« End Game in Beirut? | Main | The Bushies and Beirut (The gang that can't shoot straight) »

09 May 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Dave of Maryland

College is the reward for being good in high school.

College graduation is the reward for being good in college.

Therefore college graduates are superior to everyone else.


Col. Lang,

You said,

Having said that I would have to say that with the exception of officers who are specialists in overseas cultural affairs (FAOs) and soldiers from the Special Forces Regiment most officers and soldiers don't have a clue about the dynamics of foreign cultures and are not especially encouraged to learn more.

I would like to have someone demonstrate to me that I am wrong about that. pl

I can not demonstrate you are wrong, but I sense that things are changing for the better somewhat. The military at all levels is taking culture more seriously and even the Air Force (!!) has instituted curriculum on both language and cultural/area studies for officers in the various PME career courses. I believe the other services are making similar changes. Additionally, there's the plan, currently in testing, to offer sabbaticals to military personnel for up to three years. There would be no requirement for cultural study, but it would be a good opportunity for those so inclined.

From a personal perspective, my military-related travel certainly was helpful in my transformation as it exposed me to more cultures than I would have been able to otherwise. Sadly, too many of my compatriots were simply military versions of "ugly Americans."


To echo Andy, in Australia we get this sort of thing ALL the time that "this (i.e. Oz) is the greatest country in the world; Australians the greatest/best/most-in-all-things-decent people" and so on.

Well, I'm inclined to agree with them! I've visited Australia four times and love it there, but I admit I'm probably biased.


wither Montreal? will it be bypassed by mankind's evolution?

Stephen Calhoun

"ignorance or because the structure of their societies functioned to hold them in subservience to a primitive way of life"

I chuckled at the unintentional irony implicit in this primitive statement, a statement infused with both magical and tribal facets, even if made by a 'westerner.'

Sometime before 40,000 bce there was no culture anywhere and so I presume those necessary conditions for a unitary mankind won't be making a comeback.

Assuming that one knows something before one has even made an inquiry is a great problem of course.

William R. Cumming

When do you think we will adopt the Euro/Yen as official currency? US dollar now is worth less than $.10 of the 1970 dollar. My guess is that 95% of Americans still think the US dollar is world's strongest currency. Exposure to its true value can only come from travel.

FB Ali

The discussion on this topic has focused on the folly of Americans believing that everyone else is dying to be like them – or should be, if they had their wits about them. The real shocker (for Americans) should be that vast numbers of intelligent, well-educated, cultured and well-informed people all around the world view what the USA has recently become with horror and revulsion. It is not just a question of them preferring their own systems and values; instead, it is a total absence of any reason to believe that your model is worth emulating.

The fine words – freedom, democracy, free enterprise, individuality, etc – are all seen to be empty rhetoric or worse in the light of US actions, and the functioning of your institutions – the administration, the Congress, the judiciary, the media, the corporate system, political parties, churches. To most of these observers there seems to be a sickness affecting America; why would they wish to acquire it, too?

Yet, among these same people, those who know individual Americans, or are familiar with your history and literature, and the many worthy causes that Americans have stood for and fought for, find themselves torn between what America has now become and what it once was. What tempers their current revulsion is the knowledge that there lies a goodness and decency inside most of the individual Americans they know, which is also often manifested in the workings of your society (in spite of the rot and corruption that infects many of its structures). They have the hope that the clouds that have darkened the American landscape in the recent past will one day disperse, and allow your country to resume its rightful place in the comity of nations.

This happening will not cause people elsewhere to want to “become” Americans, but it will certainly enable them to accept the USA, once again, as a worthy partner, perhaps a leader, in the effort to make this a better world.


I am not surprized: It is called modernism.

This kind of world/life perception is not specific to Americans, even to Westerners. It is a by product of Modernism. I can confirm that most of the educated people in my country see the world as the same way. That's because they had a western education in a non-western country longing to be like the West. This education entrenched ideas of Modernism into their minds such a way that as Col Lang describes when they are faced with an alternative world view they feel like they lived all their lives in error and pyschologically inclined to deny transform their thinking.

To be more specific, modernism tells us that there is a Truth out there independent of us. It is very Platonic in this sense. Because of scientific achievements and enlightment West has discovered the path going to the one and only good life for any society. Their wealth, technological superiority, and international power proves that. Evolution is also understood very linear in this frame. For instance, most of us believed or still believe that evolution always results in progress and the end result is our species. In reality, of course, there is no hierarchy of species and evolution is about co-dependency. But when you applied these two ideas to societies, it is natural to believe that every society would sooner or later evolve into an ideal state and Western societies and their leader America are closer to this ideal state. So every society should follow their footsteps since there is no need to rediscover America. Just copy what they have done with minor modifications for your own culture.

