jump directly to my letter of response, click here.
I thought that readers might
be interesting in hearing what it is like to be from Ravenna
and a traveler in outside the United States in these prewar
For the past few months I've
been touring India. On this trip I've met very few of my fellow
countrymen. It seems that American tourists are somewhat of
an endangered species in India these days. We are afraid —
afraid that we'll be caught in crossfire, afraid that we will
be the victims of and-American violence, afraid that the war
will disrupt international air travel, or perhaps we are ashamed.
I fall into the later group.
I'm ashamed to be an American. Sometimes though I don't feel
like an American. Sometimes I feel like a German tourist I read
about a long time ago. He was a mountain climber who had come
to India in 1938. His passion was mountains, still he was aware
that his country had been taken over by a madman who was about
to begin an insane war. (In case you have forgotten, Hitler
was democratically elected.) He wrote that before World War
II actually began, many German tourists were in a state of disbelief
— it was not possible, they believed for the motherland
to invade a sovereign nation who had done them no harm.
On this trip I've met Americans
who have similar feelings. They are in deep denial. They simply
can't believe that their government, in their name, is about
to invade a country that is being actively disarmed by the United
Nations. They like to think that it is all a bad dream.
With my shame, whenever I meet
a Frenchman, a German, an Israeli, or a Dutch person, I immediately
apologize for my government. Sometimes I'll tell one of the
George Bush jokes I've read on the Internet other times I'll
tell them that I appreciate the work that their government has
done to stop the Americans and their British poodle, Mr. Blair.
The Indians I've talked to are baffled by the American government's
desire to eliminate, at any cost, the government of Iraq,
but no one has shown me any anti-American feelings. But if
war comes, and everyone starts to hate all Americans, in the
way that some Americans hate all Arabs, will I be able to
blame them? Probably not. We will be getting what we deserve.
Tom Riddle via R-C Online
(Tom Riddle graduated from Ravenna
High School in 1969. He has spent most of his life overseas
My advice to Tom Riddle is if
he is ashamed to be an American (Record-Courier letters, March
18), there are no walls or police at our borders to keep people
in. No one is forcing him to remain an American citizen.
Since he has spent most of his life overseas, why not just go
back to wherever and spend the rest of his life there?
America may not be perfect but it's the best country there is
and we should be proud of it and support, our leaders. May God
protect both our military and all the innocent people who live
in harm's way.
Charlene Mc Daniel
Time to immigrate
Concerning Tom Riddle's letter
("Ashamed American," Record-Courier, March 18): To
quote Mr. Riddle, "We will be getting what we deserve."
This is clearly anti-American, and should be treated as such.
If Mr. Riddle has spent most of his life overseas maybe he should
move there, but perhaps he is making too much money in this
horrible country to renounce his citizenship. Why live in a
place that makes you so miserable? Sounds like sour grapes.
Sounds like it's time for him to immigrate.
Go to Iraq
In response to the letter written by Tom Riddle ("Ashamed
American," Record-Courier, March 18): Sir, you have vehemently
and publicly expressed your shame at being an American. I would
like to suggest to you that you renounce your American citizenship
and consider taking up residence in a country which more closely
parallels your political sentiments.
Might I suggest Iraq! I am confident that they will more fully
appreciate your "George Bush jokes."
Lauren A. Weaver
This letter is in response to Tom Riddle's letter to
the editor ("Ashamed American," Record-Courier, March
I want to preface my comments by saying that I have known Tom
most of my life. We grew up in the same neighborhood and both
graduated from Ravenna High School in 1969. Tom's father, Hugh
Riddle, just recently died and I extend my condolence to Tom
and his family. The Riddle family has made a valuable and lasting
contribution to the Ravenna community.
Over the past 34 years, Tom has kept in touch with me and my
family by visiting (when in town) or writing via the Internet.
He has spent most of his adult working life in foreign countries,
mainly in Southeast Asia.
Needless to say, I was quite disturbed by Tom's remark that
he is "ashamed to be an American." It is one thing
to express a grievance toward our government's political or
military policies; every American has that right of free speech.
However, it is a despicable thing for Tom to say that he is
ashamed to be an American. I believe that Tom has treaded on
foreign soil far too long. He has forgotten his heritage and
now forsakes his country. This is truly shameful.
