a wandering woman writes

Friday, October 27, 2006


One of my very favorite humans posed an interesting question a few days ago.

This favorite reads my blog, but like most of the readers who knew me long before I moved to Spain, he chooses to comment in private e-mails.

After reading this post, he wrote:
-Wow! Getting a tad defensive living in Europe, aren't we?

Stunned, I asked him to elaborate. Here's his reply:

- I read your blog -- the belief on the part of the Europeans that most Americans were in disagreement over W's policies -- and the need to vote
to change direction. You seemed embarrassed / defensive over the
foreign policy of the USA. I guess I hadn't seen or heard you being so passionate about politics before -- and was surprised.

He got me to thinking.

Am I passionate about politics?
I hate politics. I am passionate about my values, values I acquired in the USA. Values I was raised to believe were the cornerstone of our legal system, our lives and, yes, our foreign policy.

Am I defensive?
I don't think so. Deflated, yes, and disappointed. Sad.

Am I embarrassed?
No, try ashamed. Alarmed. Appalled. Horrified, some days.

My country has decided it's okay to torture prisoners and send them off to secret prisons outside of our borders. Just this week, we've decided it's okay to deny people we label as enemy combatants the right to see key evidence against them in a capital trial.

We have 14,000 people in our war prisons. A handful have been charged.

We've decided it's okay to deny secret prisons and flights secretly refueled in our allies' sovereign territory - to deny them even to the government, citizens and press of those allies- until we are caught red-handed. In at least two countries - Italy and Canada - an internal scandal has erupted over collaboration with our secret service in the illegal kidnappings that sent suspected terrorists to our secret prisons. In Italy, agents and, as I recall, the former director of the secret service have been charged with crimes, for simply collaborating with this part of our war on terrorism. Ireland had a similar storm brewing when I was there in June.

Foreign policy? Did we really tell Musharraf we'd bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" if he didn't cooperate? Do you know what I am passionate about? The anger I feel when I realize it really wouldn't surprise me if we had.

We have created a world in which Hugo Chavez can rally a growing "axis" held together by one common obsession: fierce hatred of the USA. His alliance of the "unallied" has one openly stated purpose: oppose the USA. His best propoganda is our own track record over the last 6 years. Simple news stories.

I believe that torture, kangaroo courts and secret prisons are wrong when dictators and terrorists use them, and they are wrong when we do, too.

I am passionate about my belief that our enemies do not define us. That we best defend our values by living to them. That the worst way to secure liberty, justice and human rights is to make exceptions to them.

I am ashamed of our indifference and the lack of respect we show our allies. I am ashamed to see that we have replaced our values with arrogance.

I told another American friend a few months ago that something had fundamentally changed about our relationship with the world. I watched the world wait for us to do something to stop the senseless deaths of innocent Israeli and Lebanese civilians in a war in which it's now said both sides committed war crimes. We responded with stalls and spin - bad spin, at that. We announced that we didn't want a merely "temporary" peace - you know, the kind where nobody dies for a few days. We singlehandedly blocked a rapid end to civilian bloodshed. And I tell you, something changed.

But more than all of that, I am frustrated because I can see that none of this will work. I don't know how long it will take to regain our credibility, our image (and yes, it DOES matter), our relationships with other peoples and their respect and trust. How long will it take us just to reclaim our fundamental values?

When the (torture) bill Bush just signed was presented to Congress, Colin Powell warned that the world was coming to "doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism." He was being polite. I'd be hard pressed to tell you which part of the world sees any moral basis. I don't, do you?

I am ashamed to say I know no better recruitment poster for terrorists than a photo of an American solder or George Bush. Or perhaps a news story about Iraq, or Lebanon, or Abu Ghraib, or the changes we've made to our own laws in the last 6 years.

I was sincere when I said I am asked about Bush, often. Jimmy Carter said his recent travels abroad revealed "consternation, disappointment, sometimes animosity and embarrassment" toward the United States.

I am not defensive about those questions, that consternation or that disappointment because I share them. In a way I find my neighbors' disbelief comforting. Their questions remind me that there was another USA, once, as they reassure me that I didn't pull my values out of thin air.



  • Re: it's an idea -- recent blog article. I find it interesting how in a country like Spain, which until recently, very recently, ordinary citizens couldn't even choose their own doctor, has all of a sudden become so "enlightened" on the human rights issues and Bush.

    I'm American and I travel to Spain often, I found your blog interesting except for the fact that you, along with many others, jump into the politically correct bandwagon of "i hate bush" -- maybe it´s the "I´m living abroad and I´m so smart" syndrome. I know plenty of Spaniards by the way, who like Bush and would support him...so maybe you need to look harder.

