Whatever you think is true about China, Japan, Iran, Russia, Greece, the United States, or the 190 other nations that share this planet, you’ll see things differently when you immerse yourself in the conversations, history books, and news media of those countries. Most people agree, for instance, that Dec. 7, 1941; Aug. 6, 1945; and Sept. 11, 2001, are historic dates. What led up to those moments and what happened afterward remain in dispute.
Some of that difference comes from genuinely different perspectives. Some is propaganda, wishful thinking, or schadenfreude. (Our Global Newsstand feature on page 36 tracks these different perspectives; you might also check out watchingamerica.com.) In this week’s issue, you’ll see multiple examples of how vastly different worldviews affect international relations.
Take Iran. A historic agreement has been reached over that nation’s nuclear program. But Iran has strong reasons why it doesn’t trust the United States – from a US-engineered coup in 1953, to US aid to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, to cyberattacks aimed at crippling the Iranian nuclear program. Meanwhile, many Americans, Israelis, Saudis, and others don’t trust Iran based on its support of terrorists and its covert and overt policies in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The divide is deep, the history is fraught, the common ground is thin. While a fragile breakthrough has occurred, an era of good feelings between Iran and other nations is not imminent.
Then there’s Japan. We are approaching the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. As you’ll see in Peter Ford’s cover story (click here), most Japanese agree that past imperialism was wrong. But they have a more ambiguous view about what led to the war and how Japan comported itself during its occupations of Korea and China. Those perspectives complicate Japan’s relationships in East Asia.
Nigerians and Kenyans, Indians and Cubans – people from dozens of nations harbor grievances about past colonial exploitation and repression, even though many now have decades of post-colonial history behind them during which homegrown exploitation and repression have occurred. Or consider Greece, Argentina, and other debtor nations. They see their fiscal sins as minor compared with austerity measures demanded by creditors. Creditors and taxpayers who are constantly bailing out these debtors disagree.
I know it’s not original to observe that in the post-Edenic world, nations, cultures, and people frequently are at odds and often come to blows. And yet despite the contentiousness of international relations, diplomats and peacemakers soldier on. They know that most people simply want a better life for themselves and their families. They know that there is a common language of science and a common understanding that not everyone conforms to the same worldview. They craft agreements based, as President Obama said of Iran, not on trust but on verification.
A future built on that kind of foundation isn’t warm and fuzzy. It can be chilly and suspicious. But it is a start at leaving history, grievance, and animosity in the past.