I thank God Almighty for allowing me to be born a citizen of
the United States of America ... a land that I love. I will
stand up and bravely proclaim that "I am an American."
I support the brave men and women of the military for their
service to our country. These brave Americans and their families
have my gratitude and prayers.
Stay in India
Dear "Ashamed to be American":
You should apply for citizenship in India and stay there. I
am ashamed to live in the same country as you.
The United Nations and our own government agreed this needed
to be done. How many years does someone like yourself give Iraq
to comply? Like it or not, this war is going to happen, so you
can either back our men and women of the military or go stand
guard at Saddam's side in Iraq.
To our military and allies overseas, stay safe. Most of us are
proud of you. To the veterans of all the wars before this, who
have made it possible to speak freely, we thank you.
To Mr. Riddle, I salute your ignorance and hope your life is
complete as an anti-American.
I'm writing this in response to Tom Riddle's letter
("Ashamed American," Record-Courier, March 18).
I feel sorry for him being ashamed to be American. Why does
he feel compelled to apologize to France or Germany, I wonder?
My father and two uncles sacrificed three years of their youth
fighting World War II to defend France from Germany. They are
all old men now in their 80s. Thankfully, they survived to return
home to their families. Many other Americans never made it home.
Rather than being ashamed of his own country and apologizing
for the United States, Mr. Riddle should say thanks to the generation
of men who gave their lives so that he would be free to travel
Also in his globe-trotting — if he can find time between
his apologizing- he should visit France to see the graves of
all of the American boys who did not come home.
Yes, Mr. Riddle should be ashamed, but not of being from America.
He should be ashamed of the ingratitude he shows to the men
who fought to make America and France free.
Americans getting what we deserve, being hated? I don't think
Perhaps Mr. Riddle should give up his American citizenship and
just stay overseas. I'm proud to be American and grateful to
the patriots to whom I owe a debt I can never repay.
ALTHOUGH THE NEXT LETTER WASN’T WRITTEN IN DIRECT
RESPONSE TO MINE, IT REFLECTS THE SENTIMENTS OF MANY OF THE
WRITERS AND IT APPEARED IMMEDIATELY BELOW THE ABOVE LETTER.
While driving around Ravenna
lately, I have noticed there aren't many U.S. flags waving,
as there should be. After 9/11, it was awesome to go down almost
every street and see so many flags blowing in the breeze. Somehow
they have disappeared or just been put away.
Now that our great country is in a crisis, how wonderful it
would be to see them flying again.
Let's all pull together and stand behind this great country,
our president and our men and women who are away from their
loved ones. Dig out Old Glory. Hang it high and proud. And tie
yellow ribbons around the trees to let our troops know we have
them in our prayers. God bless America!
Dick and Fran Cugini
No better country
I wrote a lengthy letter in rebuttal to the individual
who is "ashamed to be an American" (Record-Courier,
March 18). I discarded it. The history of this country stands
in its own defense. It doesn't need help from me.
I had a visitor from Europe this past summer. He sat on my porch
overlooking a peaceful scene. A neighbor walked past. He waved
and I waved back. My friend looked up at me and in a most solemn
way said, "You have heaven here. I wake up in the morning,
sometimes during the night, and I wonder if my family will make
it through the day."
Another friend, a brilliant medical student studying in Hungary,
has been trying to obtain a green card that would accord him
residency in this country. He has spent two years in this seemingly
fruitless effort. His comment to me .was, "You should give
thanks to your Mom and Dad for having the foresight many years
ago to emigrate to the United States.”
A man who contributed far more than I to the growth and development
of our country reflects my view. Many years ago, Stephen Decatur
said, "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations
may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong."
I challenge anyone to find something better.
When I read the March 18 letter
from Tom Riddle on his "shame" for being an American,
I was first very angry, then thankful and finally sorrowful.
I was angry that he would say such a thing, thankful that we
live in a country that permits him to say what he feels and
finally sorrowful that he doesn't appreciate being born in our
I agree with the many who have written that he should give up
his American citizenship. We can all disagree on policy, positions
and even actions, but I thank God every day that I was born
I went to Haiti in February with my church and when I returned
home, I wanted to get down on my knees and kiss the ground of
our U.S.A. That trip gave me a whole new perspective of how
fortunate we are to live in such a great country.
