"Just remember, inside every zip there’s an American trying to get out." The crazy cavalry colonel spoke this line on the beach in "Apocalypse Now. A marine DI said much the same thing in "Full Metal Jacket." The attitude was so sadly typical of our entrance on the scene in Vietnam. Maybe one was quoting the other… In any event, I used to joke about this attitude. I no longer think it is funny. In the last year or so I have wandered the country a lot giving talks to college and other audiences. In doing that it has become more and more clear that many, if not most Americans still, (not the right word) as always (better) have a deeply embedded reflexive belief that mankind is evolving socially toward a unified world culture and that this culture is the culture of the West, more specifically of Anglo North America.
After a recent talk at a small college, a faculty member in the business sciences asked me if I had really meant to say that the Iraqis and other Middle Easterners did not want to be "us." When assured that I had meant it, he said that this was most disturbing and that the thought had not occurred to him before. He continued that such a notion was threatening because, if believed, it would require a re-appraisal of the worth of Western culture. He said that he had always assumed that people who lived in significantly different ways did so either from ignorance or because the structure of their societies functioned to hold them in subservience to a primitive way of life. He said that if that were not true and in fact most non-Western people wanted a better life in material terms without adopting the values of the West, then much of his life had been lived in error. "I think of all the foreign students whom I assumed were just waiting for enlightenment."
I asked him, "why can’t you just accept the idea that there are many authentic and legitimate ways of life and forms of governance, and that what is good for us is not necessarily wanted by others?" I hope he is still wrestling with the issue. pl