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US Fulbright professor criticizes the US and his fellow Fulbrighters

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting piece by Christopher Phelps, professor of history at Ohio State University, who is currently in Poland on a Fulbright grant. He praises Senator Fulbright and the Fulbright Program, but he is also very critical:

America, if viewed from Europe, is disconcerting today. (…) Jonathan Steele, writing in the British newspaper The Guardian, considers the United States to be in "dangerous ignorance of the world, a mixture of intellectual isolationism and imperial intervention abroad." I am inclined to accept those painful criticisms. In the aftermath of American conduct in the Phillippines in 1898, the Harvard philosopher William James said he had the feeling of having lost his country. I experienced an identical feeling when the United States invaded Iraq.

Perhaps we should extend the Fulbright program to Congress. Most senators and representatives have never traveled outside the United States. (…) If our representatives lived and studied abroad for a few months before taking office, it would expose them to the world's complexity. It might humble us.

(…) It was not immaterial that Senator Fulbright was a former Rhodes scholar and president of the University of Arkansas, but Congress's motivation [for the creation the Fulbright program] in 1946-47 was neither cerebral nor pacifist. It was to win the cold war. "We have intellectuals," the Fulbright program said. "America is not a land of yahoos!" Sixty years later, the world still demands proof.

Fulbrighters handle the position of cultural ambassador in various ways. Some treat it as a holiday. Others hesitate to dissent from American policy while abroad. I have taken the approach that the Fulbright is a call to public service, and that the democratic interest is best upheld by free expression.

(...) That kind of independent judgment [=reference to Senator Fulbright] is worthy of emulation at a time when some would once again conflate dissent and treason.



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Atlantic Review, a lively web site run by German Fulbright alumni, links to an article by history professor Christopher Phelps, urging America's politicos to get out a bit more:Perhaps we should extend the Fulbright program to Congress. Most senators and


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Scott Brunstetter on :

I strongly agree that being a Fulbrighter is indeed a call to public service. I would also note that being a cultural ambassador can also mean explaining US policy. As an example, I was in Berlin as the war in Iraq approached, and I spent a great deal of time talking at official venues on the crisis. I discovered that there were many Germans who did not have a complete comprehension of the crisis, and in particualr the US position. While there were indeed many who understood all the nuances, the ignornce of some, often the loudest, was disturbing. Whether you agreed or not with the position of the Bush Administration, it is important to understand that free expression devoid of factual understanding can actually hinder debate more than help it.

Christopher Phelps on :

Thank you for posting my article. I only became aware of the posting this week, when the editor notified me, and I only have had time to examine it today. I wish to express appreciation for the link, while also dissenting from the title. I titled it "Fulbright of the Mind" and find that to capture the ethos of the piece much more fully than the title "US Fulbright professor criticizes the US and his fellow Fulbrighters." Indeed, I find the latter title tendentious and misleading. I began the article with expressions of longing for America as home. What I criticize is not the US per se, but current US foreign policy and the American public's general lack of understanding of other countries. Both of these I believe are correctable, not inherent in the US. I did not, moreover criticize "his fellow Fulbrighters" in some blanket way. Indeed, if you read the second column --the one you have posted is the fifth in a series -- you will see that I there call the other Fulbrighters to Poland "delightful people" and name several by name. On the whole I believe Fulbrighters to be responsible and interesting people who share the same approach I took to the grant, of public service. However, there are some departures. I could not spell these out in the column, but let me say here that I have strong grounds for also having hinted that some Fulbrighters do not take a responsible attitude toward the program. One I know preferred discos, canceled class frequently, and tallied up a 15,000 zloty (5,000 US dollars) phone bill calling California for e-mail purposes before his hosts detected what he was doing, sticking the local commission and university with the bill. In any event, again, I express my appreciation for the posting of my column. I regret that the title was so imbalanced.

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