Second half of the 20th century taught us that there are deep flaws in this world view and actually life doesn't work that way. We make up our reality ourselves, we don't just discover an ideal Reality out there somewhere. Younger generations who grew up in a more postmodern world are more eager to embrace this kind of world view, i.e. cultural relativism. It is much harder for the older generations whether be American, European, or western educated Eastern.


If one does not have knowledge, or have had experience, with another culture then one will revert to his surrounding cultures mindset. Thus the situation in the USA.

I would wager that less than 1 in 250 US Citizens has spent time overseas living or assimilating into another countries culture.

Once you have had that experience, then you can see value in that countries culture and even see how your own culture could be improved. Certainly you will come away with broader horizons.

Now I know the bulk of the posters on this site have had that experience but how that knowledge can be imparted on the others and sink in, is the question.


It's a shame people insist on applying some form of manifest destiny on the rest of the world.


Even worse, a lot of "us" here in America also don't want to become the "us" that our commercial culture is telling us we should embrace. I'm no extremist but I have become thoroughly disgusted by our worshipping of The Golden Calf and where that has led us.


jr786 : "People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children—male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor."

I think this statement is more or less true. Give or take local prejudices about gender.

However getting from that statement to the idea that this means that given enough time all societies will turn into America requires you to make (or rather to ignore) two huge logical errors.

The first is assuming that the if the quoted statement is true, then it implies that everyone wants everyone else to have those things. Particularly when everyone else makes different w.r.t. leadership, property, education and worship in particular. Given how loudly many Americans are and have been opposed to a pluralistic society, this is an odd mistake to make.

The second mistake is that it assumes that the very specific political choices that America has made for itself are also logical consequences of the first statement. I suppose it's what happens when you spend 50 years calling the head of your executive branch "The leader of the free world".

Now as a Anglo-Canadian I will say that at various times in our history we've been no less shy about imposing our culture, it's just we're not really strong enough to do that anymore. To anyone. So the desire to impose your way of life on others is hardly unique to either great powers or Americans.


Pithy and concise comments on the cultural wall that we erect to justify our worldview and imperial designs.

I have an 18 year old son who has been studying biology and Arabic in high school. He was the proud and fortunate recipient of a State department funded scholarhip to study Arabic in Marrakesh last Summer. The program was an attempt to create the next generation of American youth who would be comfortable living and working in the Middle East. He lived with a local very traditional host family (with 15 members) and it was an amazing experience. A suburban American kid immersed in the other. He was proud when the local beggars on the street would banter with him in Arabic, to him a sign of acceptance.

We need more programs like this. An investment in the future.


Personally, I tend to think there are always some components of other cultures that nearly everyone finds fascinating, appreciates, and even imitate to some degree. However, very few want to do so at the expense of disposing of their own culture, the way they do business among their own people, in a manner of speaking. I wonder if the former feeds the misconception that everyone really wants to be "like us," that it extends beyond mere liking and/or fascination.

J.T. Davis


Off topic but I wondered if you had seen this short piece by Phil Giraldi in The American conservative?

I don't like to engage in this speculation but Giraldi is someone I do pay attention to now.

War With Iran Might Be Closer Than You Think

Posted on May 9th, 2008 by Philip Giraldi
There is considerable speculation and buzz in Washington today suggesting that the National Security Council has agreed in principle to proceed with plans to attack an Iranian al-Qods-run camp that is believed to be training Iraqi militants...

Happy Jack

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

I hope he isn't teaching at Franklin and Marshall. If he is, he must not venture off campus very often. Either that, or he only knows "the ways of the English" and hates ShooFly pie.

Cloned Poster

Would/has/maybe the Obama team contact Col. Lang for a post in State?


"Ivory Tower" does describe the reality of situation of many university professors.


Also reminds me of a line from an Hindi movie that goes something like this - "What! You don't know who he is? Back home he is world-famous."


Scroll past the photographs here, to read about how Germans and Americans (mis)perceive each other.


Clifford Kiracofe

It may be that US citizens had a better knowledge of geography and foreign affairs say around 1800. One might argue it has been downhill since World War II as geography has been deemphasized and foreign "news" has been very very heavily "managed" in the service of the "American Century."

I have seen a study of the US press comparing 1800/early 1800s to the late 1960s per column inches devoted to foreign news. Much higher percentage way back when. Today newspapers and the newsmedia are part of the entertainment complex and the White House (either party) dezinformatsia complex.

Students out of high school today generally are weak in geographic knowledge and the ability to conceptualize in spatial geographic terms.

Over a decade ago, Col. Tom Davis of our History Dept at VMI caused a rethink which led to the replacement of the standard "Western Civilization" introductory course for all students to "World History." An excellent change particularly for any cadet intending to commission and deploy abroad.

"World History" as a subdiscipline has been gaining strength over the past decade and now is often offered at the High School/Secondary School level. Basically, it looks at the development of ALL civilizations/complex societies and their interactions over time.

