Dr. Thomas Swan studied cognition and culture at Queen's University Belfast. He enjoys exploring the interplay between politics and culture.
There are several reasons for why people dislike America, and even more interpretations for why this hatred exists. For example, some Americans believe that foreigners are jealous of their freedom and wealth. If you are not American, then it may be comments like this that make you dislike the place!
The patriotism that gives rise to such interpretations is more prevalent in the US than in Europe, and it may be fueled by a need for identity and self-worth. In a celebrity-driven culture in which self-worth depends more on how often you are on television than on personal principles and abilities, simply "being American" may become a treasured part of one's identity.
Indeed, America takes globalized culture to its extreme and, as a result, it is furthest from the world our ancestors lived in. Before television and the internet, we lived in small communities where having a skill meant something. If you were the best hunter, farmer, or shopkeeper, then you were valued for your skill.
To be valued in today's America, you have to compete with half of the country and, when the majority fail, the cream of the crop are blasted into our eyes and ears via The Apprentice, X Factor, Oscars, or whatever celebrity magazine you happen to be reading. Is it any wonder that depression is on the rise?
More than any other nation, Americans have a need for self-worth, and patriotism is a well-established means to this end. Patriotism fuels an emotional retaliation against any criticism of one's country, which may explain the nonsensical jealousy argument mentioned above.
Religious or Cultural Hatred?
Another unlikely reason for hatred of America is that foreigners hate the Christian religion or the American way of life. It is unlikely because Christians, Muslims, and Jews live quite happily alongside each other in other countries. For example, Iran has the second highest population of Jews in the Middle East after Israel, with Christianity also having a long history in the country. Generally, outside of a few African countries, hatred is rarely directed at Christians.
Furthermore, the American way of life is actually quite popular around the world and has been exported to several countries who usually adapt their own cultures to the new material (media, clothing, food, etc.). The small number of fundamentalists who object to this cultural infusion are not sufficient to explain the widespread dislike of America among many other groups.
The Real Reason Why People Hate the US
A more plausible answer for why many people hate America is its history of military interventions and covert interference in the political systems of other countries.
Some apologists for these actions might cite tyrants such as Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi, who were deposed with America's help after allegedly committing some atrocious acts. Yet, even in these cases, the civil wars, terrorism (e.g., the emergence of ISIS), slave markets, and suffering that followed might suggest that the people were better off without this "help."
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Regardless, the US government's history of foreign interference extends prior to the 21st century and well beyond controversial characters. In fact, America and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have toppled many publicly-supported democracies around the world.
After WW2, the CIA facilitated numerous acts of assassination and torture and replaced democracies with dictatorships in countries all over the world for more than 40 years. Nowadays, the ironically-named "National Endowment For Democracy" does the same thing.
Prior to the 1990s, the justification was often that the Soviets had influence over the country. However, in many cases, there was little or no evidence to back up this claim. Regardless, what right did the US have to deny foreign peoples their democratic choices?
America's International Crimes
As well as having bombed 24 countries since WW2, the US government has intervened (e.g., with a political coup) or interfered with deadly results in the politics of:
Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Laos, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, and Vietnam.
These are only the countries for which substantial public information is available. To read brief summaries of these crimes (sorted by country), please watch the video below.
Understanding the Iran Situation
An underreported part of this history concerns Iran. Notably, the 1979 Iranian revolution took place to remove a dictator that the US government had installed and supported for 25 years. This installation occurred after the CIA had engineered the downfall of democracy in Iran. The Iranian people therefore suffered oppression, torture, and death as a result of CIA interference in their country.
In light of this historical evidence, one might expect Westerners to be a little more understanding of Iranian antagonism and mistrust. Yet, Iranians are continually portrayed as irrational, intolerant, and deceitful. Mending relations may require a national apology, but can anyone imagine that happening?
In sum, there are many reasons to dislike the United States. Unless Americans understand the harm that their leaders have inflicted upon the world, and demand more courteous relations, there may continue to be "blowback" of the violent kind, or at least antipathy and hatred. Furthermore, unless Americans understand that patriotism is not required to bolster one's ego, the more passive kind of dislike will continue.
However, foreigners are not blameless either. The actions of the US government are not the actions of its people. Unfortunately, Americans are unknowingly complicit in these crimes because America's political and media establishment covers up its dark history. Powerful figures have no interest in undermining a bloody enterprise that is highly profitable to weapon's manufacturers and resource acquirers.
Finally, it is also difficult for a child brought up in America to avoid a patriotic mindset when they are bombarded with US flags and pledges of allegiance from an early age. This cycle of indoctrination is difficult to stop, and difficult to blame on anyone alive today.
© 2012 Thomas Swan