    I only say that if you are at all of the idea that Spaniards, that all Spaniards, don't like Bush. And as for "human rights", well, maybe you should come to Madrid and spend a month or two and see how immigrants are treated in shops, bars, etc...and then compare that situation with the legal system of the United States where minorities are protected by law.

    You feel ashamed about our FP and Bush? I´m ashamed that there are Americans, fellow Americans like you, who seem to thrive on bashing our country overseas and at home. The good thing is that now there are less of you back home and it's now a bit more quiet.

    Oh and: everything is political, including your desperate attempt to sound neutral or that you don't really like or care about politics.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:12 AM  

  • Ah, now I remember why I don't post about politics, aside from the fact that I simply don't agree everything is political: The labels instantly slapped on me by posters conveniently named "Anonymous."

    May I ask you to read my post again, Anon?

    I didn't praise Spain, or compare the 2 countries.

    I reported that many Spaniards ask me about Bush.

    And yes, a smaller number (hmm and I live in PP land, do I not?) tell me they admire my country's patriotism and fierce "don't mess with me" stand in the world.

    I do live in Spain, and I am, in fact, smart, but neither of those things have much to do with the fact that what I love most about the USA is my right to love her, desperately, and believe firmly in the values she has long stood for -while I simultaneously disagree with the direction she's taken.

    I hope if you read my post again you'll see this has very little to do with what I think of Bush.

    I'd challenge you to find the "bashing" you refer to.

    Let me be clear:

    I believe that torture, courts in which defendants of any nationality do not have the right to see the evidence against them, and secret prisons go against everything we claim to be fighting for.

    I simply believe what Brian Jenkins says in the quote I've just posted.

    Yet Brian Jenkins and I both remain Americans.

    Iraq, or Spain or Iran or Venezuela or anywhere else in the world allowihg whatever lack of human rights they allow should have absolutely no impact on how we live to OUR values, (which include respect for justice and human rights, would you agree?) - in the USA.

    Otherwise, we become the enemy we claim to be fighting, do we not? You, me and all those other know it all expats.

    The thing is, I get to disagree with you, and I get to disagree with our foreign policy. That, Anon, is the beauty of being a patriotic American who just happens to live somewhere else right now.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 11:36 AM  

  • Spot on, w-w, spot on, both in your initial post and your response to anon. I'd like to say more but am running late; however before I get carried away by life, I just wanted to thank you for posting so eloquently the distresss, horror, and shame that I'm feeling.

    Hmm, that doesn't sound like a compliment, but it is! ;-)

    By Blogger wheylona, at 12:11 PM  

  • Erin-

    I agree with you 110%.

    Unfortunately, too many foreigners seem to mistake the actions and beliefs of a possibly illegitimate regime in power currently in the US with the beliefs and actions of innocent American citizens, many of whom did not and do not condone or support the beliefs, actions and policies of the current adminstration.


    By Anonymous AdriftAtSea, at 1:58 PM  

  • I had to stop myself from being drawn in to net of your anon. commenter. Whew. Not going there.Whew.

    What I was going to say is this: I find that living abroad makes me acutely aware of how our policies are percieved from the outside. While I do find that people, on the whole, are still able to distinguish between individuals and gov't, I also find that I'm increasingly asked to explain. And it's increasing HARD to explain when we're behaving so badly on the world stage and at home.

    Anon is right about one thing - everything is political. And you, WWS, are clearly political. When you live abroad, it is very hard not to be. In fact, if you live with your eyes open at all, anywhere, it is hard not to be. It's nothing to be ashamed of. We need more people who care passionately about the state of the nation.

    Howard Zinn said that patriotism is love of one's NATION, not love of one's gov't. Hear hear. And yesterday, I heard Barack Obama in a full of democrats who are HARSH critics of current policies. He said this: YOU ARE ALL PATRIOTS.

    Okay, stepping down. I said I wasn't going to be drawn in. Oops.

    By Blogger Pam, at 4:30 PM  

  • LOL, I still don't agree that everything's political or that my caring about the state of the nation and the world with not an ounce of shame makes me political, Pam, but I suspect we are just using different definitions of the word political.

    But yes, I proudly care about the state of things...

    Obama's my senator (Chicago). I didn't like his vote on the wall says the nonpolitical one, but he did fine on the torture stuff. :)

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 11:05 PM  

  • I am American, living in Buenos Aires for the past year. I agree with your post --- it is painful to see what is happening in the US. The country I believed in seems further and further away, more like something I imagined. A few years ago I never would have believed that the Patriot Act would have passed (and been renewed), that prisoners would be detained without any rights and with no time limit in Guantanamo Bay, that all political discourse would seem like some bizarre doublespeak script. That there would be serious discussion of a constitutional amendment to deny civil rights to gays. That sex education would consist of lectures on the sanctity of marriage. That schools would be mandated to teach creationism.