No, I do not agree with everything we have done in the past,
present and I'm sure there will be things in the future that
I do not agree with, but I would not live anywhere else. I will
pray for you, Tom. God bless America.
This time, finish job
I am writing this letter in
answer to a couple of letters that appeared in the Record-Courier
on March 18. One was entitled, "Ashamed American."
The other, "Alternative ignored," called attention
to the ICC International Tribunal and asked why President Bush
didn't let the court decide if Saddam was an international criminal,
and then bring him to trial. Well, I'm sure the tribunal would
find him guilty. The only problem I see is who is going to go
in and get him out to stand trial? I think the suggestion is
just a bit naive.
The "Ashamed American" is perfectly free to renounce
his citizenship, and leave the country whenever he wants, because
he has the freedom to make that decision.
He made the point that Hitler was also democratically elected,
which sounds like he is computing President Bush to Hitler.
Really? In many countries that kind of comment would be called
treasonous, and have dire personal results.
Like the Ashamed American, I, too, have traveled the international
road in Europe and South America, and have run into anti-Americanism.
I have made comparisons between our lifestyle and theirs, and
with all of our faults, I still like ours a lot better.
When was the last time you heard about an illegal alien problem
in Iraq, North Korea or Iran? Yes, we have our detractors, but
don't offer a group of them a chance to relocate to America,
or you might trampled in the stampede.
For the first time in our short history, mainland America was
attacked without warning, with devastating consequences. Of
the three intended targets, two were successfully hit, and the
third was spared due to some resourceful heroes on an airplane.
The twin towers were both non-military and non-governmental,
so don't talk to me about collateral damage or the suffering
of innocent people. We've been there, done that.
Unprovoked war? The Ashamed American must have a short memory.
The first shoe has dropped. I don't blame the president for
not waiting for the second.
The inspection teams' efforts are a joke at the world's expense.
Saddam has been laughing at the United Nations and all of its
diplomatic efforts for a long time. I don't think he is in a
laughing mood right now, though, because we're about to call
his bluff again. This time, finish the job. I can only hope
the Ashamed American is holding his hand at the end.
I am both shocked and ashamed
of the thoughtless, ignorant remarks made by Tom Riddle last
week ("Ashamed American," Record-Courier letters,
Have you been on foreign soil so long that you have forgotten
where you came from? As a man who is so privileged to travel
the world and see the beauty of our world (as we can see in
your web site), I would think you would be thankful to have
been born in America, a land of freedom and opportunity.
You took advantage of the opportunities that America has to
offer, such as education. People from around the world come
to America to be educated, just as you returned to America a
few years ago to further your education.
I am thankful that I am an American. I thank soldiers from past
and present for our freedom. God bless them all. Support our
troops and pray.
No apologies needed
And then we have poor Mr. Tom
Riddle who finds after years of playing the role of the "Flying
Dutchman," globe hopping from one port of call to another,
that he is suddenly ashamed of being an American (Record-Courier
letters, March 18).
We wonder what his family patriarch, H.W. Riddle, an early entrepreneur
might say of this embarrassment, for America unquestionably
has bestowed her blessings on the Riddle family for many years;
a fact not lost, one hopes, on most of Mr. Riddle's family,
if lost on Tom himself. In which case, it might well be a matter
of who's ashamed of whom.
As one who has lived in Israel, I can confidently say that Mr.
Riddle need not apologize for his country to those good folk
who have learned so well since their Six Day of 1967 that the
best defense is a good offense; a lesson that America, it seems,
has been forced to re-learn.
Peace Corps experience in India has also taught me that despite
what may be said about the world's most progressive democracy
by the world's most populous democracy there would be precious
few in that country who would not gladly trade passports with
any American, even an American in the most humble of circumstance:,.
But then, perhaps Mr. Riddle hobnobs with those precious few;
in which case, he still has a lot to learn about India and perhaps
about the real world as well.
Mike "Tyke" Friend
Meaning of freedom?
