Life without America

For some reason, it occurred to me today, that I will probably never see America; at least the United States of America.

When I was younger, I could not consider visiting this country. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the fare, or did not qualify for a visa. I had enough time on my hands when at school, and after I started work, there was always annual leave entitlement. No, the reasons were straightforward, it seemed to me. They were imperialists, and considered themselves to be the arbiters of policy and behaviour, for the entire planet. America equalled good, therefore anything not American, or anti-American, was bad.

Of course, I came from Great Britain, where they more or less invented this concept. But that Empire was long ago, and by the time I was in my teens, practicalities, or in many cases, armed struggle, had made them see sense. The America of the 1960’s , by contrast, was on a mission, internationally speaking. It would oppose the Soviet Bloc anywhere, anytime, just to force the issue of who was ‘The Daddy’, on the world stage. Communism was not just undesirable to them, it was unacceptable, and they would do anything to stop it getting a hold, anywhere. This included sending troops to S.E. Asia , arms and money to Central America, and any kind of spying, coercion, and underhanded double-dealing, to achieve their stated goals.

Yet this was a country where a black person could not sit in the same area as a white person, or drink from the same tap, in a huge percentage of its own lands. Gun crime was an everyday occurrence: as were mass murder, serial killings, and other atrocities. There were race riots in large cities, appalling treatment of workers, and uncivilised employment and working conditions for much of the ordinary populace. Racism, antisemitism, corrupt landlords, and even more corrupt local politicians, were all tolerated, and in some cases, encouraged. Emerging nations, particularly those in geographical proximity to US territory, were intimidated, blockaded, or even invaded, unless they played the American game.

How could I possibly go to this place as a tourist? Give them my money, support their economy, and by doing so, condone their actions and philosophy. So, I didn’t go there. I went to Grosvenor Square instead, and protested against the Vietnam War, outside their London embassy.

It was not as if I did not have numerous reasons to want to visit this vast, beautiful, and breathtaking country. Who would not want to see the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Yosemite National Park, or the excesses of Las Vegas? I would have to deny myself the spectacle of Monument Valley, so often seen on screen, in John Ford westerns, and the magnificent skyscrapers of New York. I had other reasons to want to visit, more personal ones. A lifelong obsession with the American Civil War, had provided a long list of must-see places for my itinerary; Antietam, Gettysburg, Charleston, and New Orleans. My love of Soul and Motown music, would have meant a trip to Detroit, and on to Chicago, to see the home of the Blues. I might even have ventured further West, to walk around Alcatraz, the subject of so many prison films, then back via Texas, for a visit to The Alamo.

None of this was going to happen. America was assisting the Israeli government, so that they could continue their immoral, yet perhaps understandable expansions, at great cost to the indigenous population of Palestine. They were escalating the wars in Indo-China, by using indiscriminate bombing, and widespread chemical warfare. As a country, it was morally reprehensible. I could no more go there, than visit the apartheid-ruled Republic of South Africa. I would just have to abandon my touristic desires, and realise that it was somewhere that I would never see.

The years went by, America lost in Vietnam, and pulled out the remaining troops. They started to talk, albeit tentatively, to Cuba, Russia, and other countries previously renounced as enemies of the Free World. That Free World was, of course, the USA. Black people finally got a voice, at least outside the South, and became Judges, Politicians, and Civil Servants. International policies mellowed, and things started to look up, for this potential visitor. Then came Reagan, and the Bushes, and the Gulf Wars, followed rapidly by Afghanistan. By this time, the UK was complicit, and we now had a ‘special relationship’. This means that we are little more than the 51st state of America, and a convenient airfield, for their interests in Europe.

Even with the election of Obama, twice, it still doesn’t ring true. There may be a black president, but the power is white, and it is still the same power that was behind the McCarthy trials, and the Hoover years in the FBI. The cloak may have changed, but it still conceals a multitude of sins. I have nothing against any American personally; other than the very nice people that I ‘meet’ on this blog, I don’t know any. However, as a nation, nothing has changed.

