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.