Is it really an American age that we live? [Archives:2004/723/Opinion]

March 25 2004

By Abdulla A. Bukeir
[email protected]
For Yemen Times

Nowadays we have become very accustomed to hear about the so called “American Age” especially among cultured and educated circles. This term is not in fact very new, but it has become more widespread since the last decade of the 20th. century: when the United States has become nearly the sole super power in our contemporary world.
But is it true that we are living American Age? In other words, does American modern culture have an absolute impact upon other human cultures? Or is it only a matter of political, economical and military influence? Let sociologists, intellectuals and philosophers give their answers, for I myself have no definite and decisive answer.
Nevertheless, we often hear American political leaders say “America MUST come first”. But still this remains a political ambition, based on political, diplomatic and military means to be fulfilled.
The United States as one of the world superpowers, tried very hard since at least World War II to be the sole great leading power of our present age. It worked, and it is still working very hard, using the mottos and slogans of “liberty”, “democracy” and “human rights” to achieve its ambitious aim, and it seems to achieve some success nowadays.
One cannot ignore the influential American role in many aspects of our present time One also cannot ignore the American aspiration to Americanize the whole human community if it could. Every nation, state or power aspires to be “the first”; yet this primacy should be legal and should be achieved through legal and humane means, and not through military troops, violent acts, compulsion, aggression or invasion.
Many great powers, states and empires collapsed when they began to impose, by force, their cultures and ideologies upon other nations and states. The Roman Empire, for instance, was great and powerful. It might have been a good civilized and cultured example to be followed or imitated by other nations and states of that time. When this empire attempted to Romanize other neighbouring and also far-distant communities by force, it lost its stature as a civilized and cultured empire. It was regarded as a destructive power against humanity and human values and virtues. Its inhumane policy guided it directly to its catastrophe and its collapse. Other empires and great powers committed the same terrible and serious mistake and they faced the same or similar fatal destiny.
The so called “American Age” was a controversial issue and was widely circulated among European intellectuals and politicians in the mid of the 20th. century. It was a case of great dispute, when Europeans began to feel American influence started creeping very fast towards their societies interests and states. The British mainly suffered a lot from its threat.
Politically, there was a dread of an obvious American impact on the British independent policy. The famous British politician Mr. Bevan (1897-1961) gave his warning statement saying “We have allowed ourselves to be dragged too far behind the wheels of American diplomacy”1. Up to date we hear, from time to time, similar statements from different European politicians or intellectuals.
In one of the outstanding dramatic masterpieces of the fifties; Jimmy Porter, the central character in John Osborne's play LOOK BACK IN ANGER (1956), who was considered by critics as the mouthpiece of the playwright says “But I must say it's pretty dreary living in the American Age – unless you're an American of course. Perhaps all our children will be Americans”2. Definitely it was a warning to the mid 20th century generation in Britain to beware of this process of Americanization.
Of course it is not awful or shameful to benefit from other nation's culture and knowledge, if the goals and means are noble. On the contrary, any human community or society has the right to be nourished by the advantages of other human societies.
Undoubtedly, America has its influential impact on our present day issues, through its huge developed industry, economy, technology and also through its powerful military forces; that is why some label our present age as the “American Age”. America also has its influential impact on human culture, through its great advances in different fields and branches of knowledge. American culture is not merely Macdonald Restaurants and other such American aspects of life for others to imitate. America is also Harvard University and other great similar universities and centres of research and study.
It is also a country of outstanding philosophers, intellectuals and men of science and letters. Why don't we look at the works of these men? Why don't we look at the achievements of this country in science, technology and also humanities? Why don't we read and study the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe, the drama of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller? The novels of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway?
An Age, as it seems to me, is identified by cultural aspects and features, not only by great industries and military capabilities. So America should not be moved by pride to neglect other ages and nations that paved the paths for its contemporary influence. On the other hand, others should not be appalled by this huge materialistic power, or to be amazed by artificial or superficial American style, but to search for the best and benefit from the advantages.
America is really a great power, yet this power should be utilized correctly and humanely for the benefit of its people and all human kind, according to the humanitarian Motts and slogans the Americans raise.
When extreme PRIDE and VANITY preoccupy American authoritative mentality; this by no means, will lead America to lose. It will lose – and it is really losing its credibility as a power for the good sake of human liberty, democracy and human rights. It will lose its stature as a cultured and civilized leading power, and consequently will face its catastrophe alone.
Finally I find it very smart to end this article with this wisecrack. The British literary critic, Sydney Smith, said in 1820 “who reads an American book ? Literature the American have none it is all imported”3. Now at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of a new one, don't we realize that what other nations have are mostly American export !!!.

1.David Thomson, England in the Twentieth Century (England: Penguin Books 1965) P. 240.
2. John Osborne, Look Back in Anger (London: Faber and Faber 1957) P. 17.
3.The World Book Encyclopedia Vol. 1 (U.S.A.: World Book – Chlidcraft International, Inc. 1982) P. 394.