I’m not anti-American; quite the opposite …

A Letter to A Facebook friend

Hi, JMW,

I’m sorry if some of my apparent “attacks” on America are hurtful: they are done with the best of intentions, and I’d hugely appreciate it if you would give me the opportunity to try and explain why.

I decided to become an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church because there have been some pieces of a sermon spinning in my head for years.  I think that now is the time to try and put those pieces into a coherent whole and I am grateful to you because you are the person who has catalysed this for me.

George: Angel Dog

Why you? Well, we are talking for a start! I had a look at your FB page, and we have lots of important things in common: you love your husband, I love my wife; you love your dog, we loved our George to bits (he died a year ago), and we love Alice, our cat, and Harriet and Juanita, our chickens!

You support people fighting breast cancer, and I understand why. I am working to try and find answers to obesity, for a similar reason.

I am surprised and delighted that you “LIKE”d the page about stopping dishonoring the President, and it is wrong of me to be surprised: shows I made invalid assumptions about you, so I accept a kick up the backside for that!

Susan and I like Chilis, too! Mostly we don’t go for fast food, but we do like Chilis! (There’s a good one in Orlando airport: it is usually our last taste of America when we fly out to go back to the UK!) A positive “only in America”: we were in Chilis, chatting to our waitress, a pretty and out-going young woman in her late teens. She was working to put herself through college—her ambition: to become a professor of mathematics! Only in America!

You support animal rights: so do we. “Humanity Against Abuse” is good, too. I had not come across that organisation before I saw it on your FB page: I am now a “LIKEer” of them.

You want to impeach and get rid of Rick Scott?! Now I’m getting close to proposing marriage (just joking)!

But you support Vern Buchanan?! Corrupt, criminal, tax-dodging Vern Buchanan1? Listed as one of America’s most corrupt politicians? All of a sudden I remember why I am writing this!!!

Susan and Marj

Let me tell you why I care about any of this. My wife is American. Half my family is American and, until she died very suddenly last July, my American mother-in-law, Marj, loved me better than either of my English birth parents did. I am a green-card-bearing American resident, and I love the country, I love the people, I love Florida.

I have been coming to America since 1976, when I spent a year in up-state NY working for IBM (I worked for them for 20 years). I watched some of my wonderful NY friends and colleagues change my grumpy old father’s opinions. In all his 91 years, I only ever once heard my father admit to being wrong. And that was in up-state NY when he admitted to being wrong about Americans! He had always hated Americans and he went home from his vacation with us loving them!

I have had numerous business trips to America over the years, and then, in August of 2003 I met Susan, the woman I had been waiting for all my life! Met on August 8, got engaged on September 23, and got married the following June.

Barbara Kingsolver

Some of my greatest heroes are American: Garrison KeilorBarbara Kingsolver are two of the best: the Coen Brothers as film makers; I could go on for ages.

My greatest book of all time was/is Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (can you imagine how I felt when I met Susan and learned that she was an editorial assistant at Pirsig’s first publisher: she read the manuscript and recommend publishing!?!??!)

Another American who has had a huge effect on me over the years is Richard Bach and probably the book that has helped me most is “The Bridge Across Forever”. Before I met Susan my relationship life was years of one train wreck after another, and “Bridge” held out hope that there was some special person out there somewhere for me.

“Bridge” is about Bach’s quest for his soul-mate and finding her in actor Leslie Parrish. Bach had always avoided all contact with politics of any kind, believing “You can’t fight city hall”. Leslie taught him that “that expression is a lie planted by those in power and supported by those too lazy to do the hard work of the fight.

Richard quotes her as saying (and this has stuck in my mind for years) a phrase with its last half always cut off to benefit those in power: “My country right or wrong; when right, to be kept right; when wrong to be made right.”

This was originally said by the 13th Secretary of the Interior, Carl Schurz in a speech to the senate on February 29, 1872:

The Senator from Wisconsin used these words: “What is set up as a precedent here may come to plague us hereafter.” Exactly sir; what we set up as a precedent here may come to plague us hereafter. Let me say, if the case remains as it now stands, with the information that already is before the world, the precedent, for all practical purposes, is set up, and the precedent in that form will come to plague us. Is it, then, not our duty to break the point of that precedent by showing that if any wrong was committed, the people of the United States, as represented in their sovereign capacity by Congress, emphatically disapprove of it; that if any wrong was committed, the people are ready to resent it against their own servants? That is the way to destroy the pernicious effect of that precedent, and that is the duty of a true patriot. The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, “My country, right or wrong.” In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

I only recently looked up the whole quote, and there are other parts of this quote that are germane to my current endeavour:

Is it, then, not our duty to … show … that if any wrong was committed, the people of the United States, as represented in their sovereign capacity by Congress, emphatically disapprove of it; that if any wrong was committed, the people are ready to resent it against their own servants? That is the way to destroy the pernicious effect(s) … and that is the duty of a true patriot.