I am horrified by the letters
of my Portage County neighbors in response to Tom Riddle's anguished
Mr. Riddle wrote (March 18, 2003), "I thought that readers
might be interesting in hearing what it is like to be from Ravenna
and a traveler outside the US in these pre-war days." He
wrote that he and other American travelers feel ashamed that
the U.S. government, in their name - and yours and mine - was
"about to invade a country that is being actively disarmed
by the United Nations."
Apparently, Record-Courier readers are not interested in hearing
these concerns. Readers responded that Mr. Riddle should renounce
his U.S. citizenship if he insists upon such dissent.
I ask, what is the meaning of the "freedom" for which
Mr. Bush claims he has sent our soldiers into battle?
Living in freedom
As I see it, Tom Riddle's father and grandfathers before
him lived the American dream. Just look around Ravenna —
Riddle St., Riddle Block and on and on. With their help I'm
sure he received some of the best education in America. As he
ventures to come home for his father's funeral this week I'd
like to ask him how difficult it was to enter the United States
of America with his citizenship? It's called freedom.
Do they have that in other countries?
Thanks to Don Kainrad for his
insights into Thomas Riddle and his family (Record-Courier letters
March 29). I have not been friends with Tom as long as Kainrad
has; but over the past 20 years I've come to know him pretty
well. I'd like to share some facts that Kainrad's letter failed
Tom's ancestors have been in America since well before the Revolution.
Locally, they have been pillars of the community. Two roads
and an important building in downtown Ravenna are named for
the family. Tom has taken great pride in his family's contributions
to the region, and he has devoted countless hours to documenting
his ancestral heritage.
Tom could have enjoyed an easy life in the United States. Instead
he joined the Peace Corps — and not for the normal two-year
tour but for a good half dozen. He sacrificed his comfort, and
at times his health, in order to assist impoverished communities
in Thailand and the South Pacific. After the collapse of the
Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, he risked his life to organize that
country's first democratic election. More recently he has worked
as a filmmaker in South and Southeast Asia.
Mr. Riddle is committed to our nation's core ideals: democracy,
compassion, self-determination, empathy, and mutual respect.
He appreciates the opportunities provided by his privileged
position as an American, and he has taken the associated responsibilities
Tom follows world news in American as well as foreign papers,
and he has spoken with hundreds of people in countries that
are normally among our allies. As a patriotic American, he felt
compelled to share his knowledge of how others perceive us,
and to let us know how those perceptions affect him as a U.S.
citizen residing overseas. He has become convinced that we are
making a terrible mistake, and he felt obliged to call that
mistake to our attention before we further damage our position
in the world. America's strength is not freedom per se. Free
speech is a right enjoyed by people everywhere — even
in Saddam's Iraq — as long as they take popular positions
and support their governments. What makes our nation special
is the willingness of citizens to criticize their government
when it gets off track.
Tom's letter ("Ashamed American, March 18) does indeed
reflect a tragedy, but not the one to which others have pointed.
It is that our foreign policy has made a dedicated American
feel apologetic and, as he reported, even ashamed of his national
I began by thanking Mr. Kainrad
for his insights. Let me end by thanking Mr. Riddle. It is because
of patriots like you that, even in our darkest hours, I remain
a proud American.
Grow a beard, grow up
Tom Riddle is ashamed of me and he does not even know me.
He said, "I'm ashamed to be an American. Sometimes though
I do not feel like an American. Sometimes I feel like a German
tourist... With my shame, whenever I meet a Frenchman, a German,
an Israeli or a Dutch person, I immediately apologize for
my government." (Record-Courier letters, March 18)
Tom probably has no idea what he has started. Now whenever
we people from .Ravenna or Portage County meet another American,
we immediately have to apologize for Tom Riddle.
I am proud to be an American. Tom is not. Tom is ashamed of
himself, and by extension of all Americans. Therefore, he
is ashamed of me and my children and of you and your children.
The logic may be false, but the sentiment is not.
American governments come, American governments go. Just because
one dislikes or detests the domestic or foreign policy of
the current government, that is no reason to renounce one's
citizenship, flagellate oneself with the rod of righteousness
or beg forgiveness of every foreigner one encounters.
Poor Tom! No matter how much water he carries for the Third
World, he is still ashamed of himself and his nationality.
When poor Tom looks in the mirror to shave, he sees the ugly
American. My advice for Tom is to stop shaving, grow a beard
and grow up.
