(Do you know the movie this title pays homage to?)
I have been reading a book (Those Angry Days by Lynne Olsen) about the raucous debate in the U.S. leading to our entry into World War 2. One quote stuck out. It is by Phillip Kerr, newly appointed Ambassador to the U.S. from Britain. In a 1940 report to his superiors he said “We never listen to the advice of foreigners. Nor will the Americans. They only differ in that we ignore such advice and the Americans get extremely angry when it is offered to them by any Briton.”
Not much has changed in the last 64 years. We still do not take advice, nor do we look at the experience of other countries to guide us. Are we looking now at other countries security procedures? I doubt it. Did we do a study of other countries health care systems before launching off on our own? I don’t think so; at least the debate didn’t mention other countries much (save Canada) and then the information attributed was generally flawed. You can attribute this to American exceptionalism if you wish but I tend to think it has more to do with arrogance and stupidity.
Consider a couple of countries in Asia. After World War 2, an almost completely destroyed Japan borrowed shamelessly from Britain and the U.S. and anybody else they could find to rebuild their industrial capacity. The story of W. Edwards Deming, the father of the modern “Quality Movement,” is widely known. He couldn’t get an audience for his ideas from American companies so he took his ideas to Japan and Toyota, in particular, jumped on them with both feet. Toyota became the #1 manufacturer of automobiles in the world. We only paid attention when they began to kick our auto industry’s ass. Please realize that Japan has roughly the same area as Montana and had a population half of ours and had no reputation for either quality goods or automobiles to build upon.
Japan was a notoriously insular country, at several points in their history they banned contact with foreign cultures. Nobody in Japan today is at all embarrassed at having taken ideas from other countries and other cultures and having made them better.
China, on the other hand, was the most advanced country on the planet at one point. Their philosophy, science, politics, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, weaponry, art, you name it were all the best there was. And they knew it. They felt that they couldn’t possibly learn anything from inferior cultures, so they stopped trying. China is trying now to dig itself out from under many centuries of inferior performance. They are now borrowing ideas at a rapid rate.
But Americans, damn, we are too good, to proud, to stubborn to look elsewhere for ideas. We are following China’s path. The fact that we even discuss “American exceptualism” is an indicator that we are on the wrong path.