Wednesday, February 23, 2005

BKBA - My Dear American Friends: A Letter from a Canadian

(Sorry - I've been busy, here's a couple of throwback-blogs...)

October 19, 2004

My Dear American Friends – A Letter from a Canadian

I am writing to you as a Canadian, and I am writing to say that I love America. I’ve been to over 50 cities, and will continue to visit often despite an exchange rate that has me paying 50% more for my McDonald’s value meal.

I love it because no matter where I go, I meet great American people. As a young male of East-Indian descent, and shortly after the tragedy of 9/11, I traveled to Wyoming, the “whitest” state in America, and loved how warm and friendly the people were in Basin, a small town of 1500. I had a great time jawing and joking with local businessmen over a hearty lunch of middle-American portions, as they mocked the high crime rates in big cities like my hometown Toronto, while I countered with their tales of hungry bears heading down from the hills to rummage through their fridges. (I guess you could call this one a pick 'em!) It was good-natured fun, and the Americans I met were exactly what I’d hoped for – curious, confident, and compassionate: “Who the heck are ya? And frankly, how the heck are ya?”

Maybe the rest of the world hates you, but I don’t. The America of my dreams is still, despite obvious problems, the best country in the world. Residing in Canada, or America’s little brother, the inferiority complex only spurs me to a goal billions of people worldwide share: if I can make it in America, I’ve made it everywhere. Also as a place to raise a family, the culture of concerned citizens rallying for a cause is a role model for affecting social and legislative change everywhere, and I’d be happy to give my kids aspirations to succeed and enjoy the best the world has to offer right at home. Your values are defined and refined in a unique ongoing experiment of 300 million people, and you've thus succeeded in defining the values of the world: tolerance, justice, peace, liberty, and opportunity. If you have an issue with someone, you have two choices: ignore them, and go about your business; or trash-talk, confident in your opinion and the value of free and fair discourse. As a safe-space for everyone to co-exist barring violations of John Mill’s most basic "harm principle" (I can swing my fist until it hits your nose), America is a place where the most extreme views can either be discarded or massaged into legitimacy, thus affecting the social evolution of the world.

Which brings me to my problem. I miss you guys. I really do.

I miss knowing I could visit a country pleased with its place in the world, and hopeful for the future. Today, I see a paranoid America, and what looks like an unhealthy environment to live, work, or raise children in. Today, it seems people believe they are happier when angry, a huge problem that’s paralyzing progress.

On that note, I have some suggestions. I know Americans don't like to be told what to do, so consider this friendly advice, take it or leave it, that's all I ask. I also know in these partisan times it's fashionable to dismiss information if it doesn't come from a preferred source, so I'll state my discourse is apolitical, but still temporal, and so current criticism is simply the result of comment on current times.

1) "My Fellow Americans..."

This line made famous by successive Presidents is a call to unity, with the understanding that all Americans need to work towards the same goal of building a great country. Even in disagreement, a united America is a stronger America.

Today, the dangers of moral absolutism destroying this unity are huge. It seems opinions are separated on right wing and left wing lists, and as soon as one disagrees a red flag goes up, with an internal white noise that blocks out hearing anything else. Much has been made of this, so I'll put it as simply as possible: if a million Americans organize to deliver a specific message, or frankly if half the country takes a position on any side of any debate, it's worth listening to, at the very least to honestly understand their basic ideas.

You do your fellow Americans a huge disservice by dismissing their position as inherently worthless, and their passion may be a signal they have something important to say. Unless someone isn't confident in his or her own opinion, it only helps to learn the other side, and if your opinion remains unchanged you have more certainty you're right. If this polemic keeps up what's going to happen after the November election? A tyranny of the slim majority? This should be the concern of an infant democracy and not the world-leader in defining it, and especially on national issues, with the right to free speech comes the responsibility to listen as well. You are not electing a "class President" but rather the President of your entire country, and it doesn’t appear many of you are currently considering your choice from a national perspective.

Besides the big picture, people often pass on any bit of hearsay that floats into their heads: “facts”, rumors, gossip, tips on health, stocks, cars, homes, and other fairly innocent nods to what they may or may not have heard or remember correctly. It then only makes sense to listen to your fellow Americans heartfelt and at times throughly researched ideas, replacing blind antagonism with a tolerance for your differences.

