Courtesy Reuters

The Man in the American Mask

To see ourselves as others see us is a rare and valuable gift, without a doubt. But in international relations what is still rarer and far more useful is to see others as they see themselves. The two talents, the double giftie, would, if generalized, abort many preconceptions that delay or obstruct agreement, and would also reduce that sterile indignation on which the newspaper-nurtured peoples feed. It is indeed extraordinary how little the power to spread news and opinion around the globe in a few seconds affects the judgments that one nation passes on another which is accessible and "well-known." Travel itself, which is now so frequent as to seem a childish indulgence without excuse, leaves the casual and the trained observers equally at fault. Everybody responds as if involved in a social encounter. Thus de Gaulle remains puzzling or is deemed perverse because his foreign critics do not see the French as they happen to see themselves today-rehashing the causes of defeat and loss of empire and needing to stiffen their morale with an exacting ideal of greatness in a period of relaxing prosperity. Again, the American experts visiting Britain in hopes of aiding the increase of her industrial output do not see that the resistance to modernizing springs from the intuition that the new methods must destroy the quiet restraint and wordless adjustment between persons and classes which the English know to be their strength as a people.

Foreign views of the United States are just as blind, and in their dull repetition we detect also the universal reasons for preferring not to understand, the domestic motive for self-blinding. It may be the need to feel superior, to fight a local fight, to froth at the mouth. Consider the jubilant parodies of our desegregation efforts, or the reception of the Warren Commission's report on the assassination of President Kennedy. As all foreigners know, violence is an American monopoly, and conspiracy is a congenial idea that explains all; in Europe

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