Sunday, May 27, 2007

Proud to be an American?

View of Seattle from Queen Anne Hill

For me, Memorial Day weekend was for Folklife Festival in Seattle, for long weekend birthday roadtrips with my best friend, for studying for finals (thank God not anymore). For lot’s of people it’s for BBQs, for camping and for gardening at home. For others still it’s for remembering, for celebrating lives of those now gone and for searching scorching dry farm fields for two fellow soldiers missing now for 16 days, but hoped and prayed for.

Here, of course, there’s nothing of the sort. We just go about our business (I have a meeting in Managua with some German engineers), with plenty of other holidays to keep us occupied. And so this year Memorial Day takes on a different meaning for me.

This is my first Memorial Day with a loved one in Iraq. And this is my first Memorial Day as an ex-pat (albeit temporarily). I’ve never been so far from home for so long, and yet, I’ve never felt more American.

A few weeks back, I was in the van on the way to the airport to pick up some visitors. We drove past a pick-up truck that had a bunch of Americans in the back. How do I know? They were all really white, sort of soft looking, had new water bottles, cameras and high tech sweat wicking fabrics on. Slight chance they were Germans, I ran into the same thing in South Africa, if the people on safari in full khaki regalia weren’t American, they were German.

I noticed the truck right away and felt a little uncomfortable, how touristy! But I asked the others about it later, to get their read on American tourists and they hadn’t even noticed the truck. I think I may be a little sensitive.

About a year ago, I was asked if I was proud to be an American. It’s a question I still struggle with today. Is it possible to be proud to be part of a country that 25 years ago, bullied to utter ruin the country I’m now living in?

But should I not be proud to be a part of a country whose citizens give so many of their resources, time, money, knowledge, care to make the lives of the people here better?

And what are my expectations of those from other countries? Should they be proud despite a government overrun by corruption and scandal? Should they not be proud because the people lift themselves up to survive and help each other every day?

Is it possible to be both? Maybe I don’t want to forget what terrible things my country has done, so that in actually being an American, I never let it happen again. I don’t sit by while the government that has been elected to represent me runs the opposite direction. It’s not easy; I know I’ve been pushed to the side more than once. But it’s certainly nothing compared to what Americans expect citizens of developing nations to overcome on their own every day.

In what way do you exercise your responsibility of how the richest, most powerful nation relates to the world? In the money you spend supporting international companies? By giving time to make your neighborhood a better place? By taking part in local and/or federal politics? Do you know how your representative voted last week on war appropriations?

If nothing else, I think of a bracelet I bought last year at a Christian bookstore. It was all red, white and blue, and I’m pretty sure that the people who made it have quite different opinions about being American than I do, but I sincerely agree with what it said “Pray for the USA”.

Because we, and our leaders need it.


ourman said...

As a Brit in Nicaragua I must admit I am past being proud of my country. I have been volunteering for nearly three years (was in Vietnam before this) and whenever I go home now I just see greed, waste and insular lives.

I'm not exactly god fearing so personally I am not sure about praying for the USA or the UK.

But, as with every war, if the people REALLY said no then the government would listen. One million people marched in London - I was one of them. 70% didn't want the war - where were the rest?

We get the governments (and the foreign policy we deserve). Trouble is there are a lot of other countries that don't deserve to suffer our foreign policies.

Nic said...

Thanks for the comment ourman!

There is a lot that I wanted to say in the post that I didn't for the sake of keeping it short enough to actually be read.

I too, marched before the war even began. And I don't understand choices of others whether it's not raising their voices against unjust foreign policies or halting the war before it began.

But at the same time, what I have experienced thus far in life won't allow me to only see positives or negatives in something as complicated as millions of people.

I'm having trouble ending my comment in the same way I had trouble ending my post. So I'll go ahead and end it the same way. With the recognition that lot's of people are doing lot's of good things, I'd like to say to the rest - Just freaking do SOMETHING people!

Dad said...

ourman seems to be confused about the difference betweeen an opinion and a judgment. 70% may have had an anti-war opinion, but had not made a judgment that they would take it further than a march. My experience is that marches are fun, getting together with like minded people, being against something instead of doing the hard work of creating alternative solutions. Maturity is largely a matter of maintaining conviction/direction in the face of continuing frustration. That is the product of judgment. I think it is not a matter of getting to 100% of the population to march, it is a matter of getting 5-10% to make mature judgment and organize for action. nic, it seems you are describing the difference between nationalism and patriotism. Everyone one needs to feel good about their country as well as their family in some ways, while at the same time have clear judgment about their short comings. If I am anti-nationalist and believe my country (or my family) is totally depraved there is no hope. If I believe my country is perfect I've reproduced their arrogant self-delusion that nationalism so often promotes. Patriotism is an affectionate and sometimes angry balance, a loyal opposition.

Nic said...

For differences between nationalism and patriotism, please see

I sent a copy to Jesse back in October, apparently I should have paid a little more attention, enough to remember it myself :)

Tony said...

Hey Nicole,

Thanks for thinking and writing about these kinds of things... as I wrap up a year of studies in Sweden, I've been wondering *a lot* about whether to return to the US. While I still don't have an answer, it is nice to know that there are others who are willing to ask big questions. Whether it's Iraq, a number of other military intrusions over the last several decade, the average American's energy consumption, or any of numerous other issues of inquality... the question of American pride is a hard one to answer.

Nic said...

Tony! Great to hear from you, it's been too long! On the one had I'll understand if you don't return to the US, but if you do, I know you'll soooo helpful to a country that really needs it!