Also, just like many Americans, many Germans do not know their
own history. First of all, Germans do not have a motherland,
they have a fatherland and that fatherland did "invade
a sovereign nation who had done them no harm."
Remember Belgium and World War I?
John Heinl Mantua
(intended for publication in the R-C) There is also a shorter
of this letter.)
Around March 10, a few days before I left India and just
before I heard about the death of my father, I wrote this
newspaper a letter discussing how it felt to be an American
traveling overseas “in these pre-war days.” The
15 responses appearing over the past month stimulated me to
rethink my initial letter and compose the following reply.
I enjoyed every letter. I was happy to see that many contributors
copied my writing style by overstating their case and employing
an element of the dramatic. You can find all of the letters
Many commentators were surprised that, “I am ashamed
to be an American.” Ashamed means “Feeling inferior,
inadequate, or embarrassed.” It is an emotion, similar
to other emotions that arise from time to time in everyone.
It comes and goes depending on the circumstances. And as American
folk wisdom says of emotions, “you hurt the ones you
love the most.” A father might feel ashamed and angry
because his son was arrested for driving while intoxicated;
later he might feel proud when that same son is elected to
high public office. Many Americans might feel ashamed when
they think of the way we treated our native Americans in the
19th century and proud when they think of the Constitution
and Bill of Rights. Emotions come and go depending on the
Readers who found it hard to imagine what it was like to
travel overseas just before the current war might gain an
inkling of understanding by reflecting on the early news conferences
with Tommy Franks or Donald Rumsfeld. Every foreign reporter
that I saw at those conferences opposed the war. I recall
one question to General Franks: “Would you consider
becoming a suicide bomber if the Iraqis invaded Middletown,
Texas?” So, imagine that you are living with those reporters
for a few months and imagine that you grow to like and respect
them. Those men and women, who would never hesitate to assert
their moral superiority to British and American “imperialists
and war mongers”, might cause you to re-evaluate your
feelings of pride in American foreign policy and, perhaps,
in being an American. But again, they might not. As we all
know, often people have opposite reactions to the same events.
When the US recently eviscerated the UN and began the attack,
I felt like the Pope did after the invasion began: “deeply
Most of my time in
Cambodia was spent in an office, but I was in the first
UN helicopter to land in Preah Vehear, a remote province
in Northern Cambodia.
The United Nations has a special meaning for me. I spent
18 months in the early 1990s working for the United Nations,
helping to bring peace to war-torn Cambodia. (Search my name
at Amazon.com, if you want to read my book about it.) Although
I have never met Hans Blix or Mohamed ElBaradei, I’ve
known people like them. If they are anything like the people
I worked with in the UN, their qualifications and integrity
are impeccable. When Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei gave their
reports to the UN, the BBC broadcast them live and I heard
them in India. Their reports were masterpieces of diplomacy,
analysis, and investigation. Both men said that disarmament
was basically going well; they just needed more time. Mr.
ElBaradei said that he could find no evidence that the Iraqis
had re-started their nuclear weapons program after the first
Gulf War. If you believed those men, then there was no need
for war. If you believed them, it was clear that officials
in the US government were telling half-truths. And, if you
believed them, you were probably aghast, even ashamed, at
the actions of the United States government.
When I worked for the UN in Cambodia, UN peacekeepers were
occasionally killed. It didn’t have much of an effect
on me though--I didn’t know them and, anyway, they worked
for the office down the street. Then one night two women who
worked with me were murdered by people whom we would now call
terrorists. Their attackers shot them as they slept. At that
time I did what I saw the American soldiers doing on television
a few days ago. I cried. I’ve never completely recovered
from their deaths. I believe that the American soldiers I
saw on television will never completely recover from the deaths
of their fallen comrades either. It is no accident that many
of the members of Congress who most vehemently opposed the
war are veterans. Everyone says that war should be the last
resort; the veterans, however, actually believe it.
Eventually the soldiers who are crying today will, like the
Vietnam veterans of my generation, come to a wider understanding
of the circumstances that caused so much unnecessary death.
Some of them will write poignant and bitter memoirs. Some
will be bitter their entire lives.
