Icenay Rytay, Ippyhay
Peter (aka "Hippy") is a fine American, I am sure. He claims to admire American hegemony, while at the same time rejecting any notion of the need for our school children to learn a foreign language in school. But his rebuttal essay to my argument reads like a Massachusetts liberal channeling what he would imagine the average red-blooded flag waver would say and not what he truly thinks what is best for this awesome country of ours.
Why do I think this? Because if he really, truly wanted the USA to be #1 in all things, he would see that knowledge is power. Possessing and projecting power is what America is and should be all about. And what better knowledge to translate (no pun intended) that power than the knowledge of foreign languages?
If you take a look at how parsing of our own English words has shaped the way we look at things and, hence, the way we think and the way we act, we have an effective model for influencing others. Once we started referring to television weathermen as "meteorologists" we started to hold them in higher esteem and stopped noticing their ugly toupees and unfunny jokes. When salesmen started to call themselves "partners" we stopped noticing them putting their hands into our pockets. Imagine how much we could influence attitudes all around the world if we all knew another language and started to shape the way that others talked, and thus thought. If enough Americans learned Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, etc. and started to replace the word "French" with "cheese eating surrender monkey" (or the foreign language equivalent ), French influence and importance would start to tank. Conversely, if enough of us infiltrated the foreign language speaking people and used the moniker "the best country ever to grace this planet" when speaking of the United States, it would catch on and people would love us. We could also use this tactic to undermine our critics. We could always preface the word "hippies" with "dirty, smelly" and before you know it, they'd have all the street cred of Baghdad Bob.
Now, if you're like me (impatient) you might cry out "I don't want to have to wait for a whole generation to learn a new language and then the extra years it will take for them to change the language. I want to spread my pro-American propaganda NOW!" Well, there's another way we could affect world opinion via other people's languages. Since the United Nations is based in this country, we could employ an army of patriotic, flag-waving translators who could affect the outcomes of UN votes. For example, our delegate could propose a measure declaring the United States the best country ever. Our German-speaking translator could tell the German delegate that the bill would give free wienerschnitzel to everyone, while the French could be told that it would make Jerry Lewis the President of the world, and Poland could be told it was a bill apologizing for all the Polish jokes told over the years. Everybody would vote for it. But only if we teach our kids to speak a second or third language.
But you may protest that the resolutions passed by the UN are meaningless. True. But delicate negotiations between rival nations take place at the UN headquarters. Having our own translators in place could provide us with key geo-political advantages. Let's say that North Elbonia and East Crapistan are at odds over who gets control over some potato mines. Obviously we want to control the world's potato supply and don't want any third world countries muscling their way into that market. Who better to make sure these nations never reach an agreement than American translators. The exchange might go like this:
North Elbonian negotiator: Tell my esteemed neighbor that I am willing to compromise to avoid any conflict.
American translator: He says that he thinks you're cute and wonders what you would look like dressed in nothing but yak's fur.
East Crapistanian: That is an outrage! Tell him that yaks are sacred in my country.
American translator: He said to tell you that he wants to see you crushed before him under the feet of a thousand marching elephants. That, and he said to tell your mother that she left her purse at his house last night.
North Elbonian: So, it's to be war between us then? So be it!
See how that works? Knowledge, properly applied, is like a superpower. We can be like superheroes, only we won't have to dress up in fruity tights and wear stupid masks. That's what we Americans call a win-win.