March 07, 2004

AMERICANS

Bunker links to an article called "Why we still don't get it, one year on" by Mark Hertsgaard. He pulls out the more pertinent quote:

But the world doesn't hate us, the American people. It is our government, our military, and our corporations that are resented. To anyone living outside the US, this may seem an obvious point.

But to many people living inside the US, especially those who are proud to be American, this is not obvious. This ticks us off.

Being American is a choice, in a way that being French or Chinese or Norwegian never could be. It is a state of mind, an espousing of an ideology, and a label that defies race and ancestry. There are many people with US citizenship that aren't truly American in their thinking, and many people in other countries who are Americans waiting to happen. Being American has nothing to do with being born in a certain country, which is why Hertsgaard's quote makes no sense to me. In my mind, being American means wanting to be American and wanting to represent what our country stands for.

I know a woman here of Turkish descent who is the third generation in her family to be born on German soil. Her grandparents and parents all lived here in Germany. She's probably close to 30 years old. She just got her German citizenship. Third generation, finally recognized.

I also know a soldier from Paraguay who moved to NYC in 2002. He arrived knowing no English whatsoever and enlisted in the Army one year later. After Basic and AIT, he headed to Germany where he enrolled in our American History course at the education center. His desire to get an education and become an American has brought him headaches and tears, trying to read a chapter in the history book when he's taught himself English in 18 short months, but he works hard at it nonetheless.

Is this woman a German? She's known nothing but Germany her whole life, but she's obviously not been accepted as a citizen until quite recently. Is this soldier an American? You bet your ass he is. He might not have all the paperwork done yet, but he wears her flag on his right shoulder and he carries her spirit in his heart.

I've met soldiers with all sorts of accents; off the top of my head I can recall South American, African, Portuguese, Haitian, Polish, and Algerian. They've all made the choice to defend America and all she stands for, to proudly wear her uniform, and to accelerate their application for citizenship so that they can live and work in her cities. Would they bother to do this if being American had nothing to do with "our government, our military, and our corporations"?

When I was young and naive, I used to try to reason with people like Mark Hertsgaard. I tried to understand why the Swiss guy hated the USA when I was the first American he'd ever met. I tried to placate the Croatian who said he didn't want to speak to me anymore because we were bombing his hometown. I tried to understand how other Europeans could talk such trash about my country and not expect me to get offended. "Hey, it's not you we hate, it's your country; can't you see that?"

If you can look at these soldiers and not see how precious the USA is, then you don't grok. If you can't see that being American means making the choice to work with all different walks of life to make the best country we can be, then you don't grok. And if you can't see that Americans are who they are because of "our government, our military, and our corporations", then you truly don't grok.

Posted by: Sarah at 05:19 AM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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1 If you think that Turkish woman has it bad, think of the x-th generation Koreans in Japan. They're in the same boat, and their families have been in Japan since *before* WWII: http://www.han.org/a/fukuoka96a.html "Take, for example, the approximately 700,000 North and South Korean nationals dwelling in the country today. The majority of them were born and have grown up in Japan. In fact, a considerable number of them are the third, and even the fourth generation that have been brought up here. Yet, Japanese nationality is based on lineage, meaning that these Korean descendants are not automatically awarded Japanese citizenship." Japanese citizenship is not automatic for anyone born in or outside of Japan. Citizenship is only automatic for children born to one or two parents with Japanese citizenship.

Posted by: Amritas at March 07, 2004 07:58 AM (thYAp)

2 Could part of it be that Euro's see themselves as nothing more than a subject of their own country, and thus the insult to the government is not to the person? While an American see's himself as part of the whole (from the people, by the people, for the people) and thus the insult is not, cannot be, seperated out from the individual?

Posted by: Blueshift at March 07, 2004 09:44 PM (crTpS)

3 Blueshift, I just remembered what someone said about the US government having more continuity than many European governments. Consider that the US is older than a united Germany (I'm not just talking about East-West reunification) or Italy. Living in a country with shifting regimes, one's allegiances are not as solid as they would be in a land where the Constitution has remained constant for over two centuries.

Posted by: Amritas at March 08, 2004 05:47 AM (ukofp)

4 In the absence of stable governments, people may cling more closely to ethnicity and language as elements of identity whereas America is, as Sarah said, "a state of mind." Some have argued that this state of mind is in fact WASP in origin and therefore America is a WASP nation rather than a "proposition nation," but this overlooks the fact that no human brain is completely resistant to foreign ideas. America wasn't solely built on WASP ideas, and WASP ideas have been implanted into many minds of people who are not white, Anglo-Saxon, or Protestant - e.g., me.

Posted by: Amritas at March 08, 2004 05:52 AM (ukofp)

5 I would tentatively agree that America could be said to be WASP in origin. I do not think it is in practice at this point in time tho. We really are a conglomeration at this point in our history, drawing from all cultures and all societies. The take on Euro's as disliking our government, but not its people is a divergent point in our respective thinking. As we all do, we view others from the context of ourselves, and my context provides that I am an intrinsic part of my nation, its people, and its government. We the people are inseperable from our government. This may be a mistake on my part to view Euro's in the same light. Maybe they do not feel that they are a part of their country at the intimate level, but rather are subjects of their country. In that context, I could see how they can split off our individual citizens from our government. Is it a flawed way to view things, passive at a fundamental level? It is in my judgement, allowing you to sit back, relinquishing control to those that aspire to rule you.

Posted by: Blueshift at March 09, 2004 02:35 AM (crTpS)

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