Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011
When Kirsten Connor arrived inthe United States in 1961, she expected extravagance.
Being from Denmark, a recipient of money under the Marshall Plan from the American government to rebuild European countries and economies after the Second World War, Connor was surprised at the American living conditions she found.
“I was astounded at the standard of living compared to what we had in Denmark,” Connor said. “I couldn’t believe the generosity of these people who had less than we had.”
Connor shared her views Oct. 6 at the year’s first Research on Tap event, a popular series of public discussions facilitated by UPEI faculty.
The topic of the discussion, moderated by Professor Richard Kurial and held at the Pourhouse on University Avenue, was the gratitude owed by the rest of the Western world to the United States.
Because of her experience as a child, Connor said she and many like her held Americans in very high regard for a long time, despite events like the Vietnam war that would later tarnish their international reputation.
“As a person who grew up in Denmark and benefited from the Marshall Plan, we didn’t care what the Americans did because we benefited so greatly that it didn’t matter to us. To this day, Denmark is prosperous because of the help we got way back then.”
Kurial also presented the Marshall Plan as a reason why other countries may feel indebted to America.
The generosity shown by both the American people and government after the Second World War has yet to be matched, Kurial said.
“The people of America willingly and without opposition gave their tax dollars to be sent overseas to help foreign peoples rebuild and recover, including foreign enemies they helped defeat. There should be a recognition of that debt from the American contributions to the west.”
Along with economic help, Kurial said ideological contributions stemming from the American constitution and American values have helped encourage democratic movements all over the world, and continue to do so today.
“It is with this ideology that the majority of the peoples of the Middle East, though perhaps not those in power, have been turning since some months ago towards liberal democracy. The actual implementation if liberal democracy as an ideology to base a nation around is all American-written.”
There were international students in attendance, however, who saw things quite differently.
Ifo Ikede, a Nigerian UPEI student who dislikes using the colonial name of his country, said he sees the American foundation of democracy as a fraud, allowing the rich and powerful to exploit the lower classes.
“I don’t think the world owes America a whole lot. I think America owes the world when it comes to democratic principles, because they are not built on democracy and they don’t function as a democracy, but as a kleptocracy.”
Going back to the days of colonization of Native American land and the use of slaves, America has committed such atrocities towards freedom that any work in the other direction seems meaningless, Ikede said.
“The theft of native land and the theft of people who look like me to work this land still continues today. When you look at the people who have fought for freedom, America consistently fought against those who were working towards it.”
Dareley Coll, a UPEI arts student from Uruguay, also questioned the idea that the United States was on the side of democracy, sarcastically thanking the United States for actions taken in her part of the world.
“It starts in 1846, when the Americans declare war on a very young Mexico, when they had just became an independent state,” Coll said. “I have to thank the Americans for stealing California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and about half of all Mexican territory in the end.”
Coll also referred to several American-backed military interventions and coups in support of Central and South American dictators, including former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and the Somoza family of dictators who ruled Brazil through the early 1900s.
“And I especially thank the Americans for overturning democratically elected President Goulart in Brazil in 1963, and the same thing in Uruguay, and in Chile, and in Argentina. They stand for democracy so much they have fought against it every chance they have,” Coll said.
Kurial had no issue with letting the attacks pile on, but he still kept his argument going as the discussion group broke apart into separate tables at the end of the night.
“There are certainly instances of tremendous discrimination and violations of the ideals and the law of the land,” Kurial said.
“But violations of the law do not negate the law. My argument is that the premise of freedom and democracy and generosity is still there, and that premise has not been altered in terms of the goals and direction of America.”
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