edit: As I was writing this article, the tragedy at the Wisconsin Sikh temple struck. My thoughts are with the families of everyone involved.
Watching the Olympics got the wheels in my head turning. Not about doping, or if the U.S. will win the most gold medals. Not even the absurdity of having NBA players taking the court under the U.S. banner. Naw. I’m more interested in the fact that our Olympic delegation accomplished the impossible. They were able to bring two polar opposites into my little world–the middle. John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, along with other key Republican and Democrat leaders united to chastise the decision to dress our Olympians in Ralph Lauren designed, Chinese-made uniforms.
A recent article in The Diplomat written by Minxin Pei explores whether or not it is sound political policy to attack the Chinese as America’s new boogeyman at this time.
These American politicians may think bashing China during hard times in the U.S. before an election is good political strategy. By showing America’s unemployed workers that they feel their pain, they could get their votes in November. In reality, however, the same politicians must know that blaming China for America’s economic woes will not alleviate the suffering of ordinary Americans.
Such gratuitous China-bashing is, needless to say, hypocritical. The loss of blue-collar workers in general, and workers in the textile industry in particular, is caused primarily by technological progress and market forces, and not by China. Even if Team USA’s uniforms were not made in China, they would be made in Vietnam, Indonesia, or India, but not in North Carolina.
If China isn’t our current boogeyman, who is then? Terrorists? With the death of Bin Laden, Al Qaeda has been crippled. Iran? North Korea? Right now, it would appear this administration would prefer to have international organizations handle them rather than assert global hegemony. Our boogeymen are reactionary to U.S. behavior. Iran and North Korea may posture and showboat, but as our new threats they have a way to go.
For America’s next boogeyman, we need only look as far as ourselves.
America has certainly had its share of boogeymen in the past. Some more hostile than others; some external and some homegrown. We’ve had some important trends that we can certainly glean information from with regard to how the U.S. cultivates its enemies. In order to better understand our real and perceived threats I have created three categories, three groups that define the ways that the world perceives America and its special interests.
The first group is obvious to anyone living today: The Reactionaries. This group consists of a wide swath of people who have been pushed to their limits of tolerance toward the United States, and include the modern-day Jihadist, but also include various Native American tribes and smaller nations like the Philippines and Mexico.
The second group comprises nation-states. The Hegemons are world powers that sought to challenge the United States in global dominance, or attempted to create their own new world orders. Communism, Nazi Germany, and Britain all fall into this category.
The final group is the most frightening of them all. The Nativists.This group could alternately be called the McVieghs, the Browns, or the Klan. The boogeymen in the Nativist grouping all have one thing in common: A firm belief that their view of America, and, more importantly, themselves as true Americans, is the purest definition. They envision slights by the Federal or state government toward their view of America. They find fault in the democratic-capitalism system and seek to amend it. On the whole, this group is born and bred in the United States. They could be your neighbor. They live under the protections of Bill of Rights. And, they are our next boogeyman.
Unlike U.S. foreign policy which has had nice ebbs and flows from isolation, to imperialism, to collective security, the exploration of America’s boogeyman is harder to plot on a timeline. There have been periods where the United States has had to deal with more than one (1840-1877 for instance), and there have been quiet lulls. Since our fear-mongering isn’t a cyclical event, we need to look instead at the origins and causes of these various groups.
In simple, broad terms, the Reactionaries are pushing back at an implied or direct threat from the United States. From there, the groups become as diverse as the fabric of America itself.
Our first group of Reactionaries were the people here first, the Native American nations. As colonial migration pressed westward, the tribes felt it necessary to defend their natural homelands. As early as 1622 in Virginia, white settlers feared that which lurked in the woods just beyond the ramparts of their villages. The Native American boogeyman would slip in and out of the collective American consciousness until the Battle at Wounded Knee in 1890 with the last uprising of the Native Americans. Our next set of Reactionaries follow on the heels of ending of the Indian “troubles.” As America finished its Manifest Destiny across the continent, a world beyond the seas awaited us. Driven by what Rudyard Kipling called “the white man’s burden” Americans entered into a brief period of intense imperialism. Pushing back against our interjections of Judeo-Christian beliefs and capitalism/democracy were the Hawaiians, Filipinos, and Mexicans to name a few. Groups like Al Qaeda comprise yet another Reactionary specter. Since the creation of Israel and expansion of western ideals into the Middle East, various incarnations of Islamic terrorists have darkened our thoughts. (Yet, it must not be forgotten that the United States has had a long history of poor relations with Middle Eastern nations harkening back to Thomas Jefferson’s administration and his handling of the Barbary Coast).
It cannot be forgotten that America was born through terrorism. As a part of the British Empire, our Founding Fathers knew that they were committing high crimes and treason against the crown. From the viewpoint of the British, the Boston Tea Party could be seen as a terrorist act. Beyond the Revolution, our relationship with Britain was a tenuous one throughout our early history, and earned the British the right to be considered our first hegemonic monster. Germany will take the honor from Britain in both World Wars, and Americans will rally to thwart the Huns in their quest for world domination. However, it isn’t until the fall of Europe in 1945 that the U.S. peers deep into the dark closet to find yet a more frightening creature–Communism. There can be little doubt that the former Soviet Union shook America to its core. All aspects of American life changed because of the red menace. Hollywood came under fire in the 1950s; Dominos were sure to fall in Asia. More wars were fought to stem the perceived encroachment of communist ideologies than all wars America engaged in prior. With the collapse of the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, the United States has been adrift. We needed someone to threaten us. We needed a reason to maintain the military industrial complex. Threats keep people in jobs, kept the economy stimulated. And now, our politicians are looking to shift the red spectrum onto China. This is short-sided at best.
Tomorrow, I will conclude with the final group–The Nativists, a case study of homegrown horror, and my conclusions.
- Why Making China ‘The Boogeyman’ Won’t Work (thediplomat.com)