: Having just returned from Hershey, I’ve been thinking of the power of that American brand. So far as I know, it doesn’t carry with it any of the globaliztion-goblinization of Coke, McDonald’s, American Express, or Disney. Hershey is still a smiling brand. Hershey is what American G.I.s gave out to grateful little German and French urchins after World War II. Hershey was and perhaps still is a symbol of American success, goodness, and generosity.
And so it occurs me to that what we need today in Iraq is more Hersheys. No, I don’t mean that we should go into the streets handing out condescending candy and thinking that would solve a thing: “Hey, you foreign fanatic murderer, put away that explosive belt; have some chocolate and it’ll make you feel all warm inside.”
No, what I mean is that we need to reinvigorate that sense of American generosity.
I wasn’t around when the Marshall plan was proposed but I’m sure there was plenty of carping at the time: “Why should we American taxpayers send anything to those murderous Krauts?” But that attitude neither prevailed nor remained. Instead, we look upon Marshall like a giant Hershey bar, a gift gladly given, and a wise investment.
Now unlike the Iraqis, the Germans as a people massed to kill our sons. They murdered six million Jews. They brought the world into a terrible war.
Yet we were more generous to the Germans than we are to the Iraqis.
Is it because they are more alien? Is an Iraqi victim any stranger to us than a European perpetrator?
Is it because we have changed? Have we lost that essential generosity?
Is it because even charity is seen as a sign of globalization and for reasons still quite unclear to me, globalization is presumed to be a sin?
Or is it because the anti-war crowd has managed to demonize anything having to do with Iraq? First, they condemn the humanitarian rescue of the Iraqi people from a despot. Next, they back away even from humanitarian aid and support for the people. They tell us just to leave.
No matter. The answer remains the same: We need to give away Hershey bars — in the form of support, investment, education, exchange. To be able to do that, we first need to make the place secure (using an iron hand to accomplish that) so that it will be safe to give aid. And just as important, we must humanize the Iraqi people in the eyes of Americans.
Look at how Iraqis are portrayed now in our media: They are either “insurgents” and “guerillas” or they are grousers who allegedly complain that George Bush didn’t come to fix their sewers while he was in town.
The Iraqis I know are nothing like that. The Iraqis I know today are intelligent, insightful, freedom-loving, reasonable, grateful to be rid of their opressor, and grateful for whatever will help them get their lives and their nation on the right track. The Iraqis I know are webloggers with names: Zeyad, Omar, Ays, Alaa, and Nabil.
We need to find ways to introduce these people to our neighbors. American media should be writing stories about what they are saying. We need to support them in small ways (there are many American bloggers trying to figure out how to help pay for their access). And we need to hope that more and more of them raise their voices and tell us what real Iraqis think and say. Hell, why shouldn’t we have a tour of the Iraqi bloggers? Why shouldn’t a few of them get scholarships to American journalism schools? (Apart from the fact that they’d have trouble getting visas.)
You see, that’s what Hershey really symbolized. It wasn’t a condescending hand-out. It was a gift joyfully given, a moment of friendship, a human connection. We need more of that between the Iraqi and the American people.
: UPDATE: When I wrote this, I was afraid that someone on the other side of the water would make fun of me for suggesting we should hand out chocolate; that’s why I laced the post with references to not being condescending.
To my complete delight, the tough Harry Hachet posts from the other of the water that, yes, indeed, what we do need is more people-to-people solidarity.
I remember as a kid my Dad telling me about the parcels that used to arrive during the war from a family in the States who weren’t related at all but were part of some kind of a pen-friend/solidarity initiative in the US. I don’t know how widespread this sort of activity was but as a kid I was surprised at the idea that English families were once on the receiving end of charity like that.
Jeff’s post prompted me to ask my Dad about those parcels and he remember the contents of the gifts: Libby’s tinned fruit cocktail, tinned milk, Armour tinned corned beef hash, Royal powdered puddings, Chiclets chewing gum, Mary Baker cake mix. All treats in the days of rations and powdered eggs.
Around 1980 the man who sent those parcels turned up at our house in Lancashire. It was almost a comic scene – a bloke in a stetson wandering up the street of terrace houses in a milltown to meet the boy to whom had sent those parcels to forty years earlier.
I know charities are busy doing their best for people in Iraq and elsewhere but it is a shame that this kind of direct people-to-people solidarity seems to have disappeared….
Harry wonders whether such programs exist today. The only one I can point to is Chief Wiggles’ toy drive — a tremendous effort but still one man, not a nation.
: I’m sometimes surprised what resonates. AdRants also comments on chocolate.