In mid-December, Scott Waddle ambled into Japan and allowed as how he was real sorry that the nuclear submarine he was commanding last year, the USS Greenville, surfaced under a Japanese fishing boat near Hawaii and sank it, killing nine Japanese teen-agers. He would have come and apologized sooner, the retired US Navy commander said, but the press of affairs and all that, don't you know.
Waddle never was held criminally responsible for the Feb. 9, 2001, act that ended the lives of these young people, nor has he ever fully told their anguished and angry parents what happened. His superiors gave him a letter of reprimand, which doesn't even reach the status of a slap on the wrist.
At the same time Waddle was in Japan, thousands of South Koreans took to the streets to express their outrage that a US military tribunal had acquitted two soldiers who drove a tank over a pair of Korean school girls who were on their on their way to a birthday party. The soldiers never were turned over to Korean authorities.
Only a few years before these episodes, a US military jury in North Carolina acquitted an American pilot who, while hot-dogging, sliced the cables on a gondola at an Italian ski resort, sending 20 people plummeting to their deaths. Italians wanted to try the pilot and his three crew members under Italian law, but an agreement with NATO forced Italy to turn the killers over to their own countrymen for trial and, predictably, acquittal.
What these three stories share is this: They prove to those in other countries that Americans do not consider themselves accountable for their actions outside their own borders, even when those actions amount to murder.
The incidents, and others like them, display in stark relief the arrogance of American power.
And that, my friends is "why they hate us." It's not the simple-minded "they despise our freedoms" mantra that Bush the Younger chants when Karl Rove puts in a new battery and winds him up. People overseas dislike the American government because it has great power, and it wields that power with great hubris.
We and our children and grandchildren will pay a price for this, because people will not allow themselves to be stepped on indefinitely. We wouldn't; we don't; and neither will people in other parts of the globe.
The Bush administration doesn't get this. It is so drunk with power as it creates a Pax Americana that it doesn't stop to think about the best way to extend its influence. Do it cooperatively and you make friends. Do it with disdain, and you create individuals and nations and movements that will look for payback, and eventually extract it. In the extreme, you create terrorists.
Speaking loudly and carrying a big cudgel, the Bush administration is killing and bullying people around the world. It already has taken more lives in Afghanistan post-9/11 than Osama bin Laden and his conspirators took at the World Trade Towers. It continues to starve Iraqi children in Baghdad.
It cut off loans and aid, and twisted arms in other ways to secure the 15-0 United Nations resolution that gave it cover for its war against Saddam Hussein.
Bush and his people swagger through the world like Bluto, filled with such monumental self-importance that they even muscle governments of other countries to get rid of people who have the audacity to criticize the US president. It's as though Bush and his people have resurrected the Alien and Sedition Act and extended it to the world at large.
In Germany, for example, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder dumped Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin after she said Bush was using the war in Iraq to divert attention from his domestic problems. All politicians do that, and it certainly is true of Bush, but Daeubler-Gmelin angered Bush by pointing out that Adolf Hitler, also a politician, used such tactics.
Daeubler-Gmelin did not compare Bush and Hitler in any other way -- she did not say Bush had a plan to exterminate millions of people, for example -- but the spin Bush put on the episode forced her out of office. Schroeder also canned his party chairman, Ludwig Stiegler, after Stiegler said "Bush is acting as if he's Caesar Augustus and Germany is the province of Germania."
Closer to home, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien got rid of adviser Francoise Ducros, after Ducros said of Bush "what a moron." (A Toronto humor columnist wrote that Canadian morons were outraged by the comparison and were demanding an apology.)
America is powerful indeed if it can dictate the makeup of governments in other countries. But ask yourself what the Canadian or German man on the street thinks about this.
Americans, still in a jingoistic fervor, don't see anything wrong with all this. One World Under Us seems just swell to the majority.
But history is filled with the rubble of empires. They don't fall because their opponents "hate their freedoms." They fall because those in charge systematically eradicate those freedoms within, while creating enemies out of the rest of the world.
Bush is leading us down that path. British playwright Harold Pinter calls his administration a "bloodthirsty wild animal." As the shock of 9/11 wears off, it is time for the more level-headed, consequence-oriented and freedom-loving among us to use what remains of our system to pull back. We have to persuade our government to use respect and diplomacy overseas, not thuggery, and demonstrate to the rest of the world that we are not the bullies our commander-in-chief makes us appear to be.
Cuddy, a consultant and free-lance writer, is a former editorial pages director for the Alameda Newspaper Group and editorial board member for the Contra Costa Newspapers, both located in northern California. Email BCCuddy@aol.com.