Suzy Hansen’s successful 2017 book challenges readers’ view of America’s position in global politics
January 11, 2018
America has changed since the days of the Lost Generation and the idealized American expatriate author. No longer are we the fledgling, rebellious country who stood up to European imperial power—our nation has become the imperial power.
Suzy Hansen’s “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World” is a wake-up call to anyone with romanticized fantasies of the United States’ as benefactor in global history.
Through an introspective analysis of her political beliefs and worldview, Hansen points her finger at so-called “progressive” Americans. After all, regardless of how objectively readers may perceive themselves, “an objective American mind is still first and foremost an American mind.”
According to Hansen, even the most liberal American still possesses a subconscious, nationalistic view on foreign policy. Americans are raised to believe that America is a benevolent, generous nation that only intervenes in international affairs with the best intentions.
Hansen suggests that the United States’ foreign policy is more similar to that of the British or French empires than most Americans might readily believe.
In order to understand Hansen’s point of view, the reader must first make a major paradigm shift. After all, regardless of how objectively the reader may perceivethink themselves to be, “an objective American mind is still, first and foremost still an American mind.”
“Notes on a Foreign Country” demonstrates how the United States defines freedom, justice and a higher quality of life for other nations and how those definitions are enforced by a powerful, possessive and global empire. Though similar to the British or French in its purpose, this empire has a different structure.
Rather than operating through colonization (though we do have “nearly 800 military bases in more than several countries,” according to Politico), the American Empire is built through strong armed control exercised on nations we regard as lesser, backwards or barbaric.
Hansen focuses primarily on American influence in Turkey because she is based in Istanbul, though she does explore the role of the U.S. in Egypt, Pakistan and Iran.
However, what makes her Turkish-based perspective so interesting are the similarities between American and Turkish culture, particularly our violent and nationalistic tendencies.
One teacher explained to Hansen that, in Turkey, “War and war making are essential to [Turkish] culture.” Furthermore, “Turks learned that the military must stay strong to protect them from constant foreign and domestic threats,” according to Hansen. Sound familiar?
The Turkish equivalent of George Washington is a man named Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a hero of the First World War and founder of modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Students go on a mandatory trip to Gallipoli, the site of “a giant victory for the flailing Turks, and from which Atatürk emerged as a brilliant hero,” during World War I.
This political pilgrimage is reminiscent of the eighth-grade field trips many young Americans take to Washington D.C. each year. The similarities between American and Turkish nationalism go even deeper, especially when citizens have been attacked.
Once, when a group of Kurdish militants (representing a heavily oppressed ethnic group present in not just Turkey, but also Iran, Iraq and Syria) killed a group of Turkish soldiers, Hansen saw her neighborhood erupt with the red of Turkish flags.
“People marched down Istiklal Caddesi waving those enormous bloodred Turkish flags, the men sporting red bandanas like warriors, the women holding photos of Atatürk on sticks, the children clutching signs that read ‘We are all Turks,’” Hansen says, describing the reaction in Istanbul to the attack.
Hansen’s friend Caner, a Kurd, jokes to her, “Maybe we should buy a flag. Just in case?”
This reaction is reminiscent of the proliferation of American flags and active, aggressive, outward patriotism displayed after the 9/11 attacks.
Every American should have a desire to understand the nation’s true position as a world power. We should question why citizens of another country might hate the United States.
“Notes on a Foreign Country” is an excellent place from which readers can begin to learn about the true nature of United States foreign policy — to understand our country’s position as a world power and how we have angered citizens of other nations.
Hansen’s tight, informative prose relays event after event of mismanaged foreign intervention, showing how the long term effects of American influence abroad.
In light of recent changes in American foreign policy, especially regarding Pakistan and Israel, it is imperative that citizens are informed of not just the American perspective of the region, but also the local reactions to the United States in their world.
An informed populace is the lifeblood of a strong democracy. Hansen’s “Notes on a Foreign Country”is a last-ditch effort in informing the people.
Contact Ethan Beberness at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.