An Imperfect Paragon of Liberty
There always seem to be conflicting views of the United States. That people disagree should not come as a surprise to anyone; that their disagreement would be extremely vehement should not be too surprising either, considering the status of the US as the world's only superpower (though China and possibly India may not be too far behind).
The US has a long storied history of being founded upon, and continuing to practice, certain principles. One excellent way I have seen of putting it is that the US is a nation founded on an idea, rather than on the arbitrary differences which other men use to segregate themselves by.
Till this day, Americans pride themselves on their traditions of independence, individualism, and freedom. It is almost a cliche to see Americans thinking of themselves as the only free or democratic country in the world. (A few recall the founding fathers' aversion to mob rule, and thus disavow that America is a democracy, preferring to emphasise its nature as a republic.)
However, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The Americans have a history of fighting for freedom at home, but who received this freedom was often a selective group; in particular, the American government has loved to deny to other peoples the same freedoms Americans expect. It is only reasonable to hold the Americans to the standards they claim to live by, but they seem to fall up short.
Historically, at home, you had to be a white male land-owner to have any say in how America was governed — contrary to the lofty principles of liberty expounded by the Americans and their founding fathers. Over time, the realm of rights was expanded, but at a significantly slower rate than in the rest of the world. The British Empire abolished slavery by peaceful means several decades before the Americans waged a bloody civil war to put the issue to rest. Banana republics in Latin America granted women the vote decades before the United States was forced by suffragettes to do the same.
Abroad, the American track record is even worse. The Spanish-American War, based on the evidence, seems to have been intentionally instigated by the Americans through planted evidence. This was used to exert heavy influence on Cuba and maintain authoritarian dictatorships there. Meanwhile, the Americans colonised the Philippines, and gave carte blanche to American firms to rule Hawaii as virtually their own state. And this was before the Americans decided to stop being isolationist and actively intervene in world affairs.
After World War II, the Americans made several badly misguided attempts to protect the free world by attempting to topple regimes other countries, and installing their own dictatorships. (See: Chile, Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.) And of course today, we have the hapless American government once again fabricating evidence to justify a war.
Now, these are all horribly true facts; my interpretation of them may be slightly off, but more or less, these things did happen. Does this make America a horrible nation, its people nothing more than hypocrites? Are the anti-Americans right?
I would venture to say no. The American government has done a lot of bad in the world, but it has also done a lot of good. The American contributions in World War I and II need no explanation, but lesser known is how the American government rebuilt Europe and Japan after the world wars. They could have punished them with heavy indemnities, as Germany had been subject to in World War I, but instead they rebuilt Europe and Japan into peaceful democratic countries which today are literally giving the Americans a run for their money.
The Americans made a lot of unjustifiable mistakes in their conduct of the Cold War, but their overall intentions were often good. Remember, it wasn't Stalin or Mao standing up for the right of individual expression or conscience during the Cold War — it was the United States and its people. And not all of those mistakes lacked a silver lining; as horrible as Pinochet was, it was thanks to his American economic advisors that Chile is today the economic powerhouse that it is.
But most importantly, what the United States has contributed to the world is the ideas enshrined in its flawed history — the ideas emphasising the beauty of individual freedom to be the best you can be, unimpeded by heredity or dictatorship. These may not have been ideas that Americans live up to — the American founding fathers definitely did not — but they are noble ideas that you cannot fault them for trying to live up to. America, flawed as it is, has many lessons it can teach the world.