Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dear America

Dear USA.

I was born in Columbus, Ohio. I still retain US citizenship, although I have been a dual national with Australian citizenship for more than twenty years now, and I have for some time identified as 'Australian'.

When I was younger, at school, growing up, I learned a good deal of history. Not just American, but history of the world. And I admit that I saw reason to hold the founders of the American nation in high regard. Knowing the times in which they lived, and the difficulties they faced, I felt then -- and now -- that the work and principles of the men and women of the early days of the US were among the most momentous and laudable efforts towards bettering the human condition that history has seen.

For the better part of two hundred years, the US identified itself with ideals such as freedom, equality, opportunity, tolerance and egalitarianism. In the 20th century the US became something special -- not just a country, but a symbol, a promise: a vision that offered hope to a world full of dark, grim, hopeless places.

Today, I read online a note from the government of Hong Kong regarding the movements of Mr Edward Snowden, a US citizen now charged with treason by the US government. I'll copy the note in full:

  The HKSAR Government today (June 23) issued the following statement on Mr Edward Snowden:

     Mr Edward Snowden left Hong Kong today (June 23) on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.

     The US Government earlier on made a request to the HKSAR Government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden. Since the documents provided by the US Government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR Government has requested the US Government to provide additional information so that the Department of Justice could consider whether the US Government's request can meet the relevant legal conditions. As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.

     The HKSAR Government has already informed the US Government of Mr Snowden's departure.

     Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.
Ends/Sunday, June 23, 2013
Issued at HKT 16:05

 Two things must be said.

Firstly, there was a time in the USA when what Edward Snowden did would have been seen as an act of true heroism: reporting on the widespread abuse of the US constitution by the government which has invaded the privacy of (seemingly!) every US citizen and much of the world through its NSA spying programme. There was a time when people in the USA who spoke up, who exposed corruption and institutionalised wrongdoing were seen as true Americans, not traitors. I am bitterly disappointed to see how deeply times have changed.

Secondly: there was a time when the rest of the world viewed the US with such trust, and in such a good light that a man like Edward Snowden, who openly broadcast state secrets, would  have been returned to the US government at once by any government in the world not actively opposed to American interests. Yet Hong Kong has blandly let Snowden go unmolested, citing a legal technicality. It should be apparent to all, therefore, that the credit and the good name of the United States of America has slipped a long, long way down in the eyes of the rest of the world. 

Bradley Manning is in a military prison for revealing some part of the attitude of the American government to her "friends" and "allies", as well as her enemies. Manning's treatment has been, and continues to be, beyond the pale, and there is no chance he will ever receive anything like a fair and open trial. 

Julian Assange is currently in asylum in Ecuador's embassy to the UK -- Ecuador, a country once staunchly alllied to the US, with a history of looking to America for leadership and protection -- because Sweden will not offer assurances that they won't use charges of sexual misconduct against him as an opportunity to send Mr Assange to the US, where he will assuredly receive the same treatment as Bradley Manning. And of course, the reason the US wants Assange has nothing to do with sexual misconduct, and everything to do with the fact that Mr Assange's Wikileaks programme discomfited the US government by giving voice to people like Bradley Manning, and others.

Now Edward Snowden remains at large, having left Hong Kong while his arrest papers were held up on a legal technicality. I understand his destination is Moscow, but I recall reading that Iceland -- another one-time ally and friend to the USA -- has suggested they would offer him asylum.

Dear America... land of my ancestors, land of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and so many others -- how much more will you accept? Your government spies on you, lies to you, gives your lands, your waters and your forests to corporations to destroy, gives your tax money to the same banks and bankers that take your houses and homes, denies you medical care, denies you proper education, denies you even the simple privilege of paid holidays that much of the world takes for granted, and gradually imprisons you, stripping your freedom to travel, your freedom to assemble, your freedom to speak and be heard, and even your simple right to privacy.

How much more will you accept? How long can you keep saying 'yes' to the people who are doing this to you? When will you say 'no'? What will it take? Have you sung those old songs about freedom and liberty so often that the meaning has vanished completely away? 

What will it take to make you stop accepting what is being done to you, and to the world, in your name?

Yes. I know this small screed is meaningless, and will achieve nothing. But I meant what I said at the start of this. I was born an American, and even now, I think the ideals on which the country was so famously founded are the finest yet put forward by humanity. 

It hurts to see them abandoned. Truly: it hurts. 

I know. These are only words, but I am hurt, and words are all that I have. 


  1. I feel for you. I honestly do. You, like billions on this planet, think that the U.S.A. was founded by noble men, with noble ideals that became the foundation of a noble, principled polity. You wrote:

    "For the better part of two hundred years, the US identified itself with ideals such as freedom, equality, opportunity, tolerance and egalitarianism."

    There is the study of history, and then there is the deep study of history. The study of simple history is very much like reading a super hero comic book: lots of flash and pretty pictures but not a lot of substance. The simple study of history does, indeed, seem to indicate that, for the better part of two hundred years, the US identified itself with ideals such as freedom, equality, opportunity, tolerance and egalitarianism.

    However, a deeper look reveals the conclusion reached after simple historical study to be utter bullshit. Jefferson wrote "it is self evident that all men are created equal" but his life - and ownership of slaves shows that he knew, as everyone knows that what is self evident is that men are not created equal at all, that men and women are created vastly unequal to each other.

    But the noble sentiment should guide policy, yes? Not really. The noble sentiment is a cover for a history of power and wealth seeking to maintain and strengthen power and wealth by exploiting those weaker and poorer.

