Cultural Perspective

Some things really aren't universal....

Not long ago, someone sent a reaction video to me which they thought I should see. It wasn’t a bad video, but the film the people were reacting to annoyed me after a time. So I looked at the recommends on the side, partly because my attention wandered, partly out of curiosity.

That led me to this video about a North Korean soldier – one who obviously escaped the country – reacting to America’s respect for her soldiers, both living and fallen. Curious, I clicked the link. You can view the video below for yourself if you would like:

Strange how little people in a country – any country, not just the U.S. – fail to consider what life is or might be like anywhere else in the world. One of the many things Europeans have trouble grasping about the U.S. is the fact that we can simply move from one coast to the other as easily as we please. In Europe, going a similar distance by car would require passing through many countries’ customs, showing one’s passport many times, and dealing with a lot of hassle. Yet we Americans can – and do – cross state borders without even noticing they are there.

Likewise, our respect for our airmen, sailors, Marines, and soldiers is unique in the world. It is not the same anywhere else. Though Europe’s view of their armed forces may be similar it is not the same as ours. Communist countries such as North Korea have entirely different attitudes when they see men in military gear, which you will learn more about when you watch the video.

People who talk about American Exceptionalism in negative terms or with only a lukewarm fondness tend to miss out on details like this. It is not that the United States of America is the only country in the world to treat her veterans with such respect; it is the way she shows that respect that makes her different, i.e. exceptional. It is the mindset of her citizens, the attitude of her people, which gives her the character she has on the world stage.

We are the melting pot, the “mongrels” of the world, as someone I know once said. Almost everywhere else the inhabitants’ ethnicities are demarcated, considered “pure,” or at least homogenous. There is a set way of doing things in other countries that, even with the advent of democratic governments in the 20th century, still hold sway in the public mind and attitude elsewhere on the planet. That is why Americans traveling abroad used to be known as “ugly Americans.” It was not because we were intentionally mean, stuck up, or otherwise rude as a general rule. It was because we carried our native mindset everywhere we went.

That mindset goes something like this: “I can do that. Why won’t you let me do that? What do you mean only certain people get to do that? That’s ridiculous, and besides, something needs to be done right now. So I’m going to do it, and if there are consequences for it, I’ll deal with them later.”

Oh, how rude! People would say today. How appallingly inconsiderate of other’s cultures. If they want to throw the dead man’s living wife on her husband’s funeral pyre, or consummate a marriage with a six-year-old girl, or don’t want us to look the local grand poobah in the face, then we should follow their lead. It’s their culture, after all, and we are only guests.

Even guests, however, may point out when the devil shows up to dinner. Or let the residents know that the house is on fire, and they should probably get out while the getting is good. Or that the grand poobah’s face is turning blue while he is eating dinner, which means he is probably choking on something, and thus it is time to use the Heimlich maneuver to save his life. That has always been part of the American attitude; if something isn’t right, it isn’t right. And Americans would be remiss in their duties to their conscience if they didn’t point it out and/or act in time to stop whatever bad thing that was happening from occurring. (See the example of the grand poobah choking to death above – what good comes of letting him die when the American in the room can save him? Hang polite niceties, he needs help now.)

We have lost some of that perspective of ourselves and the rest of the world over the last five decades. It has been said that if you were to drop an alien craft anywhere in the world but the United States, the people living in that country would fall down and worship it. Plop said spacecraft in the U.S., though, and you will have every local within twenty miles come to poke it, study it, take it apart, and then reverse-engineer it. That scene in Thor where the “hicks” come out to play with the hammer? Imagine them finding the starship Enterprise instead.

There would be a lot of new replicators, phasers, et al floating around for Kirk and crew to scoop up before the timeline was polluted and history changed forever. Although it is played for laughs, to a degree Thor got that part of the American spirit right. We may be “mongrels” by the world’s standards, but that is because we and our ancestors never fit in with them in the first place. That’s why we came to the New World; it wasn’t a thirst for wealth, conquest, or the like. It was the idea there was a better future out there, if we were willing to take the risks to find and seize it with both hands.

America has her sins. Every nation under the sun does. That does not change her fundamental nature as an exceptional country – and that most other nations in the world are both terrified and envious of her for that. Terrified because, like her people, she cannot be controlled. Envious because, alone of all the other nations in the world, she “slipped the surly bonds of Earth” and “touched the Face of God.” As the meme says, it wasn’t the metric system that put humans on the moon.

It was the United States of America.

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