Shame on the America-blamers

Like on so many other ideological issues, the anti-Zionist left and the settlers' camp in Israel find common cause in resenting American 'interference.'

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“We’re Americans, you’re free.” Those were the first words in English my grandfather heard in his life, spoken by soldiers of the U.S. Army 11th Armored Division entering the barracks of the Nazi concentration camp in Austria.

The overwhelming relief of liberation by Americans, and not by the Red Army divisions less than 40 kilometers away should hardly need explaining, even 69 years later. Millions of people were on the move westward, prolonging their presence in the shrinking Third Reich in a frantic effort to end up in the American (or British) occupation zone, rather than under the victorious Soviet troops, valiantly fighting the Nazis while engaging in a massive orgy of pillage and rape, directed not only at the vanquished Germans, but any civilians in their path.

The first words in Russian many men were to learn was “give me your coat.” For women, being a just-liberated camp inmate, even a Russian POW, was in no way a guarantee against gang-rape. Looting was such an integral part of Red Army warfare that the iconic photograph of the soldier raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin had to be retouched to blot out the purloined watches on both his wrists.

I don’t want to portray the brave Russian soldiers who provided the cannon fodder for Soviet survival over four years of incredible sacrifice as inhuman brutes. On the contrary, their conduct was very human. Military victory had always gone hand in hand with debauchery and plunder. Ravaging the land of the losing side and the bodies of its women made perfect sense to Stalin. And as a response to the Germans’ extreme cruelty - doubly so. It wasn’t the Russians who were doing anything out of the ordinary, it was the Americans.

Two weeks ago, I thought of my grandfather and those like him who were fortunate enough in 1945 to be fully liberated when I heard a Russian soldier taunt a besieged Ukrainian soldier behind the gate of a surrounded base in Crimea. “The Americans won’t save you now,” the Russian called. No one was expecting the 82nd Airborne to suddenly appear out of the skies and chase away the Russians, but still in their minds, America, even when it’s languishing in a temporary state of limp impotence as it seems to be under its current administration, is still synonymous with freedom and saving people around the world.

I thought of him again this week when I read Barak Ravid’s report about the arrogant speech by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on American’s “weakness.” His assessment of the current state of American foreign policy may not be entirely inaccurate, though the sheer idiocy of the second-most powerful person in Israel saying such things in public is breathtaking. But we seldom stop and ask ourselves, why do we expect America to devote its resources to supporting the freedom of other nations around the world?

I know all the arguments that explain how America’s foreign policy is all about perpetuating the dominance of its military-industrial complex. None of them explain why the U.S. followed up victory in the Second World War with the European Recovery Program, the Marshall Plan. Every American military operation since then has been judged by those standards - no longer “to the Victor the spoils,” but instead the “Pottery Barn Rule” - if you break it, you buy it. The second Bush administration is blamed for the Iraq War, not because it failed to remove Saddam Hussein, but for its hapless management of the aftermath. No other country in history has been judged in such a way. America is the only nation expected to act better and not only beat its enemies on the battlefield but to take responsibility for rebuilding them afterwards.

The resentment of countries like Russia toward America is unjustified but understandable. The fact that so-called democrats from the far-right and far-left in the West, including so many Americans, are willing travel-followers of this Americanophobia is explainable mainly through psychology or simple avarice. It’s certainly not surprising that like on so many other ideological issues, the anti-Zionist left and the settlers camp in Israel find common cause in resenting American “interference.” I’ve heard rabbis dismissively call it in Aramaic Ama Reika (empty nation) and that’s natural: They instinctively oppose all the values America stands for. But when Israelis like Ya’alon, who really should know better, join this chorus, I feel nothing but shame.

I am even more ashamed when those American America-bashers are Jews, as so often the case is. When they devote so much of their energy to lambasting the very institutions that safeguard their freedoms and push moral relativity to its most absurd limits in an attempt to prove that the United States is no better than Russia or other despotic regimes, they abuse their freedom. Sure, the size of its prison population, inequality, capital punishment, and gun culture are all stains on its moral character. But can anyone with a shred of decency or logic put the nation that invented the real concepts of freedom of equality in the last century - not France which preached liberty and egalitarianism while subjugating millions around the world - in the same league as others? Is it a coincidence that the nation which succeeded like no other in overcoming racism and prejudice and integrating minority groups and immigrants from every part of the world is home to the largest and most successful Jewish community in history?

Of course it’s no coincidence. And the fact that Jews and other minorities have flourished in America like nowhere else, that millions continue to seek a life there, that time and again over the last century American troops have been sent to shed blood in (sometimes misguided) wars for other nations’ freedom - none of these are coincidental. It may be too much to hope that Ya’alon’s groveling phone-call to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday, apologizing for his speech, was not only a result of political and diplomatic pressure, but also contained a grain of shame and belated gratitude. Just as it is probably too late now to save U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s so-American attempt to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The gratitude and true appreciation of millions for America will always be greater, if less vocal, than the shameful resentment.

Hagel greets Ya'alon at the Pentagon during a visit in the U.S., 2013.Credit: AP

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