    I have gotten past feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Now it just sort of hurts.

    The latest news doesn't help. The US is the only country that won't agree to restrictions on arms sales, because none of our "leaders" are willing to stand up to the NRA.

    The comments from anonymous sound familiar and tiresome. But I will say one thing --- he/she is correct that there are Bush supporters in Spain. Doubtless even in Salamanca, which is really a fairly conservative city (don't be fooled by the high number of university students). But the PP lost the last election, so overall they aren't the majority!

    By Anonymous Barbara, at 12:02 AM  

  • Bravo w-w!

    Lol, I never say 'bravo' but this was superbly written and defended.

    By Blogger woman wandering, at 9:38 AM  

  • You, increasingly, make me proud to know you - even as just a blogwriter. I look forward to one day sharing a conversation and a cup of coffee. And until then, thanks for the clarity and conviction with which you write, and for not rolling over for the dissenters.

    By Anonymous Kate, at 2:34 PM  

  • Sock it to 'em, Erin. Great post, really enjoyed it. Sad that there are people in the world who are apparently ill and go around wearing blinkers. Well, I suppose he (?) only has Fox to help him.
    A great man once said "Ignorance is Sin" and I couldn't agree more.

    By Anonymous daniel, at 3:59 PM  

  • And another thing. Don't you just hate those people that invade other peoples blogs with their own opposite ideas. Its like picking up someones diary and adding insulting notes of your own attacking the other person and then hiding it again.
    Why don't they create their own blogs for their own views? You had an english woman some months ago that lives in Salamanca who simply destroyed in words all your positive views about living in a foreign country. It really annoyed me.
    Mr anonymous attacked me as well some months ago but unlike yourself I simply ignored him and another reader was so incensed that he told him to take his ideas somewhere else.

    By Anonymous daniel, at 8:48 AM  

  • Hey Barbara,
    Welcome and thanks for the comment. I'm not sure how Anon got the idea I meant to say all Spaniards are AntiBush..I just meant to report that I get a lot of "what are Americans thinking questions". I do. I know plenty of PP folks in Salamanca; the funny thing is those I happen to know are fiscally conservative and probusiness--but they tend not to vocally support current US foreign, human rights and social policies Or those of PP). Just my experience.

    Kate, coffee, yeh, some day on one side of the Atlantic or the other.

    Daniel, cool to see you here!Thanks for the compliment. You know, I like when people who disagree with me read me and I especially like when they comment, to be honest. I always feel like if we all just stay in our corners (with people who see the world just like we do) we'll never get anywhere.

    OK; and like most Irish Americans I love a good argument. As long as we all keep listening and keep an open mind...My secret weapon is that negative comments tend to make my positive views look all the more positive...shhhh. ;)

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 8:18 PM  

  • Excellent points! And why do people who write and criticise other people's politics/blogs not have the nerve to use their names (i.e. anonymous)?

    By Blogger paris parfait, at 12:11 AM  

  • Great conversations
    and w-w thanks for articulating what I have felt for too long.
    Now, I, too am looking for a way to see our way out of this morass. "How long will it take??" Good question to which I add "What will it take?

    By Blogger Kim, at 4:40 AM  

  • Well said original post, Erin.

    But, in a democracy, all governmental decisions are political; that is to say, the majority rules, not whose right rules, and the majority has a right to be wrong.

    Not participating in politics, consensus building on issues affecting the masses after doing your homework, is dereliction of citizenship duty.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:27 PM  

  • Anon, you and I think alike.
    Everything is not politics, and entering, running for, writing about politics - not the issues, but the politics of solving them - simply doesn't appeal to me. All governmental decisions are obviously political. But everything in my life and the world is not a governmental decision. I think we are agreeing?

    Of course the majority rules. And so vote, I post when passionate, I am famous for rousing up the few expats I know here to vote, however they choose and I am, in fact an exceptionally well informed voter who considers not voting unconscionable (Sure you'll find that in a post on the blog encouraging American expats to vote.)

    So the "but" at the start of your post confuses me. I'm hearing us say the same thing. I didn¡t vote with the majority, obviously. But I am not one of those who doesn't agree they voted and we go with Mr Bush til we get another chance to vote - encouraging our legislators to act as we'd like them to in the meantime (sure you'll find that on this blog too.)

    Did I miss something? Maybe read the post again?

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 8:57 PM  

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