Wednesday, August 13, 2008

West-East Relations

Having taught international relations for a couple of years to high school students I know the trendy move in academia is to focus on north-south relations. Makes sense, given the great rift in wealth between the two hemispheres, the mixture of anger and admiration one finds southerners harbor for the north, the ambivilence with which the north sees the south. But apparently many in the east haven't forgotten of the civilization conflict that they see as central - east vs. west.

China endeavors to impress the west with what it represents from the east in Beijing. As one colleague put it, what we're seeing in Beijing is a sham, and we don't know (we don't want to know) the cost in lives and fortunes and freedoms that show has cost. Meanwhile, Russia set forth to "punish" (V. Putin's words, not mine) Georgia for, among other sins, being too cozy with the West.

Of course there are exceptions, but it would seem an autocratic, totalitarian east is resisting whatever the democratic west wants to do. I feel truly fortunate I'm on the side of the divide that I am - where individuality is valued, where liberty is safeguarded, where real, meaningful input to the political system is allowed. I'm glad I live on the side of the divide where my son and daughter will go to schoolhouses with kids of various races and religions, with kids whose parents braved a great deal to come to this land, with kids who lack the mental or physical gifts so many of us take for granted. I'm glad they'll have teachers like me who question and probe at the warts and wrinkles from our past. I'm glad they can work to choose the careers they want, like my wife who entered college with aspirations for medicine, graduated with a degree in Spanish, and now works in information technology.

I'm glad a government show won't deem either of them not cute enough to be put on the national stage, but good enough of a singer to make someone else look special. I'm glad they won't conspire to fradulently change the age of my daughter so the nation can win athletic glory.

But when the east looks at us, what must they see. They look for strength or weakness and I think of all the evidence of weakness they see. European nations who believe so strongly in the cause in Afghanistan that they restrict their troops' missions within that country. An aspiring American president who travels to Europe like a rock star and then asks, pretty please, for more help policing the world. They see a western world that hasn't figured out yet how to stand up to terrorism or that can meaningfully deal with nuclear threat in Iran or tyranny in Zimbabwe.

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