Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
How Americans Interpret International Events
By Paul Balles
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 9, 2012
Seeing the Same Things Differently
People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own
wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are
unwelcome. -- George Orwell
One of my favourite short poems, The Red
Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams, is easy reading. Or is it?
So much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
You might ask why Williams wrote a poem with such simple language. Is
there anything in it that most readers would fail to understand?
you listened to Ezra Pound, another mid-20th century poet, you might hear
him say "No ideas but in things".
Aha, you think, I can see the
things; they're simple: a red wheelbarrow covered with rain water and white
But what are the ideas? Two different people will see
different ideas in that poem. Twenty people will see at least twenty
different ideas in the same poem.
I'm not going to spoil the fun or
the reward of making your own interpretation and then seeing how others
After you've extracted your own ideas from the things,
Google the title to see how others have interpreted the same things. But
not before you've tried your own!
Seeing the same things differently
is something we all do. Interpretation reflects an event, object or
personality in a merger with one's biases.
differences, allowing for them, and even reconciling them is where
understanding interpretation comes in.
Now, move from interpreting a poem to interpreting
events in the international arena.
Something that many Americans seem not to understand
is the gravity of different interpretations when it comes to politics or
foreign affairs. For example:
In Afghanistan and Pakistan,
drones have been bombing whole wedding parties, killing women and children
while the media dismisses whatever news gets out by labelling these
incidents collateral damage.
Chris Hedges points to “The war in
Afghanistan — where the enemy is elusive and rarely seen, where the cultural
and linguistic disconnect makes every trip outside the wire a visit to
hostile territory, where it is clear that you are losing despite the vast
industrial killing machine at your disposal — feeds the culture of
Alluding to different interpretations of the same events,
Hedges concludes “The fear and stress, the anger and hatred, reduce all
Afghans to the enemy, and this includes women, children and the elderly.
Civilians and combatants merge into one detested nameless, faceless mass.”
Author/journalist Tom Engelhardt says "For Americans, the value of an
Afghan life (or more often Afghan lives) obliterated in the backlands of the
planet, thousands of miles from home, is next to nil and of no meaning
According to Hedges, “The violent subjugation of the
Palestinians, Iraqis, and Afghans will only ensure that those who oppose us
will increasingly speak to us in the language we speak to them—violence.”
Perhaps most frightening for Americans is the threat of
reactions against them at home in America.
However, most Americans
cannot make the connection between what we're doing in Afghanistan or
Pakistan and how that translates into a threat of retaliation.
cite Chris Hedges again, “If we had to stand over the mangled corpses of
school children killed in Afghanistan and listen to the wails of their
parents, we would not be able to repeat clichés we use to justify war.”
One might be tempted to dismiss such an obvious difference in interpreting
the idea from the events. However, until those in control can discern the
potential increase in blowback from American military action, it's utter
nonsense to dismiss the interpretation.
Return, momentarily to my
earlier comment about personality in a merger with one's own biases. Connect
that idea with Orwell's comment about how "grossly obvious facts can be
ignored when they are unwelcome."
Politicians from different parties
provide striking examples of interpretation gone awry.
obvious examples of different interpretations in party politics.
Biased politicians seem incapable of understanding their differences,
allowing for them, or reconciling them.
In American politics,
Democrats fault President Obama for not doing enough. Republicans fault him
for doing too much.
Sometimes, interpretations of the same thing or
New York Times columnist Charles Blow once wrote,
“America needs the electrifyingly charismatic candidate Barack Obama once
was, not the eerily inhuman robot of a president that he has become."
We need to understand and allow for such differences as matters of
interpretation. Keep in mind how events, objects or personalities
merge with one's biases to fit into our interpretations.