Firstly, a disclaimer: the following letter reflects some pretty strong opinions of the U.S. of A., and is likely to ruffle more than a few feathers. I would (probably) never ask my readers not to comment, and I’m certainly not doing so now, but in this case I’ll only say that I’ll refrain from replying to any comments – I’ll have had my say in the words that follow. And if you’re not in the mood for politics or…ahem…a good rant, may as well give this one a miss. Thanks as always for reading me.
Dear Mr. President,
It is now seven years since I left the United States of America with the express intention of passing the remainder of my life as the resident of Somewhere Else. In the space of this letter, I will make two generalizations about my fellow U.S. American citizens, and the first is this: we all have complicated relationships with our nation. I am no different. I do not hate the United States; on the contrary, I in fact love it so deeply, I could no longer go on living in it.
My existential disappointments in this life have been many. Like more and more of us, I struggle to contend with my humanity in the face of human behavior. I struggle to find a reasonable balance in the never-ending battle of human Good versus Evil, in which Good is too often suffocated by the unbearable weight of hatred, cruelty and greed. The paradox of the United States is almost overwhelming in this respect. It is at once the acme of the European lust for conquest – arguably among the purest examples of Evil the world has yet seen – and the promise for which every last sentient human being who wakes up in the morning does so: Hope.
I feel I have always known, Mr. President, that your country was not long for my home. I was blessed and cursed with the opportunity to learn what is too seldom taught in your history classrooms. I learned of my and your ancestors’ genocide against the many First Peoples of the land we call home. I learned about the ghastly horrors of the slave trade that funded the birth of this nation as we know it. I learned about Orientalism, from its origins in Chinese launders and on railroad tracks to Hollywood’s relentless effeminization and demonization of Asian men in film. I learned about our patent disregard for the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, how our great-great grandfathers stole people’s land and homes, how our great grandmothers put soap in the mouths of Hispanophone children in an effort to eradicate from their lives the language of their own grandmothers.
I learned about the hands of our government, so like those of a master pianist, stretching fingers across oceans to dig into the pies abroad whenever it suited the interests of our elite. I learned about how that government needlessly destroyed the lives of countless Viets and U.S. Americans while the Khmer Rouge enacted genocide just over the border. I learned about the Death Troops in Nicaragua and the Crack Import Agency. I learned about the Cold War and the Bay of Pigs and McCarthyism. I learned about our vested interest in keeping Hugo Chavez out of office in Venezuela. I learned about how much Israel depended on our tax dollars to squeeze and squeeze Palestine to the point of suffocation, tearing down the homes of her people, building the walls that blind children from the sea whose waves they are close enough to hear crashing on the shore. I learned about our relationship with Pinochet and Trujillo and I learned the term Banana Republic and how important the United Fruit Company was to the birth of that term. I learned about the Patriot Act. I learned to fear my government’s power, its cruelty, its shamelessness.
In that first year abroad, I could not bring myself to tell strangers my country of origin. I sheepishly muttered “Canadian,” when asked. There was, of course, the matter of your predecessor in office, but George W. Bush was not the end-all of my ire and shame. I hardly supported your own party, Sir, and did so only in an effort to contribute to the suppression of your foremost opposition, whose full attention to self-interest and utter lack of reason and humanity I find powerfully frightening. Let us not forget, however, that the Democrats have a nasty tradition of their own, and that – in spite of what many U.S. Americans have been led to believe, our “Left” is anything but.
But then you came onto the scene, Mr. President. I must admit I am moved not so much by your words, but by how you speak them. Dreams of My Father, in all honesty, was not such an extraordinary book, except that it was your book, and you were to become our President. You have a humanity about you – an ordinariness – that enamor you to those of us who have held our breaths in the hope of a president with sense, with dignity, but most importantly, with respect for humanity and compassion for the human condition. Make no mistake: there are campaigners and activists and social workers and teachers and doctors and nurses and even lawyers and politicians everywhere working their fingers to the bone, committed to social justice and to the pursuit of happiness for all of us, not just those predisposed to it by nature of their birth.
