USA vs. Australia

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Alison remembers the American staging camp near Sandy Creek. Thousands of US troops paused here on their way through to the Pacific War. Each week there were some who went home to Alison's house after church for lunch. They were nice young men, and so many of them would never go home, she reflects. 

At the same time, relations between American and Australian troops were not good. There were some pitched battles in the (Melbourne) streets.

That old ambivalence remains. My son, who cannot mention George Bush in a sentence without at least a pejorative and usually an expletive has just spent the evening watching AirForce One. It's a typical American masturbatory movie, but in the face of a few special effects my boy's politics seemed to go out the window. In this post September 11 era, despite the almost total pro USA sentiment of the Australian press you don't have to go far below the surface to find a feeling in many Australians that the Yanks brought this on themselves. Even on September 12 people were asking what kind of trouble the Americans would get us all into in a tone which held little respect for US restraint or common sense.

There is a subconscious itch here. We love them and hate them. A barely concealed resentment covers the pro American party line. I can not pretend to be an objective bystander here. I am a typically Australian who holds his prejudices dear. My son's anti-American sentiment is a reflection of my own. But why is there such hatred?

This is my reflection, not a sociological study.

Firstly, we are jealous... During the war, the Yanks were overpaid compared to our men. They had the call on the prettiest girls and could treat them with gifts Aussie soldiers could not afford and could not have bought here anyway. Old soldiers still remember. The prejudice carried over into the wider military sphere... "faster than a Yank retreat I witnessed in the war" goes an Australian poem. That resentment carries over into a wider jealousy about American standards of living, I'm sure.

So much of what we buy sends money home to America. Our icons are taken over by overseas companies, especially Americans. The big names of corporate America are all here. It's easy to feel second best in your own country.

Secondly, the United States gives us a country onto which our projections are somewhat justified. There are two things operating here. The first is the fact that our projection of all things we hate in ourselves needs an object. And secondly our guilt feeds this. We would do the same given the chance. We are a little America. But we don't have their clout. 

Australians who are politically aware are perhaps even more prone to this blindness. We know our own failings, but the US makes a fine country to blame. They are arrogant in foreign policy and the shenanigans of the CIA are well documented. US assistance to countries who it is in their interests to have on side, and blindness to suffering and injustice where it is not in US self interest to intervene is so obvious us Aussies, that we wonder how they can talk about Justice with a straight face! Scorning Yankee shortcomings is a great way to forget your own national foibles.

Thirdly, we are very different peoples. There is much more difference between the two nations than one would imagine watching all the American stuff on our Aussie TV, or all the American merchandise in the streets. At the time of writing some one was doing a survey of the top pop tunes around. The list is different in the USA and in Australia.  We remain impervious to Grid Iron... it's a sissy's game with all that armour. Baseball is a minority sport. We do not mimic the USA. The USA has more or less regular Port Arthur massacres and still the National Rifle Association stops any useful gun control. Gun control was swift and sudden after Port Arthur in Australia... and politically popular. 

We are much more European focussed than we often imagine. We didn't have a war against the British. And we are much more aware of the world, you have to be when you are little. By contrast, American ignorance of the world outside is legendary- " You speak English well for an Australian," has been a common "compliment" to Australian visitors. We have no "clout" international affairs. America can write the rules This all adds up to two very different cultures, and perceptions of the world.

Australian Prime Ministers show an indecent haste to accompany The United States to war. "We were all the way with LBJ" in Vietnam. We were off to the Gulf War in the blink of an eye. And committed to Afghanistan in a flash. And yet as a nation we remain deeply ambivalent. 

There is perhaps a lesson here to mull over for The United States. If we Australians, who by and large you have treated very well, are so ambivalent about you, is it so surprising that other nations who you have treated harshly and arbitrarily, hate you with such ferocity?

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