Friday, 14 March 2008

Moving to England: Ignorance is Bliss?

I'm going to come right out and say it: I HATE George Dubya Bush. Always have. Always will.

When he took office (and I blame myself for the first time because I didn't vote), I thought, "OK, four years of the idiot, and America will wake up." I blame Ohio for the second four years. His policies, particularly foreign, are, to say the least, disturbing. Clinton wasn't that great at foreign policy either, but at least he wasn't an idiot. But the indifference and ineptitude of the Clinton years seemed to blossom into self-serving arrogance under Bush.

First, there was the Kyoto Protocol. Bush's people used no finesse whatsoever in refusing to sign it. "China's not signing it so we're not," they said. End of discussion. And Americans said fine.

Cheney, with his oil interests, set about destroying the environment. Big business flourished. And Americans said fine.

Then, possibly the biggest break Dubya ever got in his presidency occurred. On Sept. 11, 2001, four airplanes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. The whole world watched in horror and felt overwhelming sadness and pity for the behemoth USA. Dubya hid for a few hours, then emerged as some sort of super hero out to conquer the world of terrorism. And Americans said great.

The subsequent invasion of Afghanistan was inevitable, even necessary. The US couldn't roll over and play dead after that. But Dubya is too stupid to be a leader during times of war. He doesn't have the confidence, the charisma, the intelligence, or the experience. He allowed the incompetent Rumsfeld to run riot for far too long. He formed an unholy alliance with Tony Blair in trying to convince the world that Iraq and its demented dictator (put in place by Rumsfeld years before) were the source of weapons of mass destruction.

On the day that troops set sail for Iraq, I watched from my hospital bed, recovering from a sinus operation. The surgeon came to check on me and assumed that I supported this action. He was wrong. From Day One I said it was a mistake. I said it would be another Viet Nam. And it is. It is a huge mess that never seems to get better.

The British, by and large, have been unsupportive of the war in Iraq, and I don't blame them. But because I'm the only American a lot of my British friends know, I have borne the brunt of their anger and frustration about this war. I have listened to their rants about Blair being Bush's poodle, about America deserving what it got on Sept. 11, about the U.S.' draconian immigration rules. While I will always vociferously argue against the insane notion that America deserved what it got on Sept. 11, I have to say I do agree about some of the other rants.

But Americans I talk to when I go back for visits seem to have a totally different perspective. I remember talking to a WW2 vet in Vermont soon after France had pulled its troops out of Iraq. This gentleman didn't want to hear a good word said about France or the French and was visibly upset when I said one should never assume that a country's leader accurately reflects what the rest of the country is like. "I mean, look at George Bush," I said, and hit a nerve.

I remember my brother and I discussing the Iraq war while enjoying a free beer in Busch Gardens. We both don't support the war but do support the soldiers. The looks from those around us told me that we'd better shut up. We obviously were in a minority.

The British papers have been far more critical in their coverage of this war, and maybe that is why there is a different perspective. But it could come down to the difference in the people. To be British is, in a way, to be cynical, to question authority or at least those in higher office. To be American is to be optimistic and confident that the world sees things the same way America does or that it should.

The average American doesn't know or care about what's going on in other countries. And why should he or she? The US is an enormous country with great geographical and sociological differences within its borders. The average Joe just wants to work his 40 hours a week, come home at the weekend, kick back, open a beer and watch the game. If he wants the news, he'll switch to the Fox "News" network and watch one of the blowdried Kens or Barbies update him on the weather, the cost of gas, and what incredibly obese American has grown into her couch this week. And that's why Dubya got elected and re-elected. Because you just know that deep down he's the same.

The UK, being much smaller and an island-nation, is different. With its great empire days long behind it, it still retains an interest in far-flung nations. Here is an example. About 20 years ago, a man named Bob Geldof (who is IRISH by the way), sat in his living room watching a particularly moving segment on the evening news about starvation in Africa. It outraged him that in this day and age children are still starving and spurred him on to organise a worldwide event to raise money for starving people in Africa. With Midge Ure, he wrote one of the alltime great Christmas hits, "Feed the World," featuring the (mostly British) pop stars of the day.

Would this happen in America? No, because first of all the news is only allowed to be about 21 minutes long, including sports and weather. You want a long feature on starvation in Africa? Listen to NPR. I'm not saying Americans are less generous than British. They're just not as informed about the rest of the world unless they try hard to be.

I can hear the rumblings now. "I'm not like that." Of course you're not, or you wouldn't be reading this blog. But, sadly, a lot of people are.

