One nation put a torch to the White House and burned it down. Another killed thousands of US soldiers on battlefields across Europe. The third was responsible for the deadliest military attack on American soil in history. Yet to the imagined horror of a 19th-century revolutionary yank, a paratrooper over Normandy or the bloodied naval officer on Oahu, all three of the above countries ranked at the top of a new list of Americans’ most favourable nations in 2013.
The polling firm Gallup was responsible for this curious look at how we view the world. The glowing status of the UK, Germany and Japan in the US psyche is testament to the supremely fickle nature of international politics – sworn enemies can become the best of friends given enough money, mutual interests, handshakes, smiles and, of course, time. But dig a bit deeper and surprising details jump out.
For one, we seem to be a curiously negative bunch when we peer out at the world, despite our personal friendliness – a persona that many of my European friends view with deep cynicism and a smirk but I swear it’s (mostly) genuine. So why do we give 15 out of the listed 22 countries a more unfavourable than a favourable rating? And how are these perceptions shaped? When looking at Cuba, 34 per cent of the US now views the Castro brothers’ island with positivity, despite half a century of tensions and embargoes and diplomatic bluster. Will Iran, sitting sadly as least favourable on the list, one day rise up in similar fashion?
And here’s something to consider: despite Cuba’s rising favourability, Americans still view that state more negatively than the cyber-spying powerhouse of the east: China – the country most likely to overtake the US’s status as a world superpower. It’s a humorous reminder of a lingering Cold War mentality.
I'll leave you with two final things. More Americans lack an opinion of Venezuela than any other country. Surely Chávez-mania will eventually push this number in one direction but which way will it go? And I read recently that a mysterious US-based educational organisation sent North Korea’s current leader a congratulatory letter after its recent nuclear bomb test. Maybe they have a secret lobbying campaign – three per cent of Americans view the nation in a positively glowing light.
That's a group I'd like to meet.
Daniel Giacopelli is associate producer at Monocle 24.