This is my endeavour: although not a US citizen, merely a green-card-holding resident, my aim is to be a true (US) patriot.

We are both, you and I, against abuse, of any kind. I think abuse of people less powerful than the abuser is bullying of the worst kind, and whilst I abhor what was recently revealed when those three poor women in Cleveland escaped, I hold in special disdain people in positions of leadership and responsibility, like priests and doctors, who abuse people—especially children. I hate all abuse, but abuse from people who hold themselves in some way as leaders (leaders of their church or parish or constituency) have, I believe, a special responsibility to hold themselves to an even higher standard than the rest of us, not a lower one.

That’s why so many politicians are held in low esteem. They preach the sanctity of the family and we find them with their trousers down. They want to introduce tax legislation and we find them dodging their taxes. They preach defending their nation and we discover that they managed to dodge the draft by feigning mental illness (one, apparently, by deliberately messing his pants!)

I worked for most of my working life in the IT industry. For my first seven working years I worked for a major UK insurance company, and then two international airlines: B.O.A.C. (now British Airways) and then Singapore airlines. They were all users of IBM computers.

Then I spent 20 years working for IBM—and the toughest thing I found was that so much more was expected of me as an IBMer than working for other companies. In those days IBM was the leader of the IT industry.

I would say to people, “I am just an ordinary person, just as I was before I joined IBM”. But I was now part of something that was, and wanted to be, the leader. It was tough. If IBM did any little thing wrong (and, as I pointed out, we were only human; we did get things wrong) we got way more stick than any other company would. And that was right: a bug in a piece of IBM software affected many more people and businesses than any other company’s.

I think you may see where I am going with this. America sets out to be the “leader of the free world”. It aims to “introduce” its form of democracy to the rest of the world—many outside America would say that America forces its democracy on the rest of the world. That may or may not be true, but it’s what people think and feel.

I was watching an American news program recently after the Boston bombing. The anchor was saying that he didn’t know why people seem to be so angry with America. “Are they envious of our standard of living?” he asked. Around the rest of the world you couldn’t hear yourself think for the sound of people slapping their foreheads in disbelief.

Let me tell you a couple of stories, and then suggest a little exercise you might try. I’m aiming that you get to understand something that news anchor doesn’t understand.

Story One. In Central Apopka we live on the Errol Estate and the core of Errol is the Errol Golf and Country Club. It has been there since 1973 and is one of the few Florida golf courses that has hills. It even has PGA heritage. But in recent years the owner wasn’t interested in golf. He wasn’t interested in all the people (many retired seniors) who had come to live on the Errol Estate to play golf. He just took as much money as he could out of the business. The course became almost unplayable, the club house went downhill, and property prices plummeted (who wants to buy a house on a crummy golf course?)

And then, a couple of years ago, he sold up and two foreign investors came in. They are Belgians who were living in South Africa. They have poured millions of dollars into Errol. They have opened the first Lee Westwood golf course outside the UK at Errol. Golfers tell me the course is 1000% better. And our neighbours, old guys in their 80s, have told us that their interests have been preserved. They had been worried that these foreign business people would put up the fees and make it too expensive for the locals to play. Not a bit. They are being looked after, and property prices around the area have begun to recover. Ask Americans around Errol what they think of foreign business people … they think they’re great.

Story Two. Ethiopa. There is an area there with good farming land that was being farmed by local people. Not rich, but they are (were) living the way they have lived for centuries: they can feed themselves, their families and their community. Some American agri-business men come along, saw the land and wanted to buy it. The farmers didn’t want to sell: if they sold their land how would they feed their families? So the Americans found some corrupt government ministers, bribed them, and the government changed some laws, confiscated the land and sold it to the Americans. They employed the now dis-possessed farmers, at minimum wage levels, to farm the land. But the Americans didn’t want the local Ethiopian crops, they wanted things they could process in their factories and sell in American supermarkets. They supplied GM seed, American fertiliser, and American pesticides.

The farmers, of course, have to eat. But no-one is growing their traditional food any more. They are forced to eat American imported food. But on their minimal wages they can’t afford it. They can no longer afford to feed themselves, their families or their communities. However, the Americans have provided a solution. Many of the farmers swallowed the pesticides as a way to commit suicide.

Ask Ethiopians in the area what they think of American business people. You won’t get such a positive response as you’ll get from the old guys around Errol!

You don’t get to see this living inside America. It isn’t shown on Fox News, or even CNN.

Now, on to the Boston bombing. I DO NOT support, in any way, what happened. But I am interested in why it happened. Try this experiment.

Go to your local mall. Show the first 20 people you come across a card with the word “Chechnya” written on it and ask them if they know what that word means (my spell checker doesn’t recognise the word!).

See how many know that it’s the name of a country, a former member of the Soviet Union.