In India, and later in Thailand, I asked every person I met
if they had met anyone who was in favor of the war. No one
had. Finally, on the plane home I met a man who wasn’t
opposed to the war. He said he didn’t know enough to
have an opinion. Significantly, he had recently retired from
a senior position in the Veterans Administration. I told him
that I thought the Vietnam Veterans and Gulf War One veterans
(some of whom were my students when I taught in Hawaii) were
never given the support they deserved from the American government.
He strongly agreed. In the end, I’d like to see our
returning veterans left with more than bitterness.
|The British kept some unexploded American
ordnance outside the office I worked in.
Ten years ago I worked with American veterans in Cambodia
who built prosthetics for war casualties and landmine victims;
four years ago I worked with British veterans in Laos who
ran de-mining programs. They were good men and no doubt some
of our soldiers will stay in Iraq after the war to pursue
similar humanitarian projects. We are, on a deep and profound
level, a decent people. It is a pity our foreign policy makes
some of us feel so ashamed.
One of my Cambodian
classes had me pose with them on their graduation day.
I'm in the back, third from the left. Behind me is Anchor
Wat, the Cambodian equivalent of Mount Rushmore, Statue
of Liberty, and Washington Monument, all rolled into
A few people who wrote letters wondered what I do in Asia.
I went to Asia in 1982 to work for the UN in the refugee camps
that were set up after the Vietnam War. Two years later, I
started working in programs that were funded by the US Department
of State in the same camps. As the camps closed, I went to
work for the UN again, this time in Cambodia.
These days I make movies and home pages. I’ve made
home pages for artists in Cambodia, http://reyum.org,
the Church World Service in Laos, http://www.cwslaos.org,
and Islamic scholars in Thailand, http://fellowship.arf-asia.org.
Last year I made a movie about a health care project in Laos
and took lots of pictures of school kids. You can find the
introduction that was on the CD at http://www.thomasriddle.net/saya/welcome.htm.
|Last year I took lots of pictures of school
kids in Laos.
In a few weeks, just before the rains close the roads, I’ll
be in northern Laos making a movie about a small project sponsored
by Save the Children. For my work I’ll be paid about
a third of what a plumber in Ravenna makes. But the money
doesn’t matter; it’s the lifestyle that I love.
At 52, I’m a bit like my father who at 80 said that
if he could re-enlist in the Navy he would. He enjoyed tinkering
with the engines aboard ship and loved the camaraderie and
My anti-war activity was limited to writing letters. Readers
are reminded that some senior British and American government
workers resigned rather than have their names associated with
the governments that caused this war. Clearly it is our most
divisive war since the Vietnam War. Like the Vietnam War,
it is taking an immense toll in our cohesiveness as a nation.
Let us all pray for peace.
See the pictures at a larger resolution
A few readers made comments about my family and how they
would react to my mid-March letter to the Kent-Ravenna R-C.
My late father, in the end, hated the Vietnam war. During
the war at least once he wore a black armband to work, as
a form of protest. Later he never wanted to see any of the
movies about the war or even hear about it. It pained him
to think that his government sent men to die in vain.
A day or so after my letter was published I receive the first
e-mail I've ever received from a leading businessman in downtown
Ravenna. He wrote, "Please keep your letters coming to
the RC and respond to the Ravenna natives who do not understand
or even conceive there could be another side "
I think he summed it up well. Many people do not imagine
that there could be another side. That is strange when you
consider that the rest of the world saw that there could be
another way. It is unbelievable to me that people in my generation,
who lived through the Vietnam War, could listen to our government
leaders speaking in double-speak and not know that they were
not telling the truth. I felt saddened when, in his last address
to the UN before the war, Colin Powell sounded like he didn't
believe what he was saying.
When my plane landed in Cleveland on March 27, a neighbor
picked me up at the airport. He asked me if I had any rope--rope
that would make it easier for certain people in Ravenna to
hang me. I immediately wondered if the R-C had printed my
letter correctly or if I had made an unintentioned ethnic
slur. How relieved I was to see that the Record printed my
letter exactly as I had written it.
My mother saved all of the letters that were written in response
to mine. I was fascinated. The letters echoed the same feelings
of nationalism that you find everywhere in the world, and
those are the same feelings that dictators use to force the
ignorant masses to commit the most horrendous crimes. The
Khmer Rouge (who killed about a million Cambodians) initially
mobilized Cambodia_"to protect our nation, to defend
ourselves from outsiders, to preserve our way of life."