It saddens and angers me every time I fly back to the States for a visit. Each time, the rigamarole of security and immigration -- even for me, an American citizen -- multiplies. Not being one to keep my grumbles to myself, I have often voiced outrage as we shuffle along in our bare feet through the endless security lines. My fellow Americans meekly submit to this humiliating experience. It's necessary, they mumble.

Well, pardon me, but no, it bloody well is not necessary to subject a 10-year-old boy to a full body scan because he forgot to take his belt off and to treat his mother like a common criminal when she tried to go back and help him (this happened to us in Atlanta). It bloody well is not necessary to subject an elderly woman in a wheelchair to a full body scan (in Tampa). It bloody well is not necessary to put a family of four through a full security check because they don't happen to be travelling back to the airport from which they came (in Salt Lake City).

What happened on Sept. 11 goes beyond horrific. I don't know enough words to properly describe it. But since then many Americans, many in the unfortunately named Homeland Security office, seem to think only the U.S. has suffered from terrorism and that the only terrorists are Muslim.

Frankly, that's an insult to the British experience of the IRA. Since I've lived here, the bombing of Warrington occurred. It was the day before Mother's Day 1993. Fifty-six people were injured. Two boys, one 3, the other 12, died. No one has been arrested yet. I lived here when the Omagh bombing occurred in August 1998. Twenty-nine died and 220 were injured in that one. I lived here when Manchester was bombed on Father's Day 1996. Two hundred and six people were injured. I lived here when a massive bomb went off in the City of London in 1993, killing one and injuring more than 40.

And of course I lived here on July 7, 2005, when four bombs went off in the Underground and on a bus, killing 52 people and injuring many, many more. Not the IRA this time.

The British have a long and unfortunate experience with terrorism, and yet they retain a common sense approach to it.

Not so the Americans, who have seen their civil rights infringed greatly by Dubya and his buddies. But Dubya and his mates don't want to stop with US citizens. No, they want to spread the misery round the world. They want to start checking the details of every person flying over US airspace, whether they land or not. How ludicrous is that?

I cringe every time I fly into the States and go through the charade known as immigration. It's fairly easy for me, though I still find the officials intimidating (even the ones who don't speak English). But what other passengers from other countries must endure is beyond belief. For many, this will be their first taste of the country. And what a sour one it must be. Rude, officious, arrogant. These are necessary attributes if you want to work for the U.S. immigration service. No concern that these people are here on vacation and have just endured an eight-hour flight with no film and inedible beef or chicken.

From afar I've watched my country deteriorate. Will the Superpower be deposed? Probably at some stage. Maybe in my lifetime. Most likely not by China. American citizens think that what happens in their country affects only them. It doesn't. That is the cost of being a Superpower. As Spiderman's uncle said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Americans cannot afford to be ignorant about the rest of the world. That should have been the lesson of 9/11. Sadly, that lesson has yet to be learned.

More than anyone else, George Dubya Bush has changed my outlook on my adopted and native countries. I love the US. I'm proud to be an American. But since Dubya's been in charge, I'm very glad I don't live there. When my children and I came back from skiing last month with one passport still missing, we could have been turned away or taken to a room for an hour of grilling. We weren't. I had to fill in a form and was helped by every immigration officer there. As one said to me, we wouldn't get that in America. "No, we wouldn't," I regretfully agreed.


softinthehead said...

All I can say is ....hear hear one who has endured the indignity of entering the U.S. as a non U.S. resident.

Annie said...

I have longed so many times to write so much of what you have written here - but as I'm technically still just a guest in this country, I've never been brave enough to do it. Maybe when I go for my citizenship later this year I'll feel more right to do it.

There are people here in Florida who will not hear a word against Bush and I can't believe anyone can be that way - I simply cannot get my head around it, at all.

MIME said...

I'm an American and our family is counting the days until Bush is gone. I love my country and it breaks my heart to see what we've become.

Iraq is just a symptom. Inside America we have let corporate greed and consumerism run rampant while the fundamentalists tell us God is on our side and he wants us to be rich.

We were on the road to self-righteousness and arrogance before Bush and Cheney, but they have made it our national anthem.

Pantheist Mom said...

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Sometimes I feel like a complete outsider in my own country. I don't know where the compassion, the intelligence, the common sense has gone. It's frightening. I still have some hope though. This has to be a "stupid phase," doesn't it? It'll get better, won't it?

It's insanity. It's not the world that I thought it was going to be.

jenny said...

I am counting the days til Bush is out of office! We didn't vote for him OR his daddy. Not too keen on any of the people running for president at the moment.. and not too sure who I am going to vote for. Had Edwards stayed in I would have voted for him, but that's moot now.

I don't like what America has become, and I know there are others that share the same sentiment. How can anyone continue to be happy with a president that is so blind to the needs of people and watching the rich get richer is just so damn infuriating!

