Happy Birthday to the greatest nation on this earth. After seeing the Capitol’s 4th Celebration on PBS, NASCAR on ESPN2, and watching fireworks off of my patio, I was so truly proud to be an American on this day. It also reminded me of a stunning exchange I recently had with a former co-worker of mine, which left me wondering “aren’t all other people proud of their own countries?”
My company is based in Germany, and my colleague Ingrid (I’ll call her), was in town here in Atlanta to do training for my department. Ingrid has been with the company since the mid 1990s, and she was an integral part of the IT team that conducted software implementations and rollouts to most of the other sites around the world when they would come online with our global platform. So she’s been around the world quite a bit. I really didn’t know Ingrid very well, as I had met her only a few times. However, on her last trip to Atlanta, I was in a week-long intensive training with her, and really got to spend some time talking to her.
One day in training, she came in and said the night before when she arrived back in her hotel, she tuned in to C-SPAN. That particular night, they were showing Congressional hearings about whether or not to begin impeachment proceedings on President Bush and V.P. Cheney. She said she was fascinated by it, and remarked that if he was half as guilty of things as they were saying he was, she thought they should be impeached.
Not knowing she was talking to the department’s resident political person, my American colleague just shot me that look like “oh, no… please don’t go there,” but I just couldn’t help it. I told her that even without knowing or having seen the hearings she watched, I could tell her that probably the majority of those testifying were also buying into the 9/11 truther mindset. She said she had seen Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and believed every bit of it. Needless to say, my American colleague decided it was time for his lunch break.
Ingrid said she had a general impression that Americans didn’t like to discuss politics because in the past when she’s brought them up to folks in our Atlanta office, people would just not engage her, or they would give the pat response “I’m not into politics.” I told her that most likely she’d encountered others who were either unarmed in terms of what’s going on in the world, or those who had such a visceral response to American politics, that they could not effectively argue their points and they just refused to participate in a civil discussion.
We had to get back to our training, but we both agreed we’d like to have a further discussion later. On Friday after work, we decided to go out for a few beers and appetizers at a local Taco Mac restaurant by the office. I thought we’d be there for an hour or so, but I went home around 9 p.m.
We fully engaged in robust debate and discussion about the realities of the world today, and we both educated each other to some extent. Ingrid’s main contention as to why she hates George W. Bush is because she thinks the Iraqi war was his personal choice and that he was responsible for all the deaths of the troops, as well as the suffering of military widows, parents who’d lost children, etc., and that it was all President Bush’s fault. She hates war with such venom that she cannot see past that emotion. I told her that nobody likes war, and that sometimes, war is a necessary evil. I told her one of the phrases that most pisses off a lot of Americans is the phrase “this is an unpopular war.” What war is popular? Even the Revolutionary War was unpopular, as were all that followed, but it didn’t mean they weren’t necessary or warranted. The “unpopular war” theme is just a tag to further enhance Bush Derangement Syndrome.
She said she she felt there were too many casualties in war, not just on the battlefield, but all of the families back home who suffered when their loved ones were wounded or killed. That seemed to hurt her the most. I almost wondered if she thought we DIDN’T have an all-volunteer military? Did she think that President Bush was ordering folks into war against their will? I said “Ingrid… if I’m an American wife, or if I am an American mother who had a son who enlisted, I would know that part of what that entailed was the possibility that my loved one might not come home.” This seemed unrealistic to her. Did she think men and women were pulled from their homes to serve? I’ll never know. But in retrospect, it makes my next point even more clear to me now.
She related a story to me that really took me aback. She moved here to Atlanta for a brief period in 2004. When she was here, she did the typical “touristy” thing and went to Stone Mountain Park to see the famous laser show. The laser shows are put on seasonally, and during certain times they are nightly, and others just on the weekend. Stone Mountain is a mountain where the granite face has been carved with the images of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas â€œStonewallâ€ Jackson.
The carved granite surface of Stone Mountain
The laser show is conducted to the sound of different music, but one segment surprised Ingrid.
Toward the end of the show, some images were shown on the rock face of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ingrid was frightened as she witnessed everyone around her jump to their feet, cheer, clap, “woo-hoo,” high-five each other, cry, hug, and chant “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” and carry on about our men & women in the U.S. Armed Forces. She could not fathom the depths of our pride, as Americans, of our country. She told me she could not believe it that we were so proud! Now, for one who is not easily surprised, I dropped my fork, dropped my chin, looked her in the eye and asked “are you serious?” She said “yes, I’m completely serious – I was frightened!”
She also said that it was “disturbing” to her to see all the American Flags that flew everywhere…off buildings, on cars, on many houses, bumper stickers, etc. She thought that was a bit haughty, if not a bit pompous and a little crazy. Either way, she didn’t understand that either.
