Wednesday, July 6, 1994

Asian Views of the American Dream

"Since 1960, the US population has grown by 41%. In the same period, there has been a 560% increase in violent crime, a 419% increase in illegitimate births, a 400% increase in divorce, a 300% increase in children living in single-parent homes, a more than 200% increase in teen suicide, and a drop of almost 80 points in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores.

"A recent report by the United Nations Development Programme also ranks the U.S. number one among industrialized countries in intentional homicides, reported rapes, and percentage of prisoners.

"The number of prison inmates has risen from 329,821 in 1980 to 883,593 in 1992. Hunger in the United States has increased by 50% since 1985.

"Asian and American reactions to these statistics can be strikingly different.

"Americans assume that the figures merely reveal that either economic growth has stalled in the United States or that its law order mechanism has broken down.

"By contrast, many Asians see the figures as evidence that something fundamental has gone wrong in American society"

The above excerpt is from May 30, 1994 issue of China Daily which in turn was an excerpt of an article that appeared in spring issue of Washington Quarterly. The author, Kishore Mahbubani, is Permanent Secretary of Singapore's Foreign Ministry.

By contrast, earlier in May, I accompanied a group of executives and engineers from Shanghai as they travelled to Tennessee, New York, Boston, Tampa, Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S. This was a group of seasoned travellers who have been to Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Germany but, except for one, were visiting the U.S. for the first time.

They were genuinely awestruck. They said that they could not imagine how close to a paradise is the United States. They loved the fresh air and beauty of Knoxville countryside, the sights and sounds of New York, the courtly culture atmosphere of Boston... They were impressed by the cleanliness, orderliness, openness and the casual friendliness wherever they went. They marvelled at things that we tend to take for granted.--Exchange visits of this kind will build mutual understanding and liberate attitudes far more than geopolitical harangue and threats, but that's another story.

More importantly, their fresh perspective of America made me proud to be an American but also very sad. Sad because Minister Mahbubani's statistics are not refutable. I was fortunate to have grown up in the U.S. during its golden era and perhaps my children did also. But will their children and their children's children? I think not, unless this generation starts to reverse some of those grim statistics. The responsibility does not rest with the President, the Congress, the police, the teachers and the parents. It rests on us all.

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