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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Can You Trust Americans?
Created by John Eipper on 08/17/17 5:12 AM

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Can You Trust Americans? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 08/17/17 5:12 am)

I am sorry for asking in my post of August 15th, "But how can we trust the Americans?"

Of course I trust you [thanks!--JE].  I was referring to the American government. It has to look at its interests and its interests will not necessarily coincide with the interests of the Peshmergas, whom the US presently supports. We saw what happened in 1948 with the promise to the Italians about Trieste, to the South Vietnamese, and even to the Russians, as when the Berlin Wall came down they were promised by the Secretary of State that NATO would not enlarge by even one inch.

All this is understandable. Of course Italy is not immune. Consider the events of 8 September 1943 and the Treaty with Gaddafi.  After all it is reported that Bismarck said: Treaties are only pieces of paper that can be torn up.

By the way, when I joined Amco the president asked me if I had insurance on my Master's License. I confirmed that I did, but added that with the Amco's great lawyers my insurance would be useless. The great and honest man said: You should have your own insurance because in case of an incident your interests will not necessarily be the same as the Company's, and you may become a scapegoat.

So from then on I strongly trusted him personally but only him as a person.

JE comments:  Americans are taught that we can be trusted, personally and collectively--fair play, respect for law, and all that.  A myth?  In many nations (Latin America comes to mind), there is little to no trust in institutions.  Trust works on a personal/"in group" level, and it must be earned.

"There are no permanent friends, only permanent interests."  This maxim appears on WAIS from time to time.  I would add to this Palmerston/Kissinger wisdom that even a nation's interests are far from permanent.


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  • Can You Trust Americans? (John Heelan, UK 08/17/17 4:24 PM)
    In response to John E's question, all nations are plagued with a section of society holding power that usually cannot and should not be trusted--i.e. politicians.

    If you asked me as a long-term observer and traveler to the US, "Do I trust Americans as a nation?" The answer would be "Yes." If the question were "Do I trust the American government in power at any one time"? The answer would be "No."


    This is especially true of the current denizens of the White House.


    JE comments: On a related note, John Heelan has also sent a comment on former PM Tony Blair's memoirs.  It's a pithy appraisal of Mr "Bliar's" veracity.  Tune in, first thing tomorrow.

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    • Can You Trust Americans? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/19/17 6:55 AM)
      Looking at historical evidence, I believe most people would share John Heelan's assessment (17 August) that he trusts Americans as a nation but not the American government in power at any one time.

      That begs the question why/how such a trustworthy people continue to elect increasingly less trustworthy government representatives. What is the problem(s) with American democracy and way of government?


      Unless we Americans answer this critical question, our nation will continue its social, political, economic decay. That is our responsibility as American citizens, and ultimately this decay is our own fault.


      WSC comments:  You can always trust Americans to do the right thing--after they've tried everything else.

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      • Trust Of, and Trust Within, Nations (Henry Levin, USA 08/20/17 4:56 AM)
        It is amazing to me how trustworthy Americans are in terms of much of their behavior. In most of the countries that I have been in, trust is emplaced in family, extended family, religious compatriots, ethnic and linguistic colleagues, and villages of origin, pretty much in that order. Much of the reason for this is the lack of universal property rights, an honest judiciary, and the related phenomenon of general corruption. Although we have a lot to complain about in our government, many of the institutions that enable our trust continue to function, including the time-worn mention that we are a nation of laws.

        I met a guy at a NY Starbucks from San Francisco who had met a New Yorker in a New York cafe. They found that they had similar business interests. Two weeks later they had signed a multi-million dollar deal for a start-up after writing out at the meeting a rudimentary agreement and then submitting that to financial advisors and lawyers from both coasts. I mentioned this to a European and several people from emerging market countries, and they all thought that this was crazy, because "how could you trust someone who was not a member of your family or well-known to you and subject to social and political sanctions through family, ethnic, or other membership?" I should also mention that the two individuals who consummated the deal were of different races.


