American Image in Greece … and the world

Actions speak louder than words

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Americans are raised to be proud of their country and, more than that, to believe that the US is a beacon of hope and democracy for the rest of the world. At times throughout its history, the US has achieved great good, helping countries ravaged by war or natural disaster. At other times, though, narrow national self-interest has meant dabbling in the internal affairs of other nations, heavy handed trade policies and even support of petty dictators.

Greece is one of those democracies that benefitted substantially from American aid after WWII, only to be taken over by a military junta that many Greeks suspected was abetted by the US. While many Greeks have close ties with the US, the post-junta years have also seen a good bit of resentment. Yet, Americans living in Greece experienced good relationships with their hosts. 

Then came the Bush-43 administration with its ‘axis of evil,’ ‘war on terror’ and most particularly, its attack on Iraq. America’s image abroad plummeted. Greeks, like much of the world, rallied against invading Iraq. The protest before the March 2003 invasion was one of the largest on record, and a poll of Greek sentiment registered 92% against the incipient invasion.

Americans in Greece had a variety of reactions. A handful supported Bush. Most became less comfortable with their neighbors, more wary of other, especially Middle Eastern, foreigners. Some went so far as to say ‘Canada’ if asked where they were from. Others formed HELADA.

With the 2008 election of Obama and his emphasis on ‘diplomacy first,’ Americans in Greece began to feel a sense of relief. We’re not out of the woods yet, but things are looking up. What we’ve learned is that a country cannot rest on its laurels. What it does in the rest of the world and what its citizens do wherever they may live, mean a great deal more than slogans and pronouncements. In short, actions speak louder than words.  

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