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    There is no one American reality, and not merely because of the individualism that is our cardinal national trait; there is also
    the difference between Americans and America--that is, between the nation's 285 million citizens and the political, military, economic,
    and media institutions whose policies make up the nation's official posture in the world.
        -Mark Hertsgaard, The Eagle's Shadow

Here's a rule that you may find helpful when reading socio-political analysis, I know it's worked for me: when someone starts out be trying to differentiate the American people from their democratically elected government, a process that requires denigrating the people's democratic choices and dismissing them as mere dupes, they're getting ready to say horrible things about America and Americans.  That's certainly the case in this repellent exercise in self-loathing, as Mr. Hertsgaard under the guise of looking at why the rest of the world has such an ambivalent relationship with the U.S. instead reveals why he dislikes it so. And make no mistake about it, he does dislike us.  This is a guy who says that "millions" of Americans are "addicted" to shopping, refers to Hiroshima and our refusal to sign the Kyoto Accord as terrorism, who says that American sanctions have "caused" the deaths of 350,000 Iraqi children, who thinks there's an eerie similarity between 9-11 and the earlier September 11th when we sanctioned the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile (which is, of course, now one of the world's most promising nations), who thinks that the Patriot Act systematically stripped away our civil rights, who says that George W. Bush and the American people flirted with the idea of putting American Muslims in concentration camps after 9-11, and so on and so forth.  The reader will be excused for not recognizing the America Mr. Hertsgaard describes herein, because it's little more than a figment of his fevered imagination.

Mr. Hertsgaard is entitled to his own opinions, of course.  It's no skin off anyone's nose if he truly believes, as he at least implies, that we, like the Europeans, should side with terrorist-run Palestine over democratic Israel.  But it would be one thing if the shortcomings of the book were merely in the realm of opinion, instead it is fraught with factual errors, many of them consisting of Mr. Hertsgaard's willing belief in propaganda, Internet hoaxes, and numbers cooked up by academicians and others that are intended solely to cast the U.S. in the worst possible light.  In truth I stopped keeping track of all the specious claims, but here are a few:

(1) In the least egregious instance, but revealing because so notorious and so easily disproved, he cites the old urban legend about the dire fates the signers of the Declaration of Independence met.

(2) He unflinchingly accepts the thoroughly discredited wildly inflated civilian casualty estimates in Afghanistan, that a University of New Hampshire professor created out of thin air.

(3) In a real low point of a lowly book, he repeats the Soviet lie that KAL-007 "was acting like a military aircraft" before they shot it down.

And in a passage that's more foolish than anything else, he practically does a touchdown dance over an incident where George W. Bush was merely being polite:

    One of the most revealing, though unremarked, developments of the post-September 11 period took place on October 9, 2001,
    when President Bush met the head of NATO, Lord Robertson, at the White House.  In a routine press statement afterward,
    Bush noted that for the first time in its fifty-two year history, NATO was coming to the defense of the United States.
    Bush gave no sign that he understood how monumental a development this was, and media coverage in both the United States
    and Germany (where I was at the time) also ignored it in favor of stressing the two leaders' agreement over the war in Afghanistan.
    But clearly the larger story was that the United States, which had founded NATO to defend against Soviet attack during the Cold War,
    was now the one that needed defending.  There are moments in history when one event crystallizes a broader trend, and this seemed
    to be one of them.

This would be hilarious were one not certain that Mr. Hertsgaard believed it.  These same NATO "allies", upon whom he seems to think we're dependent, have told us they would not aid us at all in the coming war with Iraq (Germany--out of fear of its own Muslim population and a recognition it has no meaningful assistance to offer), would only reluctantly aid us (France--fear of its own Muslim population), may not be able to field any military forces at all for two years (Canada), and that they may not be able to afford it (Britain).  Just because Mr. Hertsgaard would very much like for the U.S. to be in a state of decline does not make it so.  The eagle is still casting a mighty big shadow.

