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.