Nixon Goes to China: The Wog Perspective
What struck me about the film was how little the journalists knew about the country. China in the early ’70s was every bit a terra incognita as present-day North Korea due to years of political and economic isolation, populated by Mao-suited men and women engaged in constant political struggle. Now, of course, no single country in the world–apart from the United States–receives as much scrutiny as China. And other countries, such as Iran, have slunk out of sight.
Speaking of Iran, Foreign Policy has a great slideshow of Tehran in the ’60s and ’70s, when the country was governed by the tyrannical but U.S-friendly dictator Reza Shah Pahlavi. For those of us who have grown up with an image of Iranians as chador-wearing radicals, this more cosmopolitan portrayal is striking.
In international relations we spend a lot of time thinking about why countries go to war with one another, and whether there will ever be a world in which war does not exist. On a certain level so long as there is scarcity, interests, territory, and national identity, war will always lurk beneath the surface.
The optimist in me though sees the amount of progress Americans have made in understanding China–and vice versa–as a positive force. Each country has news bureaus based in the other’s capital and major cities. Each country sends thousands upon thousands of students to the other for educational purposes. The number of Americans who speak Chinese and possess good knowledge about China has grown, as have the number of people in China who speak English and understand the United States.
Of course, one could have said the same thing about Germany and Britain on the eve of World War One, or even between Japan and the United States in the days before World War Two. As an academic prescription for peace, closeness and knowledge doesn’t fly. But I can’t help thinking, deep down, that it’s a good thing.
So perhaps in another forty years we’ll marvel at how little Americans understood about 2012-era Iran. I certainly hope so.