It does not pay to trust America
The Roman Catholic mission school I attended in Jamshedpur was run by American priests of the Society of Jesus. They were a nice lot and would leave the boys alone so long as there was no major infringement of school discipline (the rules included a non-negotiable ban on bell-bottoms, stretchlon and long hair) and homework was submitted on time. The priests lived in one wing of the school that was out-of-bounds for students, except on weekends when you could visit them in their rooms after seeking prior appointment. I recall the rooms being sparsely furnished. The corridor would reek of disinfectant — it was swept and swabbed every few hours by a retinue of cleaners, a sore point with us because we had to clean our classrooms and polish the brass handles on the doors and French windows before leaving for home — but the musty rooms smelled of starched cassocks, racks of books and stacks of comics.
They were generous with sharing the books — Ayn Rand’s novels for senior school boys and Louis L’Amour’s Wild West adventure stories for the rest — and comics which were invariably about American GIs giving it to the German ‘Krauts’ (in the tattered copies with crumbling pages) and US Marines blasting the daylights out of the Vietcong in the paddyfields of Vietnam (spanking new, all-colour copies with glossy covers). This was before 1975 and Jamshedpur was a small town with few distractions and even fewer sources of information. If you were not in school, you were at home doing sums and writing essays on weekdays. Every Saturday we would turn up at school for the weekly movie, invariably a Western or a Biblical film: Ben-Hur was an all-season favourite. The monotony was broken by the occasional screening of blockbusters. There was pin-drop silence in the auditorium when Where Eagles Dare was screened.
In retrospect, perhaps all this was not so innocent. There was a subtle attempt to promote the American worldview and to inculcate a sense of patriotism fashioned after Christian America’s loyalty to the Stars and Stripes. Impressionable minds are easier to deal with than cynical adults. So, we learned to extol the virtues of bullet-biting Americans fighting a ‘just war’ in the jungles of Indochina and snigger at the Vietcong who were ‘sly’ and ‘sneaky’. It was a worldview dominated by images of brave Americans trying to tame the rest of the world after taming the unruly and treacherous ‘Indians’ at home. Although it was never mentioned at assembly, in clasrooms or on the handball court — priests were not supposed to talk about politics and this was before Liberation Theology became popular and the American padres made way for radical desi priests in khakis and bush-shirts — but we came to believe that capitalism was better than socialism, and Communism was to be shunned at all costs. The fall of Saigon must have come as a rude shock to Fr Robert and the others, but they never showed their disappointment.
College in Kolkata opened up an entirely new world and the certitudes of school life were turned upside down. Ho Chi Minh and General Giap sprang to life; after hearing passionate discourses on Dien Bien Phu and the Tet Offensive in the college canteen, I felt silly for having believed comic book tales of the Vietnam war. Of course, I could never bring myself to admitting having read Ayn Rand and stayed up nights reading books which my college friends seemed to have read during their high school years.
And so was I introduced to Leftist writers and their ideology. And so did I realise that much as the Americans may claim it to be, the world is not entirely black and white, it is not about ‘us’ and ‘them’, and that it is not a terribly good idea to let the Americans decide for you what is in your ‘best interest’. Twenty-five years later, I have little time and lesser enthusiasm for the Left and its ideology. I find ‘liberals’ to be poseurs who really don’t have the courage to believe in anything or commit themselves to a cause. The Right makes sense since conservatives take a long-term view of issues that tend to be seen as inconsequential and therefore are treated cursorily by the Left, and are not tied to immutable ideology. In any event, even if I were reluctant — which I am not — to be known as a ‘Right-winger’, the label has been firmly pasted on me.
Yet, there is one issue on which I cannot bring myself to agree with others on the Right. And this is their implicit, almost naïve, trust in America and the eagerness with which they look up to the US for succour and sustenance. Which is not to suggest that I endorse the anti-Americanism or anti-imperialist rhetoric of the Left; just as the rest of the world can’t be all bad, everything about the US can’t be all bad either.
Indeed, there is much about the US that is admirable and worth emulating: If our Government had been half as transparent, our system half as efficient and our leaders half as committed as in the world’s oldest democracy, the world’s largest democracy would have been giving China a run for its money today. But just as not everything about the US is bad, we cannot be blind to the fact that there is a lot about America which is rotten. This is best exemplified by America’s foreign policy and its overwhelming desire to rule the world as the sole superpower. Add to this the amorality that pervades the American worldview, in which nothing matters other than what America believes to be in its interest, and you would get a sense of why many of us are uneasy about reposing faith in the US.
Yet, most of us who stand right of the centre are puzzled as to why someone among them would doubt American intentions. This point is made when some of us refuse to accept that the nuclear deal with the US, in its present form, is in India’s interest. All arguments, all reasons fail to convince them that being on the Right does not mean blindly supporting the nuclear deal simply because the Americans have offered to under-write it. In fact, it should be opposed because the Americans are pushing it with so much enthusiasm: They wouldn’t have done so had the nuclear deal been in India’s interest.
Others who trusted the US have come to grief. The mess in our neighbourhood bears testimony to this fact. Inexorably, we are moving in that direction. Tragically, the Right is as guilty as Mr Manmohan Singh for letting down India to please America.
Coffee Break / August 17, 2008
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