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Who Wears the White Hat?

Entry 1584, on 2013-10-29 at 21:50:16 (Rating 4, Politics)

In the old cowboy movies the good guys usually wore a white hat and the villains a black one. Of course there were exceptions and the best characters (in all genres of fiction) are those whose personalities have both good and bad elements. But the metaphor of the white hat being the marker of the good guy has remained and we naturally wonder who wears the white hat in the area of international politics today.

Many people would say the USA is supposed to be that character. In fact they are supposedly the sheriff who has both the power and moral right to hold the rest of the world to his own high standards of justice and fairness. By now most people will be detecting a small problem with this analogy, that being that the American government is as bad as many of the groups and countries it supposedly holds to account and is a lot worse than most.

It's as if the sheriff holds up a stage coach, rustles a few head of cattle, and then goes and arrests the town drunk for causing a minor disturbance in the main street. And after all that he still expects to be respected and admired by those he intimidates.

And he has a series of informants and deputies but doesn't really trust them so he has someone tapping the telegraph line to make sure they're not plotting anything he would disapprove of.

OK, I've gone this far so let's complete the analogy. The sheriff is paid by the big land-owners and banks so he spends most of his time looking after their interests rather than honestly enforcing the law.

It's not that the sheriff is necessarily evil himself, it's more that it's just what he is expected to do in that role. Many of the problems have been inherited from the past and it's just too hard to fix them, no matter how good his intentions.

Of course there's only a certain length of time that a corrupt sheriff can maintain his power because eventually everyone else will see what is really happening and have him ridden out of town on a rail (read the entry for "riding the rail" in Wikipedia for the history of this phrase).

So enough of the metaphors, let's look at the facts...

The US does spy on personal communications belonging to both its enemies and friends (German Chancellor Angela Merkel for example) at all levels. If they think this is justified then why do they try so hard to hide it, why do they deny it when they are caught, and why do they promise to stop once they are discovered? Maybe there is a small chance that this activity might prevent some terrorist attacks but most people think it is far more likely that the primary use of the information is to support US corporations, which makes it nothing more than state-sponsored industrial espionage.

The US does murder more innocent civilians than almost any other country (the exact numbers depend on your sources but the civilian deaths in Iraq were well over 100,000). Not only is the mass murder of innocent people accepted by the government but a lot of it is done in the most cowardly, despicable ways including drone attacks and aerial bombing. If this is just an inevitable consequence of war then why start the wars in the first place? Yes, the US deliberately starts wars even when there is no legal justification.

American corporations exploit and pollute the environment (depending on the source the US is either number 1 or 2 in amount of pollution produced), and make use of sub-standard employment conditions all over the world, while leaving people in their own country without work. The old excuse that their only commitment is to maximise the payment to their shareholders just isn't good enough. When you're the leading world economic superpower there is no excuse for this sort of shoddy behaviour.

I could go on. America has one of the most undemocratic political systems in the western world (the two main parties are both heavily reliant on corporate sponsorship), one of the greatest disparities between rich and poor, and a general disregard for any greater moral principles.

But I do need to offer some balance here, because it's not that the US is all bad...

First, every large empire in the past has done exactly the same thing. The Roman and British empires rose to world domination, then exploited that power, then gradually faded away. If the American empire wasn't doing this now there's a good chance someone else would, and they could be a lot worse.

And there's a lot of good which comes from America as well as the bad. It is still the world leader in science and technology and for that it's almost possible to excuse the bad political and business practices.

So despite all of the crimes the sheriff tries to get away with when he thinks no one else is watching we do need to say that he isn't just a simple black hat style villain. Maybe his hat should be grey, or black on one side and white on the other, because he is both good and bad. The important thing is to realise that and understand that the world isn't a Hollywood movie set. In the real world there are no goodies and baddies, just characters who are a bit of both.

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