        I think that we need more granular evaluation of what is meant by trust (around the world) and why.


        JE comments:  I used to deal regularly with a specific local merchant of Indian background.  Even after years he did not trust me enough to accept my cash without a labored process of getting out the counterfeit-detecting pen and marking up my bills.  I started to take offense at this.


        A 2008 Pew study places the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America at the bottom of the "most people are trustworthy" scale.  Top places belong to the usual suspects (Sweden and Canada), but the #1 spot is totally (to me) unexpected:  China, which is anything but a corruption-free society.  See below:


        http://www.pewglobal.org/2008/04/15/where-trust-is-high-crime-and-corruption-are-low/


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        • How Do You Measure "Trust"? The Economist's Liveability Index (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/21/17 4:08 PM)
          The topic of trust and trustworthiness in different societies always interested me, because they are generally based in assumptions, factors, measures and social models which sometimes are biased or less than perfect. The question used in the Pew Center study cited by John E was apparently very simple, "Are people in society trustworthy?"  Taking apart the reliability of the data collection and sampling methodology and consequently the reliability of the results, the possible answers were simple: yes or no, agree or disagree.

          Of course the meaning and the social context of "trustworthy" in different languages and cultures is definitively of no minor importance for the survey. For instance, I understand that in English the meaning of trustworthy is that "a person is reliable, responsible, and can be trusted completely." There are frequently other synonyms such as dependable, ethical, honest, honourable, reliable, reputable, responsible, righteous, trusty, truthful, upright and maybe many others. In Spanish the meaning is more or less the same, "ser confiable o fiable," "una persona de confianza", which means a strong confidence in somebody. However, many times a "persona de confianza " is related to a more emotional meaning, somebody to whom you can have a personal or familiar relationship but not necessarily to trust him or her on other matters.


          With this argument I am striving to put the simplistic models in context. The Pew Center question could lead to erroneous conclusions.


          A more interesting and complex study can be found in The Economist. It is the 2017 Global Liveability Index, an annual ranking test by The Economist's Intelligence Unit which assesses which worldwide locations provide the best and worst living standards, http://www.eiu.com/topic/liveability



          The research uses five categories or weighted indicators, with five or six factors each, for evaluation:


          · Stability (weight: 25% of total)


          · Healthcare (weight: 20% of total)


          · Culture & Environment (weight: 25% of total)


          · Education (weight: 10% of total)


          · Infrastructure (weight: 20% of total)


          I do not know if I agree with giving Education only 10% of the weight, but those are the ones used by the model.


          Among 143 countries in the study, the big winners are cities in Canada and Australia:


          1. Australia, Melbourne


          2. Austria, Vienna


          3. Canada, Vancouver


          4. Canada,Toronto


          5. Canada, Calgary


          6. Australia, Adelaide


          7. Australia, Perth


          8. New Zealand, Auckland


          9. Finland, Helsinki


          10. Germany, Hamburg


          The "losers" or last ten positions are


          134) Ukraine, Kiev


          135) Cameroon, Douala


          136) Zimbabwe, Harare


          137) Pakistan, Karachi


          138) Algeria, Algiers


          139) PNG, Port Moresby


          140) Bangladesh, Dhaka


          141) Libya. Tripoli


          142) Nigeria, Lagos


          143) Syria, Damascus


          I was very much surprised not to find Caracas, Venezuela, last on the list!


          JE comments: Excellent points from José Ignacio Soler, especially with the "confianza" factor.  There is no exact translation of ser de confianza--it means someone you trust, but also in whom you can confide.  Reliability or responsibility is not necessarily part of the equation.


          WAISers know I love nation and city rankings.  The Economist's list is interesting, but "liveability" strikes me as even more subjective than trust.  Ultimately, isn't a liveable city one in which you have people you trust?

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        • Measuring Trustworthiness by Nation: China (Henry Levin, USA 08/22/17 4:18 AM)

          As I suggested in my earlier post (August 20th), you have to treat the issue of trust at a more granular level.