Finally, on information, thanks to the work of concerned citizens using new technology and the internet, we know more today about what we don't know than we ever have before. Noting the recent and admitted lapses in judgment of members of the mainstream press, some of it may be worth looking into.

2) "The War On Terror..."

This is the issue that defines these times, and it's generally agreed that while a necessary evil, a quick resolution is preferable. So please, for all our sakes, go get Osama.

I know he hasn't been around much, he hasn’t attacked the homeland in years, and he stopped making those threatening short films as an evil combination of Clint Eastwood and Snoop Dogg. But unless you've already caught him and are quietly securing information, he's still your number one bad guy. America will not be safe until the man who murdered nearly 3000 people is captured or killed, and logically, capturing or killing the head is the best way to destroy Al-Qaeda, the world’s most dangerous terrorists and the biggest current threat to America.

So why haven’t you caught him? If “Bob” blew up your house and killed members of your family, you wouldn't work your tail off to chase a similar criminal named "Rob". You would go to the ends of the earth to eliminate the proven threat to your family first, and would not rest until he's brought to justice. After 3 years of half-heartedly looking for Osama, when even President Bush said “I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run”, and before we see the $500 home-security suburban-electric-fence arrive at your local Wal-Mart, I would love to finally see my American family and friends breathe a sigh of relief, two-hundred-billion-tax-dollars later, knowing you got your man.

3) "The American Soldier..."

There is no one I trust or respect more than a soldier, someone who's willing to kill and die for my country. And I will gladly echo the most non-partisan of sentiments: God-bless the highly trained, dedicated and honorable young men and women working to secure the liberty of not just America, but the rest of the world.

However, it is important to understand what’s happening as opposed to merely supporting or condeming the war on terror, and I’ll do my best to add another perspective. While I have never served in the military, I know some principles are perfectly analogous to other areas: corporations, organizations, committees, sports teams, and other social structures with a hierarchy can only succeed if they have competent leadership at various levels.

Unbelievably, the Pentagon says they have a 9000-page document calling the leadership in Iraq a mess, and tracing the blame up to the top brass. The abuses at Abu Ghraib prompted this investigation, with soldiers as young as 19 allowed or encouraged to have grotesque moral lapses just as they are learning how to become adults. No one should need to babysit even these “young” adults, and with a chain of command as experienced and disciplined as that of the U.S. Armed Forces, the breaching of Geneva protocols simply for the fun of it should not happen.

As despicable as these actions are, I don't blame the soldiers. I know I can't even play a decent game of football without confidence in my coach's game plan, so I can't imagine how they track insurgents in Fallujah, conduct interrogations, or kill strangers in a strange land. With no clear enemies or objectives like in World War Two when the Nazi's wore uniforms and documented their atrocities, everyone in Iraq is either a suspected terrorist or suspected of helping them. If forced to carry out random detentions or torture against potential civilian targets, it only makes sense to de-humanize captives completely, inevitably leading to human rights violations. These young men and women are not evil; they are simply using a terrible coping mechanism to help follow often confusing orders in a war they can see they might lose, including the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Both the American abuses and the Iraqi uprising make perfect sense. The Pentagon has already cited intelligence sources for numerous failures in the war on terror, and evidence isn’t gathered before making an arrest like the police normally have to do in America. So it’s obvious that in the nighttime raids on homes to round up young Iraqi suspects, the majority of those arrested, whether it is necessary or not, are innocent. Everyone in Iraq, on both sides, knows this. If the same thing was happening in Lubbock, Texas, it would more shocking if patriotic locals didn't fight perceived oppression, and if every 13-year old kid who saw his 18-year old brother dragged out of his house didn't start searching in his fathers closet for a gun.

In any war, both human and inhuman responses are, unfortunately, quite natural. With over 1000 dead American soldiers and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, it is time to resolve this awful situation quickly.

Finally, on the soldiers, where are their voices? It seems the media is obsessed with long-retired veterans opinions on the military service of Bush and Kerry, as opposed to hearing from those serving today. While it is important to judge the credibility of a Commander-In-Chief based on their military service, many recollections are politically biased and over 30 years old, arguably losing credibility under any standards of legal testimony or statute of limitations in the world. That debate is still valid, but should be put in perspective: there are over 135,000 young American men and women currently serving in Iraq, and out of respect for their sacrifice we should demand to hear what they have to say.

That's it from me, and with all my heart I wish you best of luck building a peaceful and prosperous America. I'm looking forward to my next visit.

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