Sheesh. It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything. A busy month.
We’ve been to the Marott AGM in the north of England, just of Hadrian’s wall, and we’ve been back to California for a fortnight. Then we had the delights of dealing with an 8-month old with jet lag (a highly recommended experience for all masochists). Now we’re going on the separation anxiety rollercoaster, introducing Alex to the nursery where he’ll be spending 2 days a week.
The trip to the US was the strangest, and the most stressful, of all these things. Living abroad has really changed my perspective on my native country and its role in the world. I am becoming an expatriate not simply by location but by conviction as well.
This is not a result of September 11, although those events highlighted, and are a result of, the things that make me feel so much less at home in the States. America is a nation founded by idealists, on ideals such as individual liberty, justice, and freedom. Sadly, though, the dominant culture seems to think that simply believing in these things is enough; they are not a basis for action. Certainly, they are not principles informing American foreign policy, and have not been for some time. To most of the world, America is the emblem of selfishness, might makes right politics, and economic exploitation.
I have brought these topics up to Americans, and seen others bring them up. The usual response is to deny that America should be answerable to the rest of the world…Son of Star Wars and the abandonment of Kyoto, for instance, are just the US looking out for its own interests. The basis of that argument is that the US is too powerful, and too self-sufficient, to have to take the consequences of its actions, which would be irresponsible even if it were true.
What worries me most is that most Americans don’t really want to know why anyone would think the US was not the best country on the planet. They don’t want to hear that America is feared and hated, or that it is looked upon as arrogant and self-centered. Why would anyone hate us?, they ask, wanting only insanity as the answer. They never ask why the terrorists chose the World Trade Center, not the Statue of Liberty. They still see America as a beacon of hope and liberty to the world.
And America could be a beacon of hope and liberty. But it would require hard work and sacrifice for the principles that the nation was founded on. It would mean valuing the thousands who will starve in Afghanistan because food aid didn’t get in while the bombing went on as highly as the thousands who died in the World Trade Center. It would mean that we couldn’t all have a car, because our grandchildren will want a climate they can live in. It would mean the US Army couldn’t block landmine treaties because they want to use landmines, and that US chemical weapons facilities would be as open to inspection as Iraq’s. It would mean enforcing justice in areas where it has historically taken sides (the Middle East), and acknowledging its own past of supporting terror (the refusal of San Francisco courts to extradite convicted IRA terrorists comes to mind).
Of course, in the land of free speech, saying things like this will get you lynched, conversationally at least. That’s the worst of it…the US is straying from its principles in order to defend them. Fair trials? How will any member of Al Quaeda fare? Any other trial where elected officials had publicly proclaimed a defendant’s guilt and the press had systematically biassed all potential jurors would get a change of venue. Bin Laden won’t even get to hear the evidence against him, since its revelation would compromise classified material and agents.
But if the US would wake up and listen to its allies, act in accordance with its principles, and become the good global neighbor it thinks it already is, what could it not achieve? America could build a world where no one was so robbed of opportunity that he wants to blow himself up for a cause, where terrorists have no network of supporters and are reduced to carrying sandwich boards to spread their views, where peace was the norm. That would be a place worth living with, and in.
I’m not holding my breath. Maybe, in time, the US will sink back into apathy. Until then, I don’t think I’ll move back. It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.