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American Self Perception vs. The Truth

Lee Greenwood, a song writer, describes the emotion involved in
American self-perception in a song by saying, “I’m proud to be an American. For
at least I know I’m free.” Freedom is the founding pillar of the American self-
perception. Self-perception is the culmination of how one views oneself. Other
aspects which make up American self-perception are wealth, power, and the
pursuance of happiness. Self-perceptions, whether confined to the individual or
confined to an entire country, usually leave out negative aspects such as
hypocrisy. When dealing with the perception of a country, the true image of a
society comes from self, or internal perceptions, combined with the external
perceptions from other countries.

The foundation of American self-perception is freedom. Freedom of speech
and movement are virtual institutions in the United States. Such freedoms of
speech and movement are outlined in the United States Constitution. Americans
believe the constitution sketches the “American Dream” which is having a family,
money, and the freedom to pursue happiness. Every American will stand by the
line derived from the Constitution, “All men are created equal.” In actuality,
the constitution outlined the freedom for rich white landowners to achieve
unchecked power and wealth. At the time of the framing of the constitution,
blacks were slaves thus all men were NOT created equal. Women were equally
excluded from the constitution as suffrage wasn’t even a consideration at the
time. The only class groups which the American Constitution outlined freedom for
were wealthy European immigrants fleeing their own land for such reasons as
taxes. After such movements as Suffrage and Civil Rights, all Americans were
granted individual rights of freedom thus approaching equality.

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The American self-perception of living a life of virtual complete
freedom parallels the American stand on its’ belief of democracy. Americans
feel that a democratic government is the only possible administration which can
be deemed acceptable in today’s world system. Such a deep rooted belief in
democracy instills a fear and dislike of any other form of government. Look at
American policies towards the Soviet Union after the second world war. The
American enemy image of the Soviets was that of a populace of evil and clever
people who pushed their form of government upon weak nations all over the world.

The base of Soviet fear was based and strengthened not on fact but a fear of the
unknown. The American response to the Soviets was to contain U.S.S.R through
political and military interventions in countries where there was a possibility
of the formation of a communist government. American intervention dominated the
western hemisphere as a bipolar world system arose with the United States in the
west and the Soviet Union in the east. By using extensive intervention, the
United States turned incredibly hypocritical as they were pushing their form of
government upon smaller, weaker countries which were dependent on American aid.

This is no different than what the “evil” Soviet Union was doing in the eastern
hemisphere. Also by forcing American government style upon other nations, the
United States was restricting the choice and freedom of independent states. This
threatening of choice contradicts the American belief that every country should
be democratic. Again another form of hypocrisy has occurred in American self-
perceptions and beliefs.

Other nations view America slightly differently than what the American
self-perception details. Let’s take the Polish perception of Americans. Ever
since the Polish Solidarnosc movement of the late 1980s, America has been there
to lend a helping democratic hand. Help from the United States come in the
forms of economic aid and increased trade. For the United States, a democratic
sphere of influence in a former Eastern Bloc country was considered to be a
prized possession. To Poland and the Polish people, America was doing more than
helping democratic reform, they were trying to mold Poland into a mirror image
of the United States just as the Soviets tried to mold Poland into a miniature
Soviet Republic. This overbearance of American help borders on imperialism. Such
overbearance which disturbs the Polish people is the recognition of such
American holidays as the Fourth of July. All over Poland, particularly in Warsaw,
extensive news coverage of American Independence Day spans the entire day
through such mediums as television, radio, and newspaper. Poles view this as
Americans having a superiority complex. While the general consensus all over
Poland is that help from America is a godsend, Many Poles agree that the
intermingling of American culture with Polish culture is unacceptable. Never
has the US ever extended another country such equal treatment. A large section
of the Polish population views Americans as wealthy and powerful on the
positive side, and imperialistic and egotistical on the negative side.

The American true image is comprised of more than self-perception. How
other countries and cultures perceive Americans is a important part of what it
truly means to be an American. Americans see themselves as free and righteous
while other countries like Poland view Americans as ethnocentric. What many
Americans fail to see in their self-perception is, that intermingled within
their beliefs and practices, hypocrisy. Hypocrisy dominated the American
containment policy of the Soviet Union in the Cold War era. As Americans were
condemning the Soviets for pushing a communist government, Americans themselves
were pushing democracy in weaker, dependent states. To find the truth of what it
is to be American, you must combine other countries perceptions into your own,
otherwise you will only achieve half the truth.
Category: History


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