On not being anti-American
A programme note for Stephen Sewell’s It just stopped
Malthouse Theatre
April 2006

On a bus at the Vancouver Expo in 1986, a party of U. S. American seniors welcomed a lone Australian to “our country”. Nothing he said to them could make them understand that they had crossed the Canadian border. Their graciousness was grounded in imperial destiny.

That problem begins with names. The United States of America is only part of the Americas, yet that minority of landmass and people determines appellation. When a news reader says “America invaded Iraq”, we guess that the attack came from “the U.S. of A.”, not Venezuela.

To escape blaming whole peoples, we need to do more than eschew the shorthand “America”, to speak instead of U.S. Imperialism. That shift in vocabulary exposes an even broader target.

The enemy is monopolising capitals, irrespective of the nation-market-state that rides shotgun for one corporation against another. The French oligopolies in the Middle East are less culpable than Halliburton only because the French nation-market-state is now less able to project its force than is the U.S. one.

Each imperium can still generate its own sort of arrogance. U.S. imperialists presume that the rest of the world was created as U.S. American mind-space, thereby populating the planet with “virtual U. S. Americans”. Belief in this cloning of global aspiration is not innate. It flourishes as an extension of the pretence by corporations that marketing does not implant a need for ever expanding consumption. The advertisers picture themselves performing a service in awakening us to our “latent wants”. Spokespeople for U. S. imperialism apply this stratagem to their dollar diplomacy. 

The policies of every government colour the character of its citizenry. The obesity of the stereotypical “American” embodies the needs that U.S. corporations have to bloat resources and sales. These individuals have been socialised never to ask Jesus for the strength to resist the temptation of buying. They are made into caricatures of the forces that exploit them. The marketing media laud the distraction of shopping as a patriotic duty to absorb the excess capacity from the anarchy of the over-production driven by competition between oligopolies.

Against this blizzard of commercial signals, the sternest critics have always included U.S. citizens. For that reason alone, no socialist critic of U. S. imperialism would think to ban the plays of Arthur Miller because of his country of origin. When the Australian government in 1936 banned the anti-Nazi drama “Till the Day I Die”, by the U. S. American writer Clifford Odets, that censorship had nothing to do with Odets’ place of birth. The local officials were suppressing the idea that communists of any nationality could be admirable.

How free are Australians of these failings? In Kangaroo (1923), D. H. Lawrence pondered whether Australia was younger than Britain, or “one step further gone”. Criticising the dynamics of destruction driving U.S. imperialism at home should help us crack that conundrum. In which aspects does our way of life reveal the future of our step-parent?