Everything you've said has hit home with me!

DogLover said...

Here's a comment by a Brit -

What a rant! Well done, getting that off your chest!

As a long-retired lawyer, I was horrified when my Prime Minister started talking about joining the US in invading Iraq. My country invading another sovereign state! Totally illegal under international law.

Then this Prime Minister, a liar as we subsequently discovered, went around talking of weapons of mass destruction which could be activated in 45 minutes. So I reluctantly backed his proposal and spoke up for him.

I wish I hadn't.

As for your existing President, my belief is that he wanted to get even with Saddam Hussein because he was still in charge of Iraq, while George Dubya's father was out of office long after the first Gulf War. If only those hanging chads had fallen off and Al Gore had been elected! He'd never have got round to doing anything about Iraq, even though he'd probably have correctly ordered the invasion of Afghanistan.

But I am so old that I was alive during WW2 and I know I owe the good life I have had to the United States of America. They came to Europe's help in both World Wars. They are the good guys. Maybe they are going through a down period at the moment, as your rant indicates, but they are the country of the free and the best hope for this dangerous world.

I am sure you are right about all the problems you see in America at the moment, but they are surely temporary and are minor blemishes on a great country that has lost its way just a little.

Mean Mom said...

I saw George Bush on the news this evening and his manner reminded me of someone, but I couldn't think who it was. After I had read your blog, I realised who it was. I used to watch a tv programme called The Beverly Hillbillies, when I was very young. It was awful, but there wasn't the choice in those days! George Bush reminds me of one of those hillbillies and he is in charge of a superpower. Scary!

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

softinthehead: For all of America, I apologise.

annie: It's scary that people are afraid to voice their opinions. Almost like the McCarthy days. I think those who still support Bush are deluded or ignorant or both.

mime: I think that this has been building for decades. And I don't know what, if anything, can be done about it.

pm: I don't know if it will get better. For it to get better, Americans will have to admit that their elected leaders have been making major mistakes and that maybe other countries have figured it out better. Do you see that happening? I don't.

jenny: I'm so glad you agree. Perhaps there will be a grass-roots movement of same-minded people. Oh, there I go getting idealistic again.

doglover: I hoped that Tony Blair would temper Bush's wacko ideas, but he just seemed to encourage them. But we now know what a snake in the grass he is. When my British friends get particularly aggressive about the US, I remind them they'd be speaking German if it weren't for the Americans. I think the US is capable of so much good, and it frustrates me to see it going in such a wrong direction.

mean mom: LOL!! The Beverley Hillbillies. I love it. Come and listen to a story about a prez named Bush/Decided to invade Iraq and kick some tush... You finish it!

Pixie said...

AS someone who goes to the US every year and loves it. I cannot understand the hostility on entering the country.
THey are not asking any different questions in the 10 years I've been going, they just seem to take such a delibrately long time as if in so doing the'll wheddle out more unsuitables.
I feel very sorry for any male of any nationality whose under 30 trying to get in as they are just treated terribly.
And don't even get me started on what American's don't know about the world.
Fantastic post.

Candy said...

I don't disagree with what you're saying. But to compare the US's handling of terrorism to that of Great Britain, is, I think, fundamentally unfair.

The reason for that is lack of experience.

I think people tend to forget that America is less than 250 years old. And the only time in modern history we've ever been attacked on our soil was by the two WTC bombings.

Don't get me wrong, I hate Bush with a passion I reserve for few things. But England and Ireland have been at war for centuries, as have the countries in the Middle East. I think the reason they're more sensible about dealing with it is because they live with it every day. We do not. And, yes, the reaction has been alarmist and unfortunate, but I think that, too, will fade with time.

I sincerely hope we don't become a country that has to get used to the idea of someone dropping bombs on us. I am sorry for the people who have died in what seems to me to be a senseless religious war in Great Britain, and every bombing that takes place on the Gaza Strip breaks my heart.

OK, I'm rambling now. But...I felt the need to defend my country. Even if I can't (or won't) defend my prick of a President.

J said...

Well done.

darth sardonic said...

wooo fucking hooo!! i loved this post, and have voiced similar opinions many a time in my own blog. i love my country, and i support our troops, and i am happy for the way of life that we have, but i think ofttimes we take it for granted. and i think, due in part to the bush administration's handling of things post 9/11, that the nation has gotten the idea that bad-mouthing the president is akin to not supporting the troops or being unpatriotic.

i am a little scared for what is to follow, because i am not sure that any of the candidates being presented me are really one to the task of getting us back on track as a nation.

only time will tell.

Expatmum said...

