Iraq was self-defence should not expect a polite response from this writer) — the use of military force should be illegal, and should be considered a crime against humanity. I believe that militarism inevitably leads to despotism. And that to celebrate the role played by America in the modern world is to celebrate despotism and greed. Philosophically speaking, that’s halfway down the road to geniune nihilism, Iain.

It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
– Albert Einstein

Mine too Albert.

Questions to 18 Doughty Street (re: A World Without America)

  1. Why is Stalin still alive six years after his death by natural causes? Do you know something about America’s role in his death that the rest of us don’t? Or are you just really bad at history (and googling)?
  2. You suggest that the world would never have developed a polio vaccine outside America. But you also suggest that the world would be held to ransom by foreign dictators with nuclear weapons. Who developed the nukes if not America? And might they not also have been capable of developing a polio vaccine?
  3. Why would Thatcher be meeting with the Austrian president if Austria was merely a Soviet republic?
  4. Why would Saddam Hussein be in power in 1999 when it’s well-established that his regime was propped up by… wait for it… America, throughout the 1980s? Wouldn’t a world without America be — by default — a world without Saddam Hussein? Do I need to dig out that photo of Rumsfeld getting all chummy with Hussein to illustrate the point?
  5. Finally; wouldn’t a world without America be a world without the world’s largest arms manufacturer and dealer? Wouldn’t that be a safer world? Or does 18 Doughty Street see no connection between guns and people being shot by guns?

Posted in: Opinion