I remember the first time I read about what American president George W. Bush launched as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The whole idea behind invading Iraq, which is a sovereign Arab country in the Middle East, is that somehow, someway, America has the responsibility to export freedom and democracy all over the world.
Now, on paper, this might seem like a good idea because let’s face it, who doesn’t want freedom? At least, this is what Americans expect. However, you have to understand that when you say the word freedom, it has a context. Liberty is the American context is very different from the liberty defined by the Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, Africans, Scandinavians, and other people groups.
Unfortunately, George Bush missed the memo on this. He was under the impression that liberty, as defined by the founding fathers of the United States, means the exact same thing to people all over the world. And this is the kind of arrogance that has caused the United States trillions of dollars in treasure, tons of blood, and thousands of lost lives.
And I am not talking about the over 4,000 lost American soldiers that were killed in Iraq and elsewhere, I am also talking about the over 1,000,000 Iraqis killed during the American occupation. This was a total disaster and it really all boils down to assumptions regarding freedom. In broad philosophical terms, most people groups prize freedom but that doesn’t really say anything.
Filipinos, for example, believe in liberty. Well, who wouldn’t? Liberty, after all, is the raw ingredient of life. Without liberty, you can’t do anything. However, that is not the issue. The issue is where does it fall within our hierarchy of values?
Filipinos actually prize family first, in particular, family pride. This is why people are so afraid of being embarrassed. People are so afraid of losing face. In fact, in the Philippines, you cannot count on people to say “Thank you” when you do something good to them if they are total strangers.
For example, you’re in a line and somebody needs a shopping cart, so you give them the shopping cart. In the United States, the person you did the good favor to would thank you profusely because that is the American character. They are very expressive. In many cases, they love to hug and be emotionally showy to the point that it becomes embarrassing and uncomfortable.
Filipinos, on the other hand, will take the good favor and not thank you because it means that when they thank you, it reveals that they are in an inferior position prior to the favor. And this inferior position, of course, is a source of shame.
The Japanese, on the other hand, focus on honor. Again, they prize freedom but it’s not in the top 3 core Japanese values.
I need you to wrap your mind around this question because thinking that just because Americans prize freedom, everybody else would give you the same priority is a one-way ticket to oppression. It gives powers that beg all sorts of excuses to crush resistance, impose artificial structures, and create systems that are the very antithesis of liberty.