"Made in USA" internet messages can provide powerful and inexpensive ammunition for turning global citizens against our nation. It's a no-brainer that American security is linked with our ability to inspire allies. In the web world of today, however, the click of a mouse can severely impact our image in other countries. "Think before you click 'Forward'!" is rapidly becoming today's version of "Loose lips sink ships!"
Combat troops whose misbehaviors were uploaded onto the internet learned this lesson the hard way. Meanwhile, everyday Americans still think nothing of the potential negative consequences of e-mails they presume are only going to friends. These messages often portray the U.S. as a mean-spirited, hypocritical, misogynistic, warmongering, crusader country, just for starters.
For instance, a forwarded e-mail clip of a TV newscast called "Love it or leave it" featured an angry man cutting down the flags above a small Latino U.S. business because the Mexican flag was hoisted above "Old Glory." The man then faced the news camera, declared himself an American veteran, brandished a U.S. Army knife, and called for a fight.
It is disappointing anyone would consider such a display of unnecessary aggression as a source of pride. What is completely overlooked, however, is the potential for harm to national interests. While many Americans boastfully forward these so-called patriotic messages to their friends, others unfriendly to the USA can use these same communications to jeopardize international good will, threaten our security, and lose hearts and minds around the globe.
When I showed this flag-cutting clip to a woman from Latin America she exclaimed, "That's crazy! Some "cholos" who don't know any better might take it as an excuse to go after this guy with their own knives." She further explained that while she had been an American citizen for years, she didn't know it was against the law to fly another country's flag above the American flag. The business owner in the newscast and many others might not know either. We both wondered why the man didn't just knock on the door of the business and politely ask the owner to switch the flags around or contact the police about it.
A scene like this could also negatively stereotype my fellow veterans. Someone watching this clip who had never been to the U.S. would likely see this man as a provocative, vigilante bully asking for trouble. They might conclude that Americans are a violent and arrogant people... especially American veterans. They wouldn't know that if this individual showed up at a Veterans Administration hospital waving a knife around like that he would probably be placed on a mental health observation hold to assess his risk in terms of harm to himself or others.
Another e-mail sent to me from a member of my church that linked words and pictures depicting nationalism, English only, Jesus, and troop caskets draped in American flags left me wondering how Jesus would respond to this message? He wasn't an American (or a Christian), did not speak English, blessed peacemakers, and promoted loving enemies. One e-mail photo forwarded to me compared a horse's behind to an American female political candidate. It reminded me of what a translator once told me about how many Arabic expressions compared women to camels. When Americans similarly degrade women, how are we any different?
The world is watching us and we are sending loud and clear statements about what kind of a nation we are. We've already made strong impressions regarding torture, rendition, the rule of law, and the environment with our global communiqués. Our troubled celebrities no doubt also help to fuel Muslim extremist's claims that American infidels lack moral and family values.
Aren't Americans a humble, generous, honorable, kind, and compassionate people? Don't we appreciate the capacity created by our diverse immigrant and minority populations? Don't we realize how it is in our own self-interest to have friends on every street around the globe? Then why aren't we making a point of providing more positive international impressions?
I do love my country! I also think it is critical we start seeing other people...and especially how they see us. The messages we send need to express our freedom to show respect for other cultures, inspire the receivers, and honor noble values. If we do not strive for a more heartening reaction to our international statements, our own communications may become the "torpedoes" that sink our "ship" before we know what hit U.S.