For the first time that night, I was truly speechless and incredulous. Was she really serious? She said that she later would have friends over to visit from Germany, and she would take them to Stone Mountain to see the laser show. She wanted them to witness the same thing she had. And she was not surprised they all reacted the same way she did. They were shocked at the overwhelming pride we have for our troops and our country. Because of this perplexing view, I now believe that she cannot possibly fathom that an American would so love their country that they would be willing to lay down their life for it. And that’s why, I believe, she felt such hurt for the soldiers’ families. That could be the only explanation.
I am only one voice in America and have my opinion. So it wouldn’t be appropriate to say all Germans feel the same way Ingrid does. But from what she explained to me, all of her friends and all of her visitors felt the same way. I would have thought that every person on this planet would be robust with pride of their own country. But apparently not, at least for this small group of Germans I knew. Did they have an undying shame for what Hitler did? Could they not overcome that and realize how far they’d come? Certainly America has had her flaws, and I am ashamed of slavery and other injustices of the past in America, but we have come a long way. And so has Germany. How can this shame be so ingrained and not be able to be shed?
I’m reminded of a recent book by Shelby Steele called “White Guilt.” And I wonder if some Germans didn’t feel some sort of “Hitler Guilt” for their past. Can’t they recognize how far they and the rest of the world has come? We have to learn to forgive what has happened in the past so we can move forward, but I wonder what it is in the German psyche that won’t allow that? Even if it’s just in the persons whom I know personally?
Ingrid still has her opinions of President Bush and America, and I told her that Al Qaeda has been attacking Western interests for a long time, and that the desire for the Islamic Caliphate is something that has long been festering. She seems to have been stuck in that guilt phase, and thinks all countries just should mind their own business.
Then she talked about the lack of WMDs found in Iraq. Oh, boy, here we go. I told her that whether or not she knew it, there were WMDs in Iraq (hundreds of ricin-filled weapons heads), and that all of the other intelligence agencies (including Egyptian Pres. Hosni Mubarak) had told us that Saddam had WMDs and would use them on our troops in Afghanistan. After all, why wouldn’t we believe them if he’d used them on hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Plus, I reminded her, that as the world’s greatest superpower, what would have happened if Pres. Bush wouldn’t have acted, and Saddam DID use WMDs on any Western country? Bush was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
I reminded her of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, the attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, the attacks on the U.S. Marine barracks, and countless other atrocities against the West since the 70s. Clinton lobbed a few missiles at an aspirin factory, but President Bush was finally the one to do something about the problem with Islamofascist terrorism. She said she still hated war and that’s why she didn’t like Bush. I respect that, but it just confirms my belief that our media (as well as the International media) are wholeheartedly to blame for the world’s opinion of the U.S.
I then asked her hypothetically, “who is it that the world comes to for help in times of need?” She correctly answered “America.” We talked about the Tsunami in Indonesia and the U.S.S. Mercy Ship being the first there, and that politics were the last thing the U.S. considers in times of need around the world. She also was not aware of Bob Geldof’s befuddlement about the world’s lack of recognition of Pres. Bush and his commitment to helping with AIDS in Africa. From a Washington Times article:
Mr. Geldof praised Mr. Bush for his work in delivering billions to fight disease and poverty in Africa, and blasted the U.S. press for ignoring the achievement.
Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, “has done more than any other president so far.”
“This is the triumph of American policy really,” he said. “It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion.”
“What’s in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing,” Mr. Geldof said.
Mr. Geldof said that the president has failed “to articulate this to Americans” but said he is also “pissed off” at the press for their failure to report on this good news story.
“You guys didn’t pay attention,” Geldof said to a group of reporters from all the major newspapers.
I told her that regardless of what other countries think of America, it IS America the world first looks to in times of need, and that we always come running. She acknowledged that and said the world should be grateful. However, she did say Germans were generally glad that their country refused to participate in the war in Iraq. And she railed about the U.S. not allowing the Red Cross to visit detainees in the War on Terror. Geez, what is the international media telling the rest of the world? She knew nothing of KSM, Abu Nidal, the Blind Sheikh and others. This conversation was a long one.
Lastly, she knew nothing of Gen. Petraeus, the counter-insurgency, what’s truly happening in Iraq, but was completely enamored with Barack Obama and his “change” mantra. That’s when I decided Ingrid needed one more gift to go back home with. I gave her my copy of Michael Yon‘s “Moment of Truth In Iraq,” and told her if she was as hungry for knowledge as she said she was, she should read the book. I told her it was not all rosy about the war, but it was a first-hand account of what’s really happening in Iraq. She promised to read it, and before she left, she said she was learning a lot from it. But in the end, she said she still detested war.
I reminded her that we do, too.
But I love my country so much I can never understand her bewilderment in that pride.