Monday, December 01, 2008

In Defense of America

In Defense of America is Bronwen Maddox’s rather provocative comparison of the criticisms leveled at the United States over the last eight years to the realities of the situation as she sees them from her seat in the U.K. The book is a provocative one primarily because of its Eurocentric point-of-view, a viewpoint that accepts most of the usual criticisms as valid ones and quarrels with them only as to matter of degree.

Maddox does, very early in the book, make a key point about all the criticism directed at the U.S.: it is simply not fair. As she puts it, “The accusations take the best of the United States for granted while exaggerating the worst, and ignore the complexity forced on America by its size and its constitution.” She also makes the very valid point that Europe is setting itself up for a major disappointment if it expects to see major changes in policy under an Obama administration. Maddox, in fact, sees much of the criticism directed at the U.S. to be the inevitable offshoot of its status as the world’s only remaining superpower and believes that the high tension level between the U.S. and the rest of the world would have occurred even without George W. Bush in the White House.

Maddox outlines a three-point defense for the United States: the success that the country has had in peacefully assimilating such diverse peoples peacefully under one government, how the rest of the world has benefitted from America’s development of competitive capitalism, and the fact that American foreign policy is generally a defense of the values most dearly shared by Europe and America. She, however, does not offer much in defense of the U.S. approach to the “war on terror” that was implemented after 9-11 or its supposed lack of cooperation in fighting global warming.

One explanation offered by Maddox for the increase in European criticism of America is likely to irritate those critics themselves, particularly because of the way it was put by Tony Blair. Blair attributes much of the criticism to “jealousy about America’s position, worry about American culture dominating European culture. Also, partly, America is the world superpower. Anyone who is preeminent always takes a bit of flak.”

But as long as there are major differences between European and American thinking on topics such as the death penalty, abortion rights, the importance of religion and the way the war on terror is fought, European criticism will remain at a high and strident level. And none of the differences on those issue are likely to be resolved soon regardless of what the new U.S. administration has in mind.

In Defense of America reaches the conclusion that America’s critics best be careful what they wish for: a U.S. government more like those of Europe. Maddox argues that the U.S. has been a force for good, influencing “many of the dramatic changes for the better in the world of the last two decades alone.” She reminds those critics that seem to be so delighted with the problems faced by America today that they still largely depend on the U.S. for their own “prosperity and security.” Perhaps she should also remind them that having so much in common with the world’s only superpower is a good thing.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. This sounds interesting. Thanks for the review.

  2. Of course the bigger question is, "Why should we care what non-Americans think about our country?" I'd like to see a European write that book.

  3. It is interesting, Amy - and I think a pretty good summary of the childish motivation behind much of the criticism aimed at the U.S. IMO, the tainted nature of some of the criticism leaves legitimate criticism with a much weaker case and argument.

  4. Factotum, that question is mentioned in the book as one that pretty much infuriates our critics. :-)

  5. If you'd like to know why there is so much criticism of the U.S. government's policies NOT the United States itself (yes, there is a difference), I highly recommend reading anything by Chalmers Johnson.

  6. Frankly, Jill, I think this man is wrong. I don't know the origin of his agenda but I see him as somewhat of a fool.