So, it looks as if I will have to go to my grave without ever visiting the place, and that makes me feel sad.

20 thoughts on “Life without America

  1. Hi Pete. I don’t know who your blogging friend Atreyu Crimmins is, but I second her thoughts and would add that all of the countries you have visited are equally troubled. Pick a country, it’ll have an ideology you won’t care for. Should that stop you from traveling? I’ve always wanted to go to S. America, and it’s corrupted throughout, yet I want to experience the food, the language, the people. I hope to step foot throughout the continent. “Don’t take it personally” you don’t want to visit the states? Of course I do. You forget the people are there. Like me. Your friend. I certainly don’t approve of all her happenings, and have issues with my government, but I do love my country and would welcome you with open arms, show you a good time, and be proud to be an ambassador. I blame the media. It reports the most horrible things until one comes to believe its all true. Horror sells. Not the chummy, benevolent side to us all. Our country is like yours. There’s good, bad, and the ugly. There’s brilliance, ignorance, shame and the shameless. The philanthropic, the humane, and the loving. There’s me, for fuck’s sake.

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    1. Hi Cindy. I had a feeling that this would make you incensed. A. Crimmins (Judy) was the finest and most erudite blogger I have ever known. We had a real connection, But sadly life got in the way, and she stopped blogging. Much to my great regret.

      Much of what I wrote was about my youth, and my early middle age. As I got older, I mellowed as most of us do, and would gladly have gone to visit the Civil War battlefields, as well as seeing you in Arizona, and David in Las Vegas. So too Frank in Florida, and others. It was never about the people, just about the politics of my youth. (And to be honest, my later years too.) It was by way of explanation, not excuse.

      As you can see from the comments of my close friends and former colleagues, they are all urging me to put all that aside, and go. Unfortunately, I no longer have the available finances for foreign travel, hence the idea of the post in the first place.

      I hesitated momentarily before sending the link, in case you reacted as you did. I do aplogise if I caused any offence. None was intended.

      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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      1. Pete, I owe YOU an apology. First, if I was “angry” it would be with the younger version of yourself. Your words stung, but I know you have mellowed. It’s perfectly fine if we disagree. Second, the “fuck’s sake” reference was playing around to lighten things up, but I fear I made it worse by giving you the opinion that I took offense. No dear. Your response to Vinnieh’s questionnaire yesterday had me giggling when I read your response. I threw it in the response here. Sigh. So sorry I came across the way I did. You are one of my favorite bloggers and its too bad you don’t have the funds to visit the good ol’ USA. xo, Cindy

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        1. No apology necessary. Sometimes, even the best of friends have to agree to disagree about something. I had some very strong opinions when I was young. I still have them to a large extent, but they are cooIed by age and experience.
          I am glad that my answers to Vinnie’s survey made you giggle.
          As always, Pete. x

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  2. Pete, I appreciate your blog entry. I also read each and every one of the responses posted by your followers. I don’t think I can make any comments that have not already been well expressed. I agree with “nivaladiva” (“I have found that the people and personal character of a country have little to do with the politics of its government, and most of us are much more similar than our governments would like us to believe.”) one hundred percent. I also think it would be a good idea to put politics aside and visit the States in order to not only appreciate its vast natural wonders, but also its culture (we do have a smidgen of that!). Most Americans are welcoming, and we do find that British accent very charming! Your blog entry does point out some of the hypocrisy that is all too true with respect to American international policy versus the American reality at home,,and I commend you for making a good analysis of it.

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    1. Thanks David. You will find much to admire on the blog of ‘nivaladiva’. I suppose I would still visit the USA, if money was no option, and I could go to all the other places I have missed out on as well.
      Regards from Norfolk, Pete.