An additional trend is to place US history within global context/World History as was traditionally done. So this is a revival of older traditional method. Presentation of the United States as the center of the universe is more a post World War II/Cold War phenomenon.

We use the Bentley-Ziegler text, "Traditions and Encounters," from McGraw Hill which is a leading text. You can examine it here and draw your own conclusions.

One aspect of World History which I emphasize to students is the development of "long distance trade" by land and by sea. Seeing an overhead projection of trade routes between ancient Egypt and India, or the Silk Routes can have a certain effect.

At the college and university level there is ample opportunity for study abroad. There are all manner of exchange programs, semester programs, summer school programs and the like around the world for college level students. Scholarships for foreign study are also available. I recommend foreign study to students I think are mature enough and competent enough for it.

This is the website for the World History Assocition composed of college, university, and high school/secondary school level teachers, including myself.

Clifford Kiracofe


The World History Association website address was deleted in my last post. Here it is:

Here is the website fo the Institute for International Education:

Here is the website for the Council for International Educational Exchange:

FB Ali and Buzz, All,

It is not surprising that many around the world hold the US in some contempt and revulsion. The situation in our country today is a national disgrace and a betrayal of our traditional principles. It may be our undoing...

The reason the United States does not "seem itself" lately (and NOT just under Bush43) is that a certain elite is pushing hard to convert our Constitutional Republic into a Fascist State. This is not new, the roots go to the 1920s and 1930s in Wall Street and the media (Luce and Hearst in particular). This aspect of our history has been forgotten. See Wiki entry for "American Liberty League" and draw your own conclusions:

Ask yourself what are two powerful party kingpins --George Shultz, the Republican and Felix Rohaytn, the Democrat -- REALLY up to? The Neocons are just low level hires in a much bigger game.

By the way, Billy Graham was created by Hearst and Luce....wonder why... the program is Fascism without anti-semitism, a "modern" American variant of European Fascism. Theocracy is an instrument and a cover for Caesarism in more than one culture.

D Bulow

Maybe the prof was joking.

David W.

A parallel question leading to the same answer may be, "why do 'they' hold Noam Chomsky in such disdain?" Chomsky, originally being a linguist, has always viewed US culture as just one of many, and thus, his political/economic critiques of the US are through a much clearer prism, one unclouded by jingoistic sentiment. Which makes for some uncomfortable revelations.

He has had Uncle Sam's number for many years now, including his most recent book (afaik), What We Say Goes--Which may well explain why his name is mud amongst the Beltway media pygmy courtiers.

Per Clifford's allusion, the US ruling elite is a bipartisan affair, and one who's roots stretch back through US history to the very beginning. I highly suggest Howard Zinn's seminal book, A People's History of the United States as a definitive historical telling of how the US ruling elite have manipulated the US ship of state to serve their own interests, usually at the neglect of the 'common people,' both domestic and abroad. (as a bonus to SST readers who are Civil War buffs, Zinn gives a unique perspective to why that war was really fought).

Within this context, the goal of the educational system is to prepare the student for work, know their 'place' in society, and to impress a set of values that maintain the status quo, which carries the banner of patriotism, and indeed the force of the entire country. This is made visible in such sentiments as 'xxx is vital to US interests.'

I would finally add that the Liberal Arts concept is an antitode to this (indeed, it is where I learned about US involvement in Central America and eventually Iran/Contra, while my peers were taking Business Management 101 courses). Which probably explains the conservative elite's hostility towards Liberal Arts education.


Is there one best way to live as a human being? Certainly we can recognize situations or environments in which survival, let alone the ability to flourish, would be doubtful. I do not imply that Col. Lang's concept of cultural fitness is realitivstic. However, is it impossible to suppose a universal culture that frames the best possible way of life? I think that many would say that it is not possible, that the confines of time and place make it impossible. But that does not cause the question "How are we to live?" moot.


Funny. I always thought the purpose of a liberal arts education was to expose us to the wider world, especially to those of us who--for one reason or another--were unable to travel to other parts of the world and get the experience firsthand. I'd like to think that in my case, it took, because although my travels have been limited to North America, I've never felt that American culture is for everyone or that it is THE answer for what ails the world. I knew that we Americans were truly in trouble when the word "homeland" reared its ugly head. And I fear that things will get a lot worse for us before they get better. Any country that seems to eat their young so willingly is certainly destroying its future.

Babak Makkinejad


It was Jakob Burkhardt that observed that the ingredient of all human societies were the same; only different aspects were emphasized at different times and places.

Following his line of thinking, one is led to the conclusion that the best that can be hoped or achieved is a sympathetic and liberal understanding of other peoples, epochs, and places.

Jakob Burkhardt was man whose time has not yet arrived.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad