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Lord Chesterfield, an English statesman of the eighteenth century,
once wrote to his son, “Vivacity and wit make a man shine in company,
but trite jokes and loud laughter reduce him to a buffoon.”
Imagine the scene at last Tuesday night’s annual dinner of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations: The Americans were slated to
provide a little entertainment for the assembled Asian diplomats. The
show started with a video announcement from the U.S. Secretary of State,
Albright, explaining why she could not attend. (She had to rush off and
meddle in the Balkans.)
But all was not lost, thanks to good old American know-how. Cloning
technology would be used to save the evening. Madeleine had arranged to
have herself cloned, and the clone would appear in her place. “I have
left behind Madeleine II,” said Secretary of State Albright, “who
combines the modesty of ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with the
shyness of Madonna — me.”
Then out popped the clone. It was Assistant Secretary of Defense Kurt
Campbell — dressed in women’s clothing. And believe it or not, he began
to sing. It was a ditty entitled, “Lone Superpower,” and it was sung to
the tune of “Home on the Range.” The words went something like this:
Lone, lone superpower
From Pristina to Port Au Prince, Haiti
Some countries complain
We feel their pain
But we’re stick’n with hegemony.
Oh, give me a home
Where the peacekeepers roam,
And the tariffs are lowered each day;
Where the people can vote,
And the currencies float,
And the countries all do what we say.
I’ve met for some time-ah
With the sheriff from China,
Our positions they sometimes conflict.
But we don’t come to blows,
As our soccer team knows,
We resolve things with penalty kicks.
To my old friends in Asia,
From Japan to Malaysia,
I dedicate this cowgirl song,
And to old North Korea,
We really don’t fear ya’
Cause your missile is called the No Dong.
These lyrics, delivered in drag by a high ranking Pentagon
official, jokingly brags about America’s superpower status before
diplomatic representatives of Asia’s non-superpowers. Besides being an
undignified display, the content of the song is regrettable. In the
first place, we are not the world’s only superpower. The Russian general
staff could gut every major city in the United States with nuclear
weapons tomorrow, leaving tens of millions of American dead and injured.
Never in history has there been a great power more vulnerable than
Taking another view of the matter, this farcical display indirectly
lends support to Red Chinese propaganda about the obnoxiousness of
American hegemony. (Hegemony is defined as the dominance of one nation
over others.) It seems to me, if America uses its power to dominate
other countries, we need to play the fact down. If, on the other hand,
we walk softly through the world, and are truly sensitive to the
position of other countries, then comical exultations about America’s
irresistible strength should have no place.
Imagine if the most attractive woman in a small town put on ratty
clothes and made herself ugly, then got up and sang a humorous song
about being able to seduce any man. Or imagine a man, squatting down as
a midget, poking fun at the fact he is taller and stronger than other
men. Then ask yourself: Is this really funny? Or is there an underlying
No doubt the Asian diplomats, known for their politeness and dignity,
laughed. But what did they think afterwards, when they had time to
reflect? Did this little skit leave a good impression, or was there
something troubling in it?
Ah, man, get a sense of humor! — some might say.
But jokes can be in poor taste. And some jokes contain a hostile
subtext. The arrogance of making a joke out of one’s superiority leads
me to question the judgment of our Secretary of State. And the reference
to North Korea is more than regrettable. One should never underestimate
one’s enemies, nor belittle them in public. It detracts from one’s own
dignity, and it sends the wrong signal to allies.
Last week I happened to interview Keith Idema, a one-time senior
non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Green Berets. Idema had been
involved in an intelligence gathering mission in the former Soviet
Union, and one of the things he discovered was that Moscow was using the
to ship suitcase nuclear weapons to North Korea.
As it happens, North Korea possesses a unique commando capability,
using special semi-submarines to deliver strike forces to strategic
targets. These commandos are trained to plant demolition charges or to
unleash weapons of mass destruction. Idema’s information shows that
North Korea’s commandos probably possess nuclear weapons that can be
delivered to targets throughout East Asia. Therefore, to brush the North
Koreans off as a joke is stupid, especially in the context of
an American Assistant Secretary of Defense who dares appear before Asian
statesmen in drag.
What is most disturbing about the skit, however, is that it reflects
what I’ve previously referred to as a “culture of arrogance” at the
heart of our national security establishment. United States global
hegemony is not something we should be joking about — even if we could
trust it as something
real. When a person or a state possesses great power, humility rather
than boasting parody should govern behavior.
On the other hand, if you happen to be a Russian or Chinese general,
and you hear of this kind of comical display by the Americans, you might
find it genuinely amusing. After all, American hegemony is something
your diplomatic colleagues rail against. It is something your military
machine hopes to destroy. All the more satisfying for you, in this case,
to see American officials flaunt their superiority under the thin guise
There is a Czech proverb: “Jokes should have sheep’s teeth, not