But they have not become President of the United States. You have. And while I cannot speak for anyone else, the hope you instilled within me came directly from the gaze with which you look upon your fellow human being. In that gaze I found hope that perhaps one of the good guys had made it. And if U.S. Americans are renowned for anything – here’s that second generalization – it is that we like our optimism.
I know that yours is a struggle of infinite proportions. We are facing immediate and ongoing shifts in the Earth’s climate as well as the financial climate, upon both of which every human depends for their most basic needs. The world is rife with conflict, from Syria to Myanmar to the streets of Detroit and Chicago and Los Angeles and Baltimore. I do not expect you to wave a wand and make it all go away. I cannot fathom what it is like to wake up each morning facing the decisions you face, and yet I must demand, as a citizen of this planet, that you extend reason and compassion to those decisions. You may, and likely will, turn a deaf ear to those of us crying out in the name of the millions who have died and suffered at the hands of U.S. American international meddling and greed, but I can only hope – as your administration has always asked – that you will hear.
Mr. President, I needn’t bore you with statistics, but for the sake of clarity, I will.
have been lost in Israel and Palestine. And while the 1096 Israeli deaths are a travesty, they pale in comparison with the 6568 Palestinian lives lost. Israelis commonly complain about Palestinian attacks on civilians, and the 126 Israeli children who have been killed since 2000 surely attest to that. But what of the 1476 murdered Palestinian children? 5604 Palestinian political prisoners sit in Israeli prisons, but not a single Israeli shares this fate. 24,813 Palestinian homes have been systematically demolished – often in the wee hours of the morning, after fathers have left the home for the hours-long journey over the checkpoints and into work, leaving mothers and children to fight Israeli authorities and their demolition equipment with impotent pleas for pity.
Should one begin to wonder how one country can so overpower another, one need only look at the financial implications: In 2011, the United States poured roughly $8.2 million per day into the war machine that Israel has turned out to be. It does not look like you intend to reverse this policy.
When you were elected the first time, I was often asked as the U.S. American expat what I thought. I almost invariably replied thus: “I can’t wait to see what he does in his second term.”
We all knew you had to play it safe in your first four years. I applaud and acknowledge some of the great progress you have achieved domestically, particularly the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and your efforts toward improving the appalling limitations of healthcare in the U.S. But I sighed a heavy sigh every time you opined publically on Israel-Palestine. Surely, I thought, it must tear at your soul to go on like that. I found myself wanting to shout out to you, “Aren’t you one of the good guys, Mr. President?” but I held back, I held out for that second term.
The votes are in. The elections are done. The Presidential Race is old news. This is it. Your last four years have are before you. Will you boldly go where no president in the last half-century has gone? Will you choose your battles – our battles – in the name of human dignity and respect for life, or will you continue in the U.S. American tradition of siding with the prospect of ever more profit and power?
I am still not convinced one way or the other. Your recent comments on the escalating crisis were vague at best, but then I realize your words are chosen more carefully than those of most of us. Specifically, you said, “Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.” I certainly agree – but it begs the question, what rights do Palestinians have? If not of movement, if not to feel safe in their homes, if not to expect their country to be a country in the years to come, what right have they? If not to their water or their land, if not to pursue their own happiness, what right have they?
If the words of our own Declaration of Independence are to be trusted, there is a vein of the United States that holds this truth to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. Are Palestinians not (hu)men? We cannot claim this isn’t our problem. This is very much a problem we bought and paid for.
What started out as apartheid has for many years looked increasingly like genocide to many of us. I argue that the man who coined the very term would have looked upon Israel’s “handling” of Palestine as such:
“Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.”
– Raphael Lemkin
As the tensions in so many people’s holy lands rise, as sleepless, terrified nights approach with each rising and setting sun, what will you do?
In spite of what many U.S. Americans were taught as children, not every one of us is endowed with the power to change the world, Mr. President, but world leaders most certainly are. Will you embrace this power, or will you fall back on the old habits of the power elite?