I loathe America, and what it has done to the rest of the world
By Margaret Drabble
(Filed: 08/05/2003)

I knew that the wave of anti-Americanism that would swell up after the
Iraq war would make me feel ill. And it has. It has made me much, much
more ill than I had expected.

My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed
me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that
fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what
it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world.

I can hardly bear to see the faces of Bush and Rumsfeld, or to watch
their posturing body language, or to hear their self-satisfied and
incoherent platitudes. The liberal press here has done its best to make
them appear ridiculous, but these two men are not funny.

I was tipped into uncontainable rage by a report on Channel 4 News about
"friendly fire", which included footage of what must have been one of
the most horrific bombardments ever filmed. But what struck home hardest
was the subsequent image, of a row of American warplanes, with grinning
cartoon faces painted on their noses. Cartoon faces, with big sharp

It is grotesque. It is hideous. This great and powerful nation bombs
foreign cities and the people in those cities from Disneyland cartoon
planes out of comic strips. This is simply not possible. And yet, there
they were.

Others have written eloquently about the euphemistic and affectionate
names that the Americans give to their weapons of mass destruction: Big
Boy, Little Boy, Daisy Cutter, and so forth.

We are accustomed to these sobriquets; to phrases such as "collateral
damage" and "friendly fire" and "pre-emptive strikes". We have almost
ceased to notice when suicide bombers are described as "cowards". The
abuse of language is part of warfare. Long ago, Voltaire told us that we
invent words to conceal truths. More recently, Orwell pointed out to us
the dangers of Newspeak.

But there was something about those playfully grinning warplane faces
that went beyond deception and distortion into the land of madness. A
nation that can allow those faces to be painted as an image on its
national aeroplanes has regressed into unimaginable irresponsibility. A
nation that can paint those faces on death machines must be insane.

There, I have said it. I have tried to control my anti-Americanism,
remembering the many Americans that I know and respect, but I can't keep
it down any longer. I detest Disneyfication, I detest Coca-Cola, I
detest burgers, I detest sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that
tell lies about history.

I detest American imperialism, American infantilism, and American
triumphalism about victories it didn't even win.

On April 29, 2000, I switched on CNN in my hotel room and, by chance,
saw an item designed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the end of the
Vietnam war. The camera showed us a street scene in which a shabby
elderly Vietnamese man was seen speaking English and bartering in
dollars in a city that I took to be Ho Chi Minh City, still familiarly
known in America by its old French colonial name of Saigon.

"The language of Shakespeare," the commentator intoned, "has conquered
Vietnam." I did not note down the dialogue, though I can vouch for that
sentence about the language of Shakespeare. But the word "dollar" was
certainly repeated several times, and the implications of what the
camera showed were clear enough.

The elderly Vietnamese man was impoverished, and he wanted hard
currency. The Vietnamese had won the war, but had lost the peace.

Just leave Shakespeare and Shakespeare's homeland out of this squalid
bit of revisionism, I thought at the time. Little did I then think that
now, three years on, Shakespeare's country would have been dragged by
our leader into this illegal, unjustifiable, aggressive war. We are all
contaminated by it. Not in my name, I want to keep repeating, though I
don't suppose anybody will listen.

America uses the word "democracy" as its battle cry, and its nervous
soldiers gun down Iraqi civilians when they try to hold street
demonstrations to protest against the invasion of their country. So much
for democracy. (At least the British Army is better trained.)

America is one of the few countries in the world that executes minors.
Well, it doesn't really execute them - it just keeps them in jail for
years and years until they are old enough to execute, and then it
executes them. It administers drugs to mentally disturbed prisoners on
Death Row until they are back in their right mind, and then it executes
them, too.

They call this justice and the rule of law. America is holding more than
600 people in detention in Guantanamo Bay, indefinitely, and it may well
hold them there for ever. Guantanamo Bay has become the Bastille of
America. They call this serving the cause of democracy and freedom.

I keep writing to Jack Straw about the so-called "illegal combatants",
including minors, who are detained there without charge or trial or
access to lawyers, and I shall go on writing to him and his successors
until something happens. This one-way correspondence may last my
lifetime. I suppose the minors won't be minors for long, although the
youngest of them is only 13, so in time I shall have to drop that part
of my objection, but I shall continue to protest.

A great democratic nation cannot behave in this manner. But it does. I
keep remembering those words from Nineteen Eighty-Four, on the dynamics
of history at the end of history, when O'Brien tells Winston: "Always
there will be the intoxication of power. Always, at every moment, there
will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy
who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot
stamping on a human face - for ever."

We have seen enough boots in the past few months to last us a lifetime.
Iraqi boots, American boots, British boots. Enough of boots.

I hate feeling this hatred. I have to keep reminding myself that if Bush
hadn't been (so narrowly) elected, we wouldn't be here, and none of this
would have happened. There is another America. Long live the other
America, and may this one pass away soon.