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Press Review January 24, 2002
 
In Da Times
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 10 of 15
 
Kristof obviously isn't a Twain fan. He uses three words/phrases here that describe in a very literal way America forcing itself on other people: "appoints itself world policeman", "inflicting", and "helpless masses." Those latter two concepts -- "inflicting" and "helpless" -- are stipulated by the defense here through the snide parenthetical aside, "(These are crimes?)" Kristof is saying, "Okay, America inflicts Big Macs on helpless masses, what's the big deal?" He's admitting it, but he doesn't see how it's wrong.

The fourth way he admits the whole force issue is by listing Big Macs, Microsoft, and Julia Roberts as examples of things that have been "inflicted" upon other people. Kristof appears not to understand that the financial might of these monstrously capitalized corporate products (Julia Roberts movies are definitely products) is a compelling factor in their ubiquitous presence around the world. McDonald's, Microsoft and Hollywood can buy their way into any arena and there's not a damn thing your average mom and pop cafe owner or small-time filmmaker can do about it. It's not exactly a meritocracy.

Kristof goes on to wonder aloud:

"To many foreigners, we Americans come across as bumbling goons who squash the globe while trotting about it, as we ask plaintively, 'Why don't people like us more?'

"In any case, the better question is, What can we do about it?"

What indeed? Now get ready for this. Kristof decides to use the example of South Korea, (where he's filing from, incidentally), to illustrate possible solutions to America's popularity problem. He cites an incident involving a Mr. Woo Sang Ho, a onetime student leader who once upon a time was known for his anti-Americanism. He is a person with whom Kristof has a particular relationship:

"To discuss these lessons I tried to look up an old friend, Woo Sang Ho, whom I had inadvertently helped send to prison in 1987. Mr. Woo was then a top student leader, and I quoted him as praising the burning of American flag and blaming Washington for keeping the Korean peninsula divided. Because of the article, he was sent to prison for six months."

The lesson you'd think Kristof would draw from this, of course, is that people overseas hate us because regimes we support throw people in jail for publicly badmouthing Uncle Sam. In fact, he does come around this conclusion, later in the piece:

"A third lesson of Korea is that we are best off encouraging democracy -- even the right to burn American flags. When Koreans were able to express their anger in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they let off steam and their anger dissipated. In short, we may be best off if radical clerics in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan remain free to denounce us."

Kristof only endorses allowing foreigners to "remain free" once he calculates that we "may be best off" if they get to "let off steam." One gets the sense that if it were in our interests to keep them unfree, Kristof would support leaving things that way. He certainly expresses no remorse for causing someone to spend six months in jail for advocating against American influence. In fact, he is more anxious to show that the experience of jail appears to have mellowed Woo in a desirable direction:

"Fortunately, Mr. Woo held no grudges. He became more moderate, dabbled in politics and helped run an online news site in Seoul... finally I did track down my friend Mr. Woo, the former anti-American student radical. It turns out that he's gone away for a six-month study program -- to Denver."

This is the moral of the story for Kristof, that these would-be anti-Americans secretly all want to study in Denver. This turns out to be the crux of the piece -- that the best way that we can lick this hatred problem is to do a better job of "peddling the American viewpoint" (he actually uses this phrase). Apparently, if we had gotten Mr. Woo his UC-Boulder brochure earlier, those student riots he helped organize would never have happened:


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