Saturday, May 21, 2005

Weekly Jackass Number Twenty-Four: Indra Nooyi

There is a curious statement on the front page of PepsiCo's website at the moment. No doubt it is the cause of much headscratching among those who don't keep up with Power Line or Hugh Hewitt. The statement reads:

PepsiCo President and CFO Indra Nooyi delivered a commencement address May 15 at Columbia University�s Business School.

In speaking about the powerful role America holds in the world today, Ms. Nooyi encouraged these new business leaders to make a positive and personal difference as representatives of this great country. She used the analogy of a human hand to emphasize America�s leadership position and to ensure it continues as the world�s �helping hand.�

Regrettably, the analogy was interpreted in some circles as unpatriotic or disrespectful. As a result of this feedback, Indra issued a formal apology.

What's this all about? A formal apology for the analogy of a helping hand? Who could possibly be offended by that?

For the answer, let's go to the source, the commencement speech itself.
...First, let�s consider our little finger. Think of this finger as Africa. Africa is the little finger not because of Africa�s size, but because of its place on the world�s stage. From an economic standpoint, Africa has yet to catch up with her sister continents. And yet, when our little finger hurts, it affects the whole hand.

Our thumb is Asia: strong, powerful, and ready to assert herself as a major player on the world�s economic stage.

Our index, or pointer finger, is Europe. Europe is the cradle of democracy and pointed the way for western civilization and the laws we use in conducting global business.

The ring finger is South America, including Latin America. Is this appropriate, or what? The ring finger symbolizes love and commitment to another person. Both Latin and South America are hot, passionate, and filled with the sensuous beats of the mambo, samba, and tango: three dances that � if done right � can almost guarantee you and your partner will be buying furniture together.

This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, The United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg-up in global business since the end of World War I.

However, if used inappropriately �just like the U.S. itself -- the middle finger can convey a negative message and get us in trouble. You know what I�m talking about. In fact, I suspect you�re hoping that I�ll demonstrate what I mean. And trust me, I�m not looking for volunteers to model...

...Each of us in the U.S. � the long middle finger � must be careful that when we extend our arm in either a business or political sense, we take pains to assure we are giving a hand � not the finger. Sometimes this is very difficult. Because the U.S. � the middle finger � sticks out so much, we can send the wrong message unintentionally.

Unfortunately, I think this is how the rest of the world looks at the U.S. right now. Not as part of the hand � giving strength and purpose to the rest of the fingers � but, instead, scratching our nose and sending a far different signal.
This is a far cry from the analogy of America as the 'helping hand' that Pepsi is apologizing for - nope, what Nooyi said is America is the middle finger of the world. The undeniable assocation she would like us to draw is of the 'ugly American', coarse, degenerate, rich, and heartless, lumbering around, destroying everything in sight, and giving everyone else a big 'screw you'.

On a certain level, this analogy of Nooyi's is kind of cute, and I'm not going to insult your intelligence by equating her remarks with those of, say, a Noam Chomsky or a Michael Moore. More offensive than the comments themselves is the mentality that backs them, a far too common affliction: the belief that America has so wronged the world that we must beg forgiveness, that we are the oppressor, that we are indifferent to the rest of humanity.

That's bull. If the rest of the world chooses not to see America for what it truly is, the fault is not with us. Here's a short summary of the relations of America to the rest of the world over the last 100 years:
  • 1918: American troops die in Europe by the hundreds of thousands in a war that doesn't touch our shores.
  • 1941: America institutes Lend-Lease and becomes 'the arsenal of Democracy'.
  • 1941-1945: Hundreds of thousands of Americans again die to liberate Europe and Asia.
  • 1945-1989: America provides the backbone of the effort against Communism and the Iron Curtain.
  • 1950-1953: Tens of thousands of Americans give the ultimate sacrifice to save South Korea from the horrors that have befallen the North.
  • 1954 - 1975: America takes over the struggle to keep South Vietnam from Communist rule after the French effort collapses at Dien Bien Phu.
  • 1989: The Berlin Wall falls, and the Soviet bloc begins its final collapse, largely under financial and diplomatic pressure brought on by the Reagan Administration.
  • 1991: Kuwait liberated by American-led coalition in Operation Desert Storm.
  • 1999: U.S. airstrikes in Kosovo break the stalemate in the Balkans crisis.
  • 2002: Brutal Taliban regime overthrown in Afghanistan.
  • 2003: Saddam Hussein's despotic reign ended by U.S.-led coalition.
Apologize? I think not. Middle finger? Hardly. Nooyi might find a receptive audience for remarks like these at Cannes, but they have no place in an American commencement address. Yes, we need to inspire our graduates to be involved - but in continuing a great tradition, not breaking one. That's the commencement speech our students deserve to hear.

UPDATE 5:36 p.m. central: I am indebted to the great PoliPundit for the link; as always, greatly appreciated...

UPDATE 2 6:58 p.m. central: kate, a commenter at PoliPundit questioned the hundreds of thousands for WWI. She's right (and it should have been 1917-1918). There were about 53,000 theater deaths, and 64,000 non-theater deaths in that conflict for American servicemen, so tens of thousands would have been more appropriate.

UPDATE 3 7:58 p.m. central: commenter gs seems to smell a little blogger triumphalism here and may have a point; I'm certainly not calling Nooyi anti-American; I just find her remarks symptomatic of a worldview that places too much emphasis on America's wrongs. In the interest of fairness, I'll print Nooyi's apology here:
Following my remarks to the graduating class of Columbia University�s Business School in New York City, I have come to realize that my words and examples about America unintentionally depicted our country negatively and hurt people.

I appreciate the honest comments that have been shared with me since then, and am deeply sorry for offending anyone. I love America unshakably � without hesitation � and am extremely grateful for the opportunities and support our great nation has always provided me.

Over the years I�ve witnessed and advised others how a thoughtless gesture or comment can hurt good, caring people. Regrettably, I�ve proven my own point. Please accept my sincere apologies.

� Indra Nooyi

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