JMW MapThen show them the map and ask them to name any of the blanked-out countries. Score one for every person who can identify Chechnya, or even get close (I’m sure that you know, but just in case you don’t, it’s the one marked with a white cross, just west of the Caspian Sea.)

There is a joke outside of America “God invented war to teach Americans geography”.

Prove the rest of the world wrong: can you find 10 people who can get better than 50% of the countries on that map? I’ll make it easier: you are looking for:

Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia (FYROM), Greece, Bugaria, Romania, Moldova, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. I don’t expect people to be 100%: I don’t expect my own kids could do that—just get them in roughly the right area!

Ask if they know what US involvement in Chechnya has meant to native Chechens since the USSR split up. Ask how many of them care. Ask if they even know why you are asking the question.

Here it is in a nutshell. The Chechens see themselves as an independent nation, but they had been absorbed inside the USSR. Back in those days, the US supported the Chechens in the same way as the whole western world supported the “heroic mujahedin” when they were a resistance movement against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (These same “mujahedin” are now the people that the USA and the UK are fighting in Afghanistan. Then they were heroic resistance fighters, now they are terrorists. Same people; it’s our point view that has changed!)

But when the Soviet Union folded and communism died we wanted to be friends with the Russians. The Chechens thought they could become independent but the Russians wouldn’t let them go. Guess what: Chechnya has oil and natural gas and a whole lot of other resources. So we (the west, but mostly America) switched sides, supported the Russians against the Chechens and did nothing when Russia sent the tanks into Chechnya and killed loads of people. We didn’t want to upset the Russians. They have oil. And gas.

Now I do NOT support terrorism. I think that what happened in Boston, and on 9-11 was dreadful and there are NO excuses that justify it. But all the time that ordinary Americans think that it’s happening because the terrorists are Muslims and they did it because they are evil, or because they are envious of the American standard of living, it will go on happening. They aren’t evil, they are madder than hell. As all Americans would be in their shoes. Back in 1775 it was “so called” Americans who were the terrorists (or freedom fighters, depending which side of the Atlantic you were on). They were madder than hell because King George wasn’t listening.

Imagine I’m standing on your toe. It would be painful, after all I weigh 330lbs. You would ask me to get off. But I don’t respond. Maybe I’m deaf, so you yell. Still nothing, so you give me shove. Now I stomp on your toe and tell you I have every right to stand where I damn well please, and you won’t stop me. If, at this point, you exercise your second amendment rights to get me off of your toe, few would blame you.

This is how it looks to a lot of people, and I mean a lot of people, outside the USA.

In order to protect my friends and family in the USA I would love it if they could see things from other people’s point of view! To go back to Carl Schurz: wrong is being committed, in our name, by our government and by our major corporations, against numerous oppressed people around the world, and knowledge of this is being kept from us. And we don’t know about it and the majority of Americans don’t care about it.

Don’t just take my word for it. There is an amazing American author, Barbara Kingsolver. Her writing is some of the best English-language writing of any living authors (and I don’t say that lightly: as an Englishman I am proud of my language). Here are some books of hers to read:

The Lacuna, The Poisonwood Bible, Flight Behavior, and a non-fiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

One last little story. The majority of Americans are frightened of “socialism” and think that our taxes in the UK must be sky high because all of our health care is free at point of need, and you guys know what health care costs, don’t you?

Well, you know what it costs in the USA.

Last July Susan and I came to Florida to celebrate the 4th of July and Susan’s birthday on the 7th. We were due to fly home on 7-16, but, most unexpectedly, Mom died on 7-14. Our two-week trip turned into a two-month trip, and turned our lives upside down. We are both in our 60s; we have meds we take on a regular basis. In the UK, because we are over 60, they are free. We only came with a two-week supply: we ran out. Susan got a prescription for one of her meds and took it to the pharmacy at Winn-Dixie. The pharmacist asked if she had insurance; she said no; she was happy to pay—until the pharmacist told her it would be $136. Susan passed on that and we made an appointment to see our doctor when we got home. We told this story to our doctor who was amazed. Doctors within the UK National Health System have to manage their own budgets, so they know what drugs cost. She looked it up on her computer. In the UK the NHS pays the pharmacy company £4.60 ($6.90) for the med that Susan would have had to pay $136 for at Winn-Dixie.

The reason health care is so expensive in the USA is that very rich people are aiming to be even richer. This happens in every country in the world, but it is much worse in the USA, and is much more visible to the rest of the world—because the USA wants to be world leader.

I’ll stop now, or I’ll start getting hot under the collar!

I have always been amazed by the USA: the country balances out; it has more total turkeys per square mile than almost any other nation on earth, but it has an equal number of totally amazing people. It has more violence, but more love, more ignorance and more knowledge, more stupidity but more wondrousness.

I live in hope that we can upset the balance in favour of love, intelligence, amazing people. I see it as my duty as a patriot.

If you read this far, thank you. If we are still friends, thank you even more!


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