    I admit there have been some shining moments, such as the passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Civil Rights Act. But the deep study of American history shows that these shining moments were aberrations that, with time, were undone and nullified. Despite FOIA, the process of obtaining information from the federal government is so expensive and so slow as to make it utterly meaningless. Despite the Civil Rights Act, civil rights the Act protects are violated every day and, like FOIA, prosecuting civil rights violations is simply too expensive and time consuming to be meaningful.

    I understand your hurt over learning what you think my nation has become. Please forgive my cynicism, but your hurt is very similar to the hurt a child experiences when they learn there is no Santa Claus. I felt it, too, when I realized it was all a big lie, and one designed to keep me stupid and happy. As one who has deeply studied American history, I know we have always been this way. And it is unlikely to change.

    My hope rests with my antipodean brothers and sisters. We here have been living a lie so long we no longer know the value of the truth. That isn't true for you. Oh, sure, you have people motivated by dark malevolence just as we do, but you have fewer of them and, at least right now, they are easier to manage. Your mining interests seek to control your government. Your Religious Right is beginning to gain ground. Your bogans are as proud of their shallow ignorance as ours are and just as prone to being the pawns of powers that care nothing for them except their ability to vote against their interests.

    But you lack the weight of time and intrenched corruption of thought and spirit that makes meaningful progress here all but impossible. And your national character is not poisoned by the caustic world view of puritans who hung old ladies as witches so their neighbors could steal their land and let poor people die because personal misfortune is a sign of God's displeasure in that person, so, to help them, is morally wrong. Our foundation was poisoned by Salem, Massachusetts and institutionalized slavery. Your foundation is still nourished by Botany Bay and the Eureka Stockade.

    You have your faults. But your foundations are stronger than ours at this moment. I know that sounds strange, but it is true.

    If America held a torch representing truth, freedom and hope, we hereby hand it off to you.

  2. Fair response. And I'll admit to being something of a hopeful romantic at heart -- but not to absolute naivete. I've been aware of the underlying hypocrisy of the American history and condition since I was old enough to read 'Captain America' comics. But rightly or wrongly, there was a time when the US represented to the world at large something hopeful, and rightly or wrongly, there was a time when the people of the US recognised that, and responded to it.

    The governance of the nation has always been... off. But I always felt the people of the US, as a whole (insofar as that is possible) recognised the ideals, and desired to be a part of them. And if I'm disappointed and hurt now, understand: I am not disappointed or hurt by the US government, nor by its powerbrokers, nor its corporate masters. My disappointment lies with the people who are willing to let this go on. And when I write of the American nation -- it's the people I'm talking about, not the swine who run the show.

    I've also long been aware of the disconnections that were part of the foundation of the USA. Jefferson and slavery, yes. The simple fact that all the 'founders' were rich, landed, white men. But you don't get to the top of the mountain in a single leap. What they did, for their time and for the conditions, remains a remarkable and admirable effort. (Even if it was done to protect the interests of these landed, rich white men.)

    The simple matter -- the truth that hurts me -- is that I have wanted to believe there are limits to what the American people will accept from their ruling caste. I have hoped that the people themselves, as a culture, were better than their leaders. But yes; I was wrong about that, and by the time any true limits of what the people will stand for are found, it will be long past too late for any meaningful action.

    So you're right. I can't help you folks a lot. But there must be things I can do around here to keep the same shit-hammer from falling on us.

    The USA can still do some good: by being a very good and clear example of what goes wrong if people don't speak up, and take part in their own governance.

  3. I had a feeling we were basically on the same page. But I want to make it clear that I have an agenda, and that agenda is to do what little I am capable of doing to help you lot avoid what happened to us.

    And, to get that done, I need to help free you of your romantic notions surrounding "America."

    The "America" you hold up an example to the world did not exist as a concept until WWII when a man named Frank Capra produced a series of films called "Why We Fight." These films were shown to soldiers to provide a reason to fight and die and were shown to civilians to give them a reason to build more guns and bombs.

    Frank Capra invented America as a place of freedom, equality, tolerance, fairness and justice as a contrast to the Germans and Japanese who, at the time, unabashedly offered the world intolerance, racism and slavery.

    And, for a while after the war, enough of the American people believed it to make the 1960's and 1970's a magnificent time for the advancement of freedom, equality, tolerance, fairness and justice.

    That is over now. American governments - local, state and national - are rapidly unraveling the liberal gains of the 60's and 70's. We are returning to the way it was before the war.

    You blame the American people for what is happening. You expect too much of them. For example, do you really expect a racist to simply say "hey, my father, his father, and his father before him were all wrong about black people." You cannot realistically expect biggots to be reasonable and give up bigotries central to their world view.

    You are right to hold my country up as an example of what will go wrong in your country if something isn't done to stop it. The questions you should (and undoubtedly are) asking is what those things are that must be done to stop it?

  4. Yep.

    In a nutshell.

    And you're right. I accept I have expected too much. It simply seemed to me that anybody brought up on the rhetoric of freedom and equality must eventually be prepared to stand their ground. I always figured it was just a question of where and when,

  5. It isn't possible to shame us into living up to our potential. And it isn't productive to expect us to do anything that doesn't act to maintain or advance our national power which is the servant of our commercial interests.

    Two ultimate questions remain: what is Australia going to do to get it right, and how will Australia get it done? When all is said and done, a political system that truly values freedom, equality, opportunity, tolerance and egalitarianism is optimal because such a system promotes a better life for everyone in that system. Australia is poised to do it better than America did it. But it is far from certain that you will actually get it done.

  6. I don't want to be right. I just want to be happy.