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What’s up with Edmund Morris? With a new volume on Teddy Roosevelt, I was all ready to forgive the man for botching one of the greatest opportunities of all time, the official Reagan biography. The last two days he has made some of the blogs for having caused CBS to bleep out part of a quote from Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny. As it happens, I agree with him on the larger point he was making, about how you can’t just pluck someone out from history and declare what they would have made of some event today.
However what caught my ear was what he said later, about Americans. Again, there’s a germ of truth here, in that we can be complacent about the competition from people in other countries. I don’t know, though. The way he says it here — “I’m aware of the– the fact that people elsewhere in the world think differently from us. I can sort of see us, us Americans with their eyes. And not all that I see is– is attractive. I see an insular people who are– are insensitive to foreign sensibilities, who are lazy, obese, complacent and increasingly perplexed as to why we are losing our place in the world to people who are more dynamic than us and more disciplined” — just seems snotty. (Full Transcript here)
I’m sure the 19-year-old Marine from Ohio who was sent to Anbar as part of the surge likely didn’t know much about Iraqi history, or the difference between Sunnis or Shias. Come to think of it, how much did those GIs who landed at Normandy or the Marines who took Iwo Jima know about other cultures? Curious what others think. As someone who has lived a good chunk of his life abroad, I wonder if we might flip the question: How many foreigners really understand America, i.e., are able to look past MTV and Disney World to appreciate the virtues of a free and vibrant American society? When I was in Hong Kong, the Sinophiles constantly lamented how we didn’t understand China. Never really read about China’s almost complete lack of understanding of us.