Some of the respondents to my letter clearly were sleeping
when their university history teachers taught the history
of nationalism. Others never bothered to read my letter carefully.
Some don’t know the meaning of tolerance.
Significantly, not one respondent said that I was wrong in
my description of sentiments overseas just prior to the war.
One person said, "I will stand up and bravely proclaim
that I am an American." But no one actually said that
what I had said was incorrect. Or that they had recently stood
up overseas and said that they were proud to be an American.
Before I returned to the US an American who runs a church-funded
NGO told me that these days Americans are "brainwashed."
But I've been impressed by the sentiments of many of my fellow
countrymen. Two women over 75 told me on different occasions
that this war "is the stupidest thing the US government
has ever done." A local community leader told me in support
of my letter that fundamental patriotism is as bad as fundamentalist
religion. One day I went to visit an old friend. At 87 he
can still vividly recall the day he landed at the beach in
Normandy on D-day. When I was a teenager he often expressed
his disgust at "hippies." So I was on guard when
he stepped out of his house as soon as he saw my car in his
driveway. I wondered if he was going to call me some of the
same names I've been called in the R-C. Instead he wanted
to shake my hand and told me that he agreed with everything
I wrote. I asked him if he could write a letter to the paper.
He told me that it was too hard to express himself without
swearing. One of his World War II buddies recently told him
that with the way things are going, he doesn't want to live
much longer. They feel that the country they once fought for
has lost its direction.
A few people have cautioned me to be careful in Asia. In
fact, though, Asians are very good at differentiating between
the American people and the policies of the American government.
(Recently an Arab spokesman said that not one American had
been hurt in the Arab world during the recent anti-war demonstrations.)
Plus the streets of most Asian cities are much safer than
the streets of American cities. So I have confidence that
I'll be okay; but I appreciate your concern.
In fact I'm a little worried about my dear countrymen who
are staying here. If the world is angry at us, have we created
After the Record-Courier told me that they would not accept
a letter over 500 words, I wrote this 496-word shorter version
of the above:
Around March 10, a few days
before I left India and just before I heard about the death
of my father, I wrote this newspaper a letter discussing how
it felt to be an American traveling overseas “in these
pre-war days.” The 15 responses appearing over the past
month stimulated me to rethink my initial letter and compose
the following reply.
I enjoyed every letter. I was happy to see that many contributors
copied my writing style by overstating their case and employing
an element of the dramatic. You can find all of the letters,
including a much longer version of this one, and a few pictures
If you saw any of the early news conferences with Tommy Franks
and noticed the hostile reception he received from the foreign
press, then you can understand what it was like to travel
overseas before the current war. I recall one question to
General Franks: “Would you consider becoming a suicide
bomber if the Iraqis invaded Middletown, Texas?” If
you spent enough time with people like those reporters, who
would never hesitate to assert their moral superiority to
“imperialists and war mongers”, you too might
have done some serious soul-searching.
How you felt about the war partially depended on whether
or not you believed the United Nations weapons inspectors.
I believed them when they said, in their final report, that
disarmament was basically going well; they just needed more
time. Clearly they didn’t get more time and clearly
some of us felt acutely embarrassed when the United States
government ended the work of the inspectors.
Some background: in the early 1990s I spent 18 months in
Cambodia working for the UN. One night two women who worked
with me were murdered by terrorists. At that time I did what
I saw the American soldiers doing on television a few days
ago. I cried. Judging from my own experience with war, those
American soldiers will never completely recover from the deaths
of their fallen comrades any more than I have. It is no accident
that many of the members of Congress who opposed the war are
veterans. Everyone says that war should be the last resort;
the veterans, however, actually believe it.
In Cambodia I also worked with American veterans who made
prosthetics for landmine victims; more recently I worked in
Laos with British veterans who ran de-mining programs. No
doubt some of our soldiers will stay in Iraq after the war
to pursue similar humanitarian projects. We are, on a profound
level, a decent people. It is a pity our foreign policy makes
some of us feel so ashamed. Like the Vietnam War, this war
is taking an immense toll on our cohesiveness as a nation.
Let us all pray for peace.