At the beginning of the book, Mr. Hertsgaard explains his purpose thus:

    I began working on this book long before the 2001 terror attacks against America, and I pursued my travels and interviews both before
    and after September 11. From the start, the book was intended for two separate but related audiences. I hoped to provide my fellow
    Americans with a sort of traveler's report: "This is how we look to the rest of the world." For non-American readers, I hoped to explain why
    America and Americans are the way we are. The September 11 attacks gave these goals greater urgency and focus by suddenly illuminating
    how people everywhere felt about the United States. But the attacks also complicated the project by leaving Americans understandably
    sensitive to anything approaching candid criticism of their country.

    A year has now passed since the terrible explosions and fires that killed more than three thousand people in New York, Washington, and
    Pennsylvania-a year of heating, of taking stock, of fighting back. Are Americans at last ready to hear what people overseas think about us?
    The message is a lot more complex than the "Why They Hate Us" war cry our media have supplied. And a lot more interesting. Foreigners
    aren't always right about America, far from it. But neither are they merely embittered fanatics, or jealous of our money, or resentful
    of our power, or animated by any of the other stock explanations mainstream American pundits and politicians have advanced as substitutes
    for honest self-examination. Most foreigners are sophisticated enough to see both the good and the bad about the United States, the pluses
    and the minuses. Which is why Americans can learn from their perceptions, if we choose to.

    Foreigners can see things about America that natives cannot, and if ever there was a time when Americans needed such perspective, it's now.
    The horror of what happened on September 11 commands us to look at our homeland with new eyes -- in particular, with the eyes of the rest
    of the world.

The attempt to explain America to the world obviously went by the wayside, which is no great loss since he seems to understand it not at all.  But what's left is a critique of America, very much from a European or an elite American Leftist intellectual (there's not much difference between the two) perspective, that really tends to validate foreign hatred of the United States.  Heck, if you didn't know any of the facts, you'd hate America after reading the book.  But I wonder if there's not more truth in one quote than there is in the rest of the book.  It comes from Laurent Joffrin, editor of Le Nouvel Observateur:

    One prefers to be the savior, not the saved.

The brutal truth, for Europeans like Mr. Joffrin and for American leftists like Mr. Hertsgaard, is that America and the Americans remain the savior, with all the resentments that entails.  Those resentments may "infuriate" people, but when you look at the alternative to being saved, it's not all that attractive, as Mr. Joffrin would realize if his magazine were published in German.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (F)

  

Websites:

See also:

