(This is a copy of an email I recently sent to a friend.)
You know me well enough to know that in general, I’m an optimist, and I want to believe that the government has our best interests at heart. If for no other reason than that college is full of anti-establishment people, and I tend to play devil’s advocate. After September 11, this tendency on my part has grown even stronger.
So knowing that, you’ll understand what a big deal it is that after reading this article, even I’m feeling some pangs of concern. I feel like a character in a Doonesbury strip… the confused guy who is slowly becoming aware of his environment… “wait, you mean, the government is doing these horrible things on purpose?”
The interesting thing is that I’ve already learned at least one thing. I found it hard to understand the animosity a large portion of the rest of the world seems to feel towards America. I realized today the reason for that. Socially, this country has gone through so much upheaval in the last 100 years, that there’s a feeling of “yes, our forefathers (and even fathers) did horrible horrible things, but we’re different! We’ve changed! And we can’t be held accountable!” It’s a strange feeling of guilt mixed with an outrage that you can be held responsible for the actions of people who came before you.
But that attitude is the opposite of the attitude held in many other cultures, where there are stronger family ties, and a larger sense of connection with history. Other countries seem to have a different attitude regarding their pasts. It’s not that they celebrate the horrible things their forefathers did, it’s just that there’s more of an acceptance of them.
I’m phrasing this poorly, but what I’m getting at is that I can see now why a society that doesn’t have this American attitude of “leave the past behind” wouldn’t see a difference between the America of today and the America of 100 or 200 years ago. And that’s ignoring the possibility that our government today is just as horrible as our government has been in the past, in which case, of course no one sees a difference, because there is no difference.
Ooog. I doubt I’ll ever stop being an optimist, or even steer much away from my tendency to trust the government… but it was interesting getting a glimpse of the other side.