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  3. Well this explains your comment on my blog about never having been to the USA and not likely to. I understand where you are coming from, I have a lot of similar issues, but must say that I have enjoyed every one of my visits to the States, although on my last trip to SF I was dismayed by the increase in the number of homeless there. And don’t get me started on the gun policy.

    And as someone who not only visited South Africa in the apartheid years but actually was a resident, I cannot pretend to be as political as you obviously are/were. In my defence I will say that a lot of people in SA were trying to change things and racism is not exclusive to the white race.

    I do however, refuse to visit China. And I know that country has amazing landscapes too, and I also know that one person making a stand is not going to affect them in the least. I guess we all make our decisions on where we will travel for one reason or another, and that’s OK. Fortunately we can travel vicariously with others now, and that’s OK too.
    Jude xx

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    1. Well, I have visited China, so I suppose I must surrender any ‘moral’ high ground! However, China today, compared to China in say 1900, shows considerable progressive change. As for America, I will leave you to decide, as you have more experience of the place than I do. Try Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and we will all forget the (my) politics for a while…

      Thanks for reading Jude, your opinions are always valuable to me, as I am sure you know by now. Regards as always, Pete. X

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  4. Hi Pete,

    Interesting post. I resonate with some points, others less so – particularly what you say about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I would suggest that you reacquaint yourself with the history of the region. As someone who has lived in the Middle East for almost a decade and has an intimate knowledge of the culture, history and languages, the Palestinians are neither “indigenous” nor are the Israelis necessarily “immoral”. 😉

    I do understand your vacillation about visiting the States and the difficulty in letting go youthful predilections, especially when they are of a deeply-seated political nature. I hold the same reservations, Pete. What to do? Do you know, I don’t think we need to apologise for the ’emotional hangover’ that is often carried with us as we grow older, however misguided, outdated or irrelevant. They are part of who we are. As Dickens said, “part of the little good in us, and part of the evil.”

    May we both come to brighter prospects and enjoy great trips, and may the journey be as tantalising as the destination.

    xoxo

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    1. I think that you are the most intellectual person that I have ever encountered, and there have been a few. Your obvious intelligence, and life experiences bring a real weight to your comments here, as they do on your own blog articles. Always considered, and a joy to read, they really cheer me up, in the way that I love the thought behind them.
      I concede that the words indigenous and immoral may have been both inaccurate, and an overstatement. As for the state of Israel, as a modern , sovereign nation, I continue to have difficulties. I am not remotely anti-Semitic, so it is not a religious argument, nor a racial one. It is purely political. I cannot understand how a nation built on the legacy of the Holocaust (as well as the long history of persecution from others) can rest easily with right-wing religious zealots, checkpoints, destruction of homes with bulldozers, and creating ghettos for others. I am aware that they face a real threat from the countries around them, as well as within their own state. Is this the way to respond? I have my doubts.
      Whether or not these actions are technically immoral, and that they may have some claim to be the real indigenous population of that area, changes nothing in how I see the situation. I chose a ‘side’ quite early in life, and I have tended to stick with it, through right and wrong.

      As for ’emotional hangover’, you have got that right. I have a few of those.

      Please keep commenting, it keeps me writing. Regards and best wishes to you. Pete. x

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  5. Pete, this American believes in your right to choose where you visit. However, having been to many countries and being a naturalized citizen of the USA, I must admit that I have never enjoyed such great freedoms as I have here. I truly appreciate your position and I understand that the US is not perfect by any means–far from it. But, your main complaints are mostly of the past, or at most, about things are admittedly unfair or unjust but that President Obama has been and is actively trying to change. Sure, the US could do better by implementing a form of affordable universal health care. Sure, the US could also stop using so many of its own resources by not meddling as much in other countries’ wars and stryfe. Sure, the US could try to be more egalitarian for all people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, etc. These items have been and are all on President Obama’s agenda and he has been actively attempting to make a positive difference in this country. He would have achieved many more of these goals were it not for the ultra-conservative Republicans blocking his every move every step of the way. As I said, you have a right to do as you please, of course. I am simply cautioning you to reserve judgment of a whole country based on actions or in-actions of its leaders dating back to the 1960s, 70s, or 80s. Just food for thought.

