America from the Outside

America from the Outside Ken and Betty Frank - Turkey "The Republic [of the United States] is a 200-year-old political and social experiment that has either failed or succeeded. In either case it is worth spending intellectual energy on, not least because the USA today is like the rhinoceros in the bathtub: you can't ignore it. Love it or hate it, it is useful to try to understand it." Greetings from Istanbul, Turkey! A university here in Istanbul has a department of American studies. Curious as to why a Turkish university would study American culture, we read the following in the catalog statement: The Republic [of the United States] is a 200-year-old political and social experiment that has either failed or succeeded. In either case it is worth spending intellectual energy on, not least because the USA today is like the rhinoceros in the bathtub: you can't ignore it. Love it or hate it, it is useful to try to understand it. As Americans, it's disconcerting to think of our country as an "experiment" that may have failed. We tell ourselves that we're the best country in the world. We give as evidence the supposed fact that most people in the world are trying to come to America. We also call ourselves the world's only superpower, the richest nation, the country with the natural right to develop and maintain the most powerful weapons, and thus to pressure all other countries to bend to our will and give us access to their resources. According to this way of thinking, America is astoundingly successful. It has also superbly attained the goal for which it was founded: freedom and democracy for all citizens, so that each individual can pursue a tailor-made happiness. It is thought that all people in the world envy Americans and, if you scratch their surface, you'll find that they naturally behave like Americans, or want to be like Americans. We find this to be a common view from within America, looking outward. And of course, it's a narrowly American ideological view. But if you want to look at the situation objectively, then you've got to factor in several alternative perspectives. For instance, among Christians of the world there are standards for judging nations. One of them is justice and fairness. The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr held that societies and nations cannot be expected to live up to the same moral expectations as for individuals. Yet a nation should strive at a minimum to act justly to all of its citizens. How do Christians of the world

 

"The Republic [of the United States] is a 200-year-old political and social experiment that has either failed or succeeded. In either case it is worth spending intellectual energy on, not least because the USA today is like the rhinoceros in the bathtub: you can't ignore it. Love it or hate it, it is useful to try to understand it."

ImageGreetings from Istanbul, Turkey!

A university here in Istanbul has a department of American studies. Curious as to why a Turkish university would study American culture, we read the following in the catalog statement:

The Republic [of the United States] is a 200-year-old political and social experiment that has either failed or succeeded. In either case it is worth spending intellectual energy on, not least because the USA today is like the rhinoceros in the bathtub: you can't ignore it. Love it or hate it, it is useful to try to understand it.

As Americans, it's disconcerting to think of our country as an "experiment" that may have failed. We tell ourselves that we're the best country in the world. We give as evidence the supposed fact that most people in the world are trying to come to America. We also call ourselves the world's only superpower, the richest nation, the country with the natural right to develop and maintain the most powerful weapons, and thus to pressure all other countries to bend to our will and give us access to their resources. According to this way of thinking, America is astoundingly successful. It has also superbly attained the goal for which it was founded: freedom and democracy for all citizens, so that each individual can pursue a tailor-made happiness. It is thought that all people in the world envy Americans and, if you scratch their surface, you'll find that they naturally behave like Americans, or want to be like Americans.

We find this to be a common view from within America, looking outward. And of course, it's a narrowly American ideological view.

But if you want to look at the situation objectively, then you've got to factor in several alternative perspectives. For instance, among Christians of the world there are standards for judging nations. One of them is justice and fairness. The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr held that societies and nations cannot be expected to live up to the same moral expectations as for individuals. Yet a nation should strive at a minimum to act justly to all of its citizens. How do Christians of the world judge the United States on this standard? What has America accomplished in the last 200 years according to this yardstick? Has the experiment succeeded or failed?

The world's Christians, including American Christians, can also discuss whether America has acted justly and fairly toward its neighbors. What do the neighbors say? Which countries testify that in their lifetimes they have been on the receiving end of American good will, and which on the receiving end of American hostility?

There are still other perspectives for judging the American experiment-perspectives of various religious worldviews, and various socio-economic worldviews. A large variety of groups in the world are in the business of judging America. As the Turkish university wrote, you can't ignore it.

Here in Turkey people realize they have to protect themselves from America. Turkey doesn't want to be trampled underfoot. It wouldn't do to antagonize America needlessly, but that doesn't stop Turks from making their own judgments about the experiment called America. Today those judgments are highly negative because of current US policies toward Turkey's neighbors: Iran, Iraq, and Syria. These policies are perceived as warlike, intolerant of Muslims, and hypocritical. The US declares "war" on terrorism but silently tolerates Kurdish terrorist activities against Turkey. Turks are trying to figure out what America is up to in the Middle East.

A graduate of one of our schools in Turkey put the matter like this. He was responding to accusations that his education in English, being taught by Americans, alienated him from his native Turkish culture and made him less Turkish. "It's not true that I'm more American," he said. "But what is true is that I have learned how Americans think."

The so-called American experiment is ongoing, and the final judgment about success or failure is not in. As Reinhold Niebuhr also noted, "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope."

Peace,
Ken & Betty Frank

Ken & Betty Frank serve as missionaries with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey.  They share the job of General Secretary of the American Board.  They also serve on the board of the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP).