AMERICAN SELF PERCEPTION vs.
Lee Greenwood, a song writer, describes the emotion involved in American self-perception in a song by saying, "I'm proud to be an American. For at least I know I'm free." Freedom is the founding pillar of the American self-perception. Self-perception is the culmination of how one views oneself. Other aspects which make up American self-perception are wealth, power, and the pursuance of happiness. Self-perceptions, whether confined to the individual or confined to an entire country, usually leave out negative aspects such as hypocrisy. When dealing with the perception of a country, the true image of a society comes from self, or internal perceptions, combined with the external perceptions from other countries.
The foundation of American self-perception is freedom. Freedom of speech and movement are virtual institutions in the United States. Such freedoms of speech and movement are outlined in the United States Constitution. Americans believe the constitution sketches the "American Dream" which is having a family, money, and the freedom to pursue happiness. Every American will stand by the line derived from the Constitution, "All men are created equal." In actuality, the constitution outlined the freedom for rich white landowners to achieve unchecked power and wealth. At the time of the framing of the constitution, blacks were slaves thus all men were NOT created equal. Women were equally excluded from the constitution as suffrage wasn't even a consideration at the time. The only class groups which the American Constitution outlined freedom for were wealthy European immigrants fleeing their own land for such reasons as taxes. After such movements as Suffrage and Civil Rights, all Americans were granted individual rights of freedom thus approaching equality.
The American self-perception of living a life of virtual complete freedom parallels the American stand on its' belief of democracy. Americans feel that a democratic government is the only possible administration which can be deemed acceptable in today's world system. Such a deep rooted belief in democracy instills a fear and dislike of any other form of government. Look at American policies towards the Soviet Union after the second world war. The American enemy image of the Soviets was that of a populace of evil and clever people who pushed their form of government upon weak nations all over the world. The base of Soviet fear was based and strengthened not on fact but a fear of the unknown. The American response to the Soviets was to contain U.S.S.R through political and military interventions in countries where there was a possibility of the formation of a communist government. American intervention dominated the western hemisphere as a bipolar world system arose with the United States in the west and the Soviet Union in the east. By using extensive intervention, the United States turned incredibly hypocritical as they were pushing their form of government upon smaller, weaker countries which were dependent on American aid. This is no different than what the "evil" Soviet Union was doing in the eastern hemisphere. Also by forcing American government style upon other nations, the United States was restricting the choice and freedom of independent states. This threatening of choice contradicts the American belief that every country should be democratic. Again another form of hypocrisy has occurred in American self-perceptions and beliefs.
Other nations view America slightly differently than what the American self-perception details. Let's take the Polish perception of Americans. Ever since the Polish Solidarnosc movement of the late 1980s, America has been there to lend a helping democratic hand. Help from the United States come in the forms of economic aid and increased trade. For the United States, a democratic sphere of influence in a former Eastern Bloc country was considered to be a prized possession. To Poland and the Polish people, America was doing more than helping democratic reform, they were trying to mold Poland into a mirror image of the United States just as the Soviets tried to mold Poland into a miniature Soviet Republic. This overbearance of American help borders on imperialism. Such overbearance which disturbs the Polish people is the recognition of such American holidays as the Fourth of July. All over Poland, particularly in Warsaw, extensive news coverage of American Independence Day spans the entire day through such mediums as television, radio, and newspaper. Poles view this as Americans having a superiority complex. While the general consensus all over Poland is that help from America is a godsend, Many Poles agree that the intermingling of American culture with Polish culture is unacceptable. Never has the US ever extended another country such equal treatment. A large section of the Polish population views Americans as wealthy and powerful on the positive side, and imperialistic and egotistical on the negative side.
The American true image is comprised of more than self-perception. How other countries and cultures perceive Americans is a important part of what it truly means to be an American. Americans see themselves as free and righteous while other countries like Poland view Americans as ethnocentric. What many Americans fail to see in their self-perception is, that intermingled within their beliefs and practices, hypocrisy. Hypocrisy dominated the American containment policy of the Soviet Union in the Cold War era. As Americans were condemning the Soviets for pushing a communist government, Americans themselves were pushing democracy in weaker, dependent states. To find the truth of what it is to be American, you must combine other countries perceptions into your own, otherwise you will only achieve half the truth.