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    1. A, thanks for your considered comments, as always. This is a difficult one, as this post cannot hope to be perceived to be anything other than anti-American. I would never make the mistake of assuming the people were to blame for the wrongs of a country, no more than I am to blame for all the excesses of the old British Empire. That wasn’t really what I was on about, so I guess that I have expressed it wrongly, or written it badly. I can’t agree that things have changed fundamentally, since the 1960’s. Interference in foreign affairs has increased, if anything, and not just by the USA, but Britain too. However, I really believe that this post was nostalgic in concept, and not meant to offend. And I still don’t know why it just occurred to me that afternoon…Regards as ever, Pete.

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      1. Thank you, Pete. I understand that you weren’t blaming citizens of the US for what the country or its leaders have done in the past. I am not offended. I understand you aren’t anti-American. I was simply attempting to give you a different perspective and perhaps give you pause in your resolve to avoid visiting the USA. I believe you are depriving yourself, perhaps unnecessarily, of some extremely worthwhile sights, scenery, and historic places. Britain has also, in my opinion, committed its fair share of injustices. Yet, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed my past visits to London, Stonehenge, Southampton, and Winchester. If I am able to afford traveling in the future, I would very much enjoy returning to Britain and visiting other towns and destinations there.

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  6. For what it’s worth, this American, who happens to also be Israeli, is not offended by your post. I hope one day you get to visit both places. In my experience, I have found that the people and personal character of a country have little to do with the politics of its government, and most of us are much more similar than our governments would like us to believe. Just my 2 cents.

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    1. I was hoping that one of my American commentators would add their ‘two cents worth’, and it is much appreciated. Given your background, even more so, perhaps. I am glad that you are not offended, and see that this is a legacy of my youth, that I am finding hard to shake off in older years. As I have already said, it is not about individuals, and you make a good point about the people having little to do with the policies of government.

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  7. I’ve been to the USA several times. Mainly visiting family but also doing the tourist stuff like taking my time to stop off along highway one and so on. But my liking of America stops at the way health care is provided. The poverty and the number of street homeless really shocked me the last time we visited.
    When you mention these topics Americans have a deep rooted suspicion of anything that sounds vaguely socialist. Probably still as a result from their MaCarthy trials. Are we the 51st State? Yep! But then they single-handedly saved us during the second world war didn’t they.

    The problem with the written word is that it can look like one is being really sarcastic and negative. I’m not, well maybe a little. But I love visiting The States & hope to do so again, sooner than later.

    Pete, if you get the chance you really should go.

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    1. I really did not want to upset any Americans with this one Jimmy. It is just this assumption that we have this connection, from History and language. We don’t, but there is no point denying that the new spirit of economic colonialism isn’t working, and working well. Conquest by Coca Cola? Something like that. I drive a car that originated from General Motors, and so much of what I own and use is of American origin. The films, the music, all sorts of things, that I cherish. I am just uneasy about it, and always have been.

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  8. All you say is true but a visit to the States does not condone the political regime and finally you are only punishing yourself by abstaining!
    Having been to New York a few times I just know that you would love it, the galleries, the park, the Staten Island ferry, the Empire State, the jazz clubs, the buzz and the people; it’s a great place. And California; Highway One from San Fransisco to LA, the restaurants by the Pacific.
    Think of the higher things on offer, take Julie and GO!

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    1. It is as much finance as concern that stops me going Ro. I just think that if I had the money to travel ever again, I would be going somewhere else first. I am not on some kind of anti-US crusade any more, as I said, ‘it just occurred to me’. Can’t imagine why. That’s what happens when you are wandering around with a dog, I suppose…

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