Geopolitics
Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOK SITE: The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World (Written Voices)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Hertsgaard (Salon)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Hertsgaard (The Nation)
    -Mark Hertsgaard (The Well)
    -EXCERPT: from Earth Odyssey by Mark Hertsgaard
    -EXCERPTS: from On Bended Knee by Mark Hertsgaard (Third World Traveler)
    -ESSAY: Why we still don't get it, one year on: Americans are badly served by semi-official media propaganda (Mark Hertsgaard, September 11, 2002, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: California Green Light (Mark Hertsgaard, August 19, 2002, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Feel the Heat: A Realistic Scenario of Global Warming for the Not-Too-Distant Future (Mark Hertsgaard, August 4, 2002, Boston Globe)
    -ESSAY: The Truth on Warming (MARK HERTSGAARD, 7/08/02, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Conflict of interest for Christine Todd Whitman?: The EPA's ombudsman says Whitman muzzled him for criticizing a  sweetheart Superfund settlement with a big investor in her husband's firm. (Mark Hertsgaard, 01/15/02, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Bush & Global Warming (Mark Hertsgaard, December 10, 2001, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: No Shrinking Violence: Threats to Mexican environmentalists continue (Mark Hertsgaard, 19 Nov 2001, Grist)
    -ESSAY: More Murders Make Montiel's Homecoming Bittersweet (Mark Hertsgaard,  November 20, 2001, AlterNet)
    -ESSAY: The Real Price of Oil: Congressional Republicans are using terrorism fears to advance the administration's energy policy -- including oil drilling in Alaska -- while ignoring the plan's enormous long-term cost.  (Mark Hertsgaard, October 5, 2001, Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY: Russia's Environmental Crisis (Mark Hertsgaard, September 18, 2000, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Mikhail Gorbachev explains what's rotten in Russia: In a rare interview, the former Soviet leader says glasnost is working, but globalization isn't. (Mark Hertsgaard, 09/07/00, Salon)
    -ESSAY: CHINA: The Cost of Coal. (Mark Hertsgaard, Sept, 2000, E)
    -ESSAY: California could end clear-cutting: A bill to make the practice illegal puts politicians in the hot spot between the timber industry and the increasingly tree-friendly public. (Mark Hertsgaard, 08/23/00, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Gore in the Balance (Mark Hertsgaard, Conscious Choice, June 2000)
    -ESSAY: A Global Green Deal  (Mark Hertsgaard, Time Special Earthday 2000 Edition Apr-May00)
    -ESSAY: A Green Foreign Policy (Mark Hertsgaard, May 8, 2000, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Bought and paid for: Gore's oily family friends, Bush's profitable Harvard connections and other stories you're not likely to read about. (Mark Hertsgaard, 01/21/00, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Will we run out of gas? (Mark Hertsgaard, November 1999, TIME)
    -ESSAY: China's True Population?:  Take 1.2 Billion People -- Then Add Brazil (MARK HERTSGAARD, 10/19/99, Virtual China)
    -ESSAY: Mushroom cloud over Denver?: A top Department of Energy official is caught on tape worrying that security is lax at Rocky Flats weapons facility. (MARK HERTSGAARD, April 12, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Fear of fluoride: Questions about the safety of this cavity-fighting chemical aren't just for right-wing conspiracists anymore. (Mark Hertsgaard And Phillip Frazer, 02/17/99, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Spielberg's Other Lost World: Los Angeles has its own Central Park sitting right under its nose, waiting to be noticed. Instead, it's being bulldozed, and Steven Spielberg is building his new film studio on the site as part of one of the biggest real estate developments in the city's history. (Mark Hertsgaard, Jan./Feb.1999, Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY: Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill ...: Using the impeachment drama as a diversionary tactic, anti-environmental forces attach a series of dangerous "riders" to last-minute funding bills.(Mark Hertsgaard, 10/07/98, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Our Real China Problem: The price of China's surging economy is a vast degradation of the environment, with planetary implications. Although the Chinese government knows the environment needs protection it fears that doing the right thing could be political suicide (Mark Hertsgaard, November 1997, The Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: The Gospel according to Paul: His authorized biography makes a convincing case that Paul McCartney, derided as a pretty-boy lightweight, stood equal with John Lennon in creating some of the most important and beloved music of the 20th century. (Mark Hertsgaard, 11/12/97, Salon)
    -ESSAY: The real China threat: The world's most populous country could single-handedly wreck the global environment. (Mark Hertsgaard, 10/29/97, Salon)
    -ESSAY: The Calculus of Consumption: Shifting Blame to the North (Mark Hertsgaard, Satya)
    -ESSAY: Stars Wars works!: Reagan's pipe dream of an anti-missile umbrella over America is about to come true. Isn't it? (MARK HERTSGAARD, 6/07/96, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Still ticking . . .: The Vatican's dark marriage to Islam has kept birth control off the international agenda. Meanwhile, the population bomb is still ticking . . .  (Mark Hertsgaard , March/April 1993, Mother Jones)
    -REVIEW: of Hard Green: Saving the Environment From the Environmentalists: A Conservative Manifesto. By Peter Huber (Mark Hertsgaard, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE HEAT IS ON: The High Stakes Battle Over Earth's Threatened Climate. By Ross Gelbspan (Mark Hertsgaard, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of OUR STOLEN FUTURE Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival? -- A Scientific Detective Story. By Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers (Mark Hertsgaard, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of HOT AIR All Talk, All the Time. By Howard Kurtz (Mark Hertsgaard, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: A Sweet Tune From Lennon's Tomb: Mark Hertsgaard reviews "The Beatles Anthology, Volume 2". (Mark Hertsgaard, 10/01/96, Salon)
    -LECTURE:  Lecture by environmental journalist, activist and author Mark Hertsgaard (Indiana University)
    -DISCUSSION: ROUGH WEATHER: A look at the intensifying politics of global warming in the wake of the  summit at The Hague. Ray Suarez leads a discussion with Gregg  Easterbrook, author of "A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism," and Mark Hertsgaard, author of "Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of our Environmental Future." (Online Newshour, November 29, 2000)
    -INTERVIEW: Oil Men at the Helm with Mark Hertsgaard (Radio Netherlands)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Mark Hertsgaard: "Earth Odyssey" (Diane Rehm Show, February 8-12, 1999)
    -INTERVIEW: Rx FOR THE WORLD: Journalist Mark Hertsgaard traveled the world to assess the globe's environmental health. His diagnosis is not good. (Don Hazen, Flagpole)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Earth Odyssey (Science Friday, February 12, 1999, NPR)
    -INTERVIEW: Will We Survive?: Our environmental future looks bleak. What can we do about it? Mark Hertsgaard traveled around the world in search of answers (January 21, 1999, The Atlantic)
    -INTERVIEW: Can this planet be saved?: Mark Hertsgaard discusses his new book about the human toll of global environmental devastation (Don George, 01/21/99, Salon)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Global Warming Policy / China's Environment (Science Friday, October 31, 1997, NPR)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Mark Hertsgaard (Steve Talbot, July 11, 1996, Frontline: Why America Hates the Press)
    -INTERVIEW: Who killed Petra Kelly?: Mark Hertsgaard (Mother Jones, Jan/Feb 1993)
    -INTERVIEW: Take an Earth Odyssey: Interview with Mark Hertsgaard (The Savvy Traveler)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Hertsgaard (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of THE EAGLE'S SHADOW: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World By Mark Hertsgaard (Martin Walker, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Eagle's Shadow (Noel Malcolm, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Eagle's Shadow (Andy Beckett, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Eagle's Shadow (Ziauddin Sardar, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Eagle's Shadow (Steven Martinovich, American Prowler)
    -REVIEW: of Eagle's Shadow (Wesley Williamson, Book Loons)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey by Mark Hertsgaard (Vince Winkel, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey (The Progressive,  Harvey Wasserman)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey (Richard Wolkomir, Smithsonian)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey (Lisa Hymas, Grist)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey (Don Rivenes)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey (Mark Luccarelli, Lip)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey (Jane Edwards,  RMIT University)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey (Dave Williams, Leopold Letter)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey (Rick Sullivan)
    -REVIEW: of Earth Odyssey (Caroline Pufalt, Sierra Club)