          I have not seen the construction of the Pew survey that John E mentioned in his comments.  But, it is my experience that the Chinese trust authority. If one is an important party operative or a key executive in a State-owned enterprise or a local politician with strong ties to the party or key individuals, one will see levels of enrichment and wealth that go far beyond what could be accumulated through salaries. That is, the wealth has come from other means of privilege. Yet, power is highly respected and trusted because the State is the instrument of such power and what it confers in treasure. This is not the same as trust in everyday interactions with strangers. I don't have time now to evaluate the survey because I am preparing for my fall classes.


          The enrichment that I mention is considered acceptable, even if acquired through what we believe are dubious means, because one has to trust the source of authority and power unless one is prepared to resist it. I won't mention the consequences of opposing the sources and structure of established power relations. But, you should note that even the present "fight on corruption" is highly personalized against those who have lost favor in some way.


          But, even in an academic setting in China there is "trust" if you mean that the older academics in higher ranks (mostly without the training and skills of new graduates from abroad) trust their superiors to assign their research and teaching. This is not a matter of choice. This is an accepted practice where trust is based upon tradition that has been considered legitimate and intact for centuries. So, I continue to push for a discussion based upon definition and operationalization of trust rather than generalizing about the term at an abstract level.


          JE comments:  Piggybacking on José Ignacio Soler's dissection of "trust" in Spanish vs English (August 21st), I would like to see a similar exercise for Chinese.  Hank Levin suggests that trust in Chinese culture may have more to do with respect for authority and the status quo.  Western notions of trust have much to do with a presumption of fairness.  Are we on to something here?

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  • All Nations Follow Their Interests (Istvan Simon, USA 08/18/17 1:45 PM)
    Eugenio Battaglia (17 August) seems to be a hopeless romantic. Now do not get me wrong: I am a romantic person myself, so this is not necessarily meant to be a criticism. On the other hand, one difference between Eugenio and me seems to be that I am a romantic in personal relationships, but do not expect nations to be also romantic, and therefore I find Eugenio's post a bit naive.

    Eugenio faults the United States for following its interests. This is frankly absurd, for that is precisely what the United States, and every country for that matter, is supposed to do. Now when one talks about interests, it does not follow that it has to be a narrow interest. International Relations is not a zero-sum game. That is the whole point of International Relations for any country--the art of finding common interests, so that what is my gain is not necessarily your loss. There definitely are many many win-win situations, though whoever reads Eugenio would hardly ever suspect this is so. He always attacks the United States, and always for behavior that he condones in other countries, most notably his own country under Mussolini and Russia under Putin.


    It is true that the United States promised Russia that NATO would not be expanded and it is true that this is not what happened. But the other side of this coin is that for example Hungary and the Czech Republic (and others) were allowed into NATO, something that these countries deeply wanted. For Hungary's and the Czech Republic's experience with Russia is an unhappy one. Both were raped and invaded by Russian troops against their will. This is very different from the invasion of Italy in the Second World War. Italy was liberated from the Germans in World War II and our troops remain there because the Italian government wants us there. Contrary to Mussolini, the Italian government today was elected by the people of Italy democratically, and so they express the views of the Italian people.


    Of course, Mussolini did not invite the United States and its allies in, as Eugenio will no doubt point out. But Mussolini was not Italy--he was just a totalitarian dictator of Italy, who betrayed Italy by being a puppet of Hitler, particularly towards the end of the war, who was not chosen by the Italian people, who had overstayed his welcome in power, so much so that he was hanged for it by Italians that Eugenio abhors, but who nonetheless were Italians, and considered by others to have been patriots. The people of Italy in general though not including Eugenio, were grateful for being liberated of Mussolini's tyranny, to say nothing of the brutal Nazi occupation of Italy.


    JE comments:  We could extend Istvan Simon's appraisal of diplomacy.  Whenever international relations are not win-win, there is only one outcome:  conflict.


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