You go girl. Actually what is really frightening over here is the lack of information there is, unless you go out looking for it or scour the New York Times cover to cover every day. It has been so easy for Bush and Cheney to ignore the Constitution that it's amazing. They should both be impeached on several issues.
At the moment we get little other than the primaries. No mention of what has been going on in kenya at all.
I do remember being particularly offended after 9/11 when Bush declared a worldwide war on terror. As someone who worked on Oxford Street in the 1980's we were subject to bomb hoaxes all the time. And what about the ETA and Bader Meinhoff? Apparently these weren't a problem before 9/11. The worst of it was even my friends thought there was something slightly un-American about mentioning this.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

pixie: I'm going to say something very unpolitic, which is that some of these immigration officials don't even know English well enough to ask these questions.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

candy: Do you really think the age of our country has anything to do with how terrorism and tourism (which somehow seem to have been confused for one another) are handled? Israel is a very young country. Half of Europe used to be another country in only the last century. While England and Ireland have had troubles for centuries, the terrorism and bombings only really got started in the 60s and 70s (Brits, correct me if I'm wrong). I think you're right about the inexperience, but I don't think it should be used as an excuse. And you might recall the US only got involved in WW2 after Hawaii was attacked. As for the Middle East problems, the problems in Israel began after Israel was formed as a nation in 1948. Before that it was a territory known as Palestine that was occupied by the British. When Israel was formed, the natives, the nomad Palestinians, were uprooted from their homes and lands. Not unlike what happened to Native Americans in the good ole USA.

The US since its infancy always leans toward isolationism, particularly when it feels under attack. But that's not how the modern world can operate and it's not how the US, as the world's only superpower at the moment, should operate. And its heavy-handed approach to terrorism seems to actually be an excuse to go back into its isolationist hole.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

darth: It has echoes of the McCarthy era, does it not? That burned itself out and let's hope this does too. But I'm worried too.

expatmum: Of course, you are like my mirror image so you'll have an interesting perspective on this. It must have been a very frightening time back then.

Candy said...

Yes, as a nation America was founded on a platform of isolationism. To quote George Washington’s farewell address:

“The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to domestic nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.”

But I really don’t see that as our current mode of operandi. If anything, America is continually knocked for its interventionist attitude. In the 20th century, the US intervened in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Chile, Afghanistan, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, and the list goes on. I don’t know that I agree with your statement that we are becoming an isoliationist nation. In fact, we are often implicated as being just the opposite. And many people said we deserved the 9/11 attacks because of our political involvement with other nations. Is it any wonder that many Americans would prefer we returned to Washington’s non-intervention status?

As far as the other countries go, I don’t know everything about European history, but I know that Irish unrest has been going on since the early 1900s and WWII littered England in bombs. I also know that, even though some of the countries in Europe have changed names, the citizenry is the same. And those people have lived with war on their soil for centuries. Even if Israel has only been a country since 1948, the Jewish people lived with centuries of atrocities and are used to a different way of life.

And there isn’t an American alive who won’t agree that our role in the extinction of many Native American peoples was disgusting. Much like England’s role in the occupation of Scotland centuries ago.

All I’m saying is that while the English people have had hundreds upon hundreds of years living in a country that has been involved in countless wars both on and off its soil, we Americans have had less time to adjust. I’m sure we’ll figure things out. Unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been against this war from day one. I’m a liberal Democrat from New Jersey. The reasons we entered into it were and still are wrong, and our President should be impeached. But…it’s still my country. All I can do as a responsible citizen is enact changes with my vote.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

candy: Hear, hear. I suspect that we're mostly on the same page about everything. And you're absolutely right about your vote. It is a such a privilege that so many, in the UK and the US, don't use (and then moan about the choice of government). What's your stance on gun control?

Candy said...

Phew...I've been checking back. I didn't come here to start a war! LOL. answer your question...

I think the founding fathers put that Amendment into the Constitution because they needed themselves some guns to protect their property (and it was ALL ABOUT PROPERTY in 1776). I'm going to guess that only wealthy people could actually afford guns, so the poor couldn't use them against them.

They never intended for guns to be as rampant in our society as they are today. It's a group of old men who read the Amendment to suit their own desires who are for gun control. And until Lobbyists are no longer in control of the government, it's going to stay that way.

Candy said...

Yeah, I should proof read.

It's a group of old men WHO ARE AGAINST GUN CONTROL!


MarmiteToasty said...

I love this post :)

Popped over from ciara's blob....need to scroll back and read more and catch up....


wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

candy: Unfortunately, it's not just old men who are against gun control. It's young men, young women. Scary. Very scary.

marmitetoasty: Welcome. Hope to hear from you again.