EUROPE:
   The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris (Theodore Dalrymple, Autumn 2002, City Journal)

Comments:

right on review

- chaya

- Aug-11-2003, 13:34

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Excuse me, but I believe that Mr. Hertsgaard's book is unworthy of such a review. Certainly there are a variety of factors that discern Americans from the American government, however Hertsgaard covered the most significant ones that give the impartial and fresh perspective of the US that the majority of Americans so sorely lack. Any book published with such openness deserves to be hailed. Hertsgaard himself behaves as a foreigner as he narrates the book, setting aside any nationalist feelings and taking into account that the mother country isn't some infallible superpower immune to error. If all Americans could do the same, we could recognize our mistakes and take the necessary actions to correct them, or at the very least prevent them from happening again. It is our responsibility, being the role models we've become, to inform ourselves as best as we can. Reading books like Hertsgaard's and other creditable sources are the first steps we need to take. He has opened my eyes and presented me with truth, truth that has been withheld or disguised for so long. I think he is to be commended for his hard work and dedication in compiling such an informative piece, not shamefully criticized.

- Alexandra

- May-17-2003, 15:10

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I know that NH (from "Orrin's stuff")stands for New Hampshire. Do you know what part of Australia the ACT is ? What is Australia's capital city ? No running for the atlas ! Sure Orrin, Hertsgaard's book is flawed, and it stings. But if it makes for a more introspective USA (esp. re its media)then I reckon that's a good thing. Time for me to ride my pet kangaroo to work. Kind Regards Mark Hunter Darwin, NT, Australia markhunter@ozemail.com.au

- Mark Hunter

- Feb-03-2003, 20:08

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