Americans have always been my heroes. My formative years were spent in postwar Britain in the days when only the rich had televisions. Instead, starved of entertainment, we queued up every Saturday morning outside the local fleapit to watch re-runs of Laurel and Hardy, Bob Hope in his ‘Road’ series, World War II movies and the ubiquitous John Wayne cowboy film.
Knowing the endings in advance never spoiled our enjoyment. The good guys would invariably win and the good guys were always the Americans. The cavalry never failed to turn up at an opportune moment and the Sheriff always got the desperado.
Our history lessons and our parents taught us that it was the Americans who saved us from Hitler’s occupation and we were grateful to what we thought was a nation of Steve McQueens bravely burrowing tunnels out of wretched Nazi camps dragging our more naive boys in tow. Our lot was perceived as terribly correct and phlegmatic; the Americans as laid back and capable of thinking out of the box.
When our own fathers mumbled phrases such as “Americans were overpaid, over-sexed and over here” we put this down to envy. We knew that everything across the pond was bigger and better than anything our dinky little land had to offer.
I recall with clarity my own father, a wartime radio officer, telling me that the most exciting day of his life was when his ship sailed into New York harbor and there, before him, was Lady Liberty herself. He was bowled over by the lights contrasting with the darkness of Europe and amazed at the 24-hour availability of everything anyone could possibly desire. In my child’s mind America was synonymous with fairyland.
As the years passed, Great Britain became less ‘great’ than before as its colonies gained their independence, yet, thanks to Uncle Sam we felt just as important in the scheme of things by association. After all, the Americans were our cousins, British history and culture was inextricably bound up with the U.S. and we opened our minds, our hearts and our stomachs to the icons of the ‘New World’.
Shining beacon of democracy
As we got older, we knew that you, America, had sometimes made mistakes as you did in South East Asia but we were also sure that your collective heart was in the right place. You were a shining beacon of democracy, civil liberties and human rights. If the world decided it needed policing, then the US was the logical choice. It wasn’t only the British who looked up to you then. Most of the world did, including the Arabs. Don’t believe me? Ask any Arab you meet what he or she felt about the U.S. prior to 9-11. You are likely to be very surprised by the answer.
Sure, you had corrupt politicians like the rest of the planet but you always ultimately rejected them because deep down you knew the difference between right and wrong.
When you led the charge into Iraq during the last Gulf War with Britons and others at your side, we were proud of you. Saddam Hussein was wrong to invade his neighbor and he was punished for it. Unfortunately, Iraqi civilians, especially children, suffered most of the punishment.
Kosovo was perceived as a just war too by most of us Brits. Milosovich was a xenophobic nationalist bent on genocide and thanks to American might and NATO he is today languishing in The Hague awaiting the result of his trial. We respected you because you had waged that war not for gain, not from selfish motives but just because it was the right thing to do. You didn’t see the Kosovars in terms of their religion. They are Moslems, but so what! You saw only human beings in desperate need of help.
Then along came September 11 2001. What a day that was! What a cataclysmic world-changing moment for our American friends and for the rest of the world when the twin towers fell and the very fabric of the US, the Pentagon, was attacked.
When America came under siege by extremist religious ideologues, we were under siege too. Our Queen ordered the flag over Buckingham Palace to fly at half-mast, flying in the face of centuries of protocol. Services were held in cathedrals and churches all over the country. We shared your pain and we feared for your safety. Some of my countrymen and women would have done anything for you, perhaps even given up their lives if circumstances necessitated such a sacrifice.
But in less than two short years, everything has changed. America itself has changed. Today, our two countries are on the brink of war with Iraq, a war that could induce turmoil and instability throughout the world. A good friend must always say the truth, and the one-and-a-half million who marched through the streets of London last February 15 were saying that this time you are wrong, very wrong.
We have seen you change from an altruistic nation, one that feeds millions on the planet, one that spreads noble ideals and hope to the poor and disenfranchised, one that fights for the right of all to free speech to one that has become unilateralist in its ambitions, overly nationalistic and ready to discard even its old friends should they not agree.
You are right to fight terrorism, but you are wrong to confuse Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden. Do you know that almost 50 per cent of all Americans still believe that the Iraqi leader was involved in September 11?
You are right to protect yourselves but not to sacrifice the liberty of others, as you are on the point of doing in Iraq.
You are right to disagree with your allies, but not to insult them for having different opinions, as Donald Rumsfeld and others in your administration have been doing.
Britain’s Tony Blair has put his head on the chopping block out of loyalty to longstanding Anglo-American ties, but he needs United Nations backing if he is to survive from a political standpoint. If you go your own way without that important second resolution, you will be throwing him to the baying wolves.
You are right to protect your borders but not to treat good people who want to visit your country for legitimate purposes with disrespect.
You are right to attempt to gain support for your beliefs, but not to bribe and intimidate smaller and weaker nations, such as Turkey, Angola, Cameroon, Chile and Mexico to put aside their own ethics and ideals in favour of yours.
You are right to expect your long time allies in the Middle East to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in your time of need, but not at the cost of their own security and very existence–as Jordan and Saudi Arabia are now doing by agreeing to allow the American military engaged in war with Iraq, to be stationed on their soil.
You should not be condemned for your support of Israel, as long as that support is not given unconditionally, allowing that country to bask in your protection and might to do what it will to the helpless Palestinian people living under occupation without any kind of censure.
Recently Palestinian firefighters came under the fire of an Israeli tank while they were doing their jobs. A young man who happened to be in the way of that tank shell lost his head. I caught an upsetting glimpse of his torso with a bloodied hole where the head used to be being carried away, yet there was nothing about this in your media. Do you ever ask why? Do you care?
You should be a friend to the entire region. You should gain the respect of all its peoples, both Jews and Arabs, and you should use your influence and power to bring peace and prosperity for everyone in the Middle East. You could be such an incredible force for good.
A wrong turn
In short, somewhere along the way your government has taken a wrong turning, my dear old friends. Your president said: You are with the United States or with the terrorists. Not so. When it comes to Iraq, your government and mine have dismally failed to prove that Saddam Hussein is a threat to his neighbors, the U.S and the world. There is not a shred of evidence that the Iraqi regime is linked to Al Queda, and the only loud noises out of Baghdad have been requests for peace and urgings that the debilitating sanctions be lifted.
Millions around the world are asking you to give the weapons inspectors more time; the inspectors themselves want more time and the more the Bush administration refuses, the more we are left to ask ‘Why? What is the hurry?’ The answer is usually ‘Iraq has had 12 years to disarm’. True. So, in that case, what harm could another three months possibly do?
And why do you, America, insist that war must kick off in the month March? Should wars be fought to suit your schedule, all because the weather in the Gulf region warms up in April? Your soldiers might find it inconvenient to fight when the mercury rises, but won’t the Iraqis find it even more inconvenient to die when there may be a peaceful option yet to be explored?
Perhaps you believe that because your generals have marched their troops up to the top of the hill, it would be defeat to march them down again. Again, not so! This would be the greatest victory of all. America would then have shown itself to be like the lion of Daniel filled with honey; a powerful nation, capable of containing the ambitions of even the cruelest of dictators. Yet, at the same time, we will all be able to witness its compassionate core, its humane spirit and its true caring nature.
America. Don’t let us down. Don’t let the world down. Don’t let down those small children who today are marching through the highways and the byways of the world’s capitals bearing banners screaming ‘No blood for oil’.
My generation admired you. Will future generations be able to say the same? Do you want to be viewed as a monstrous pariah by the rest of the world? Are you willing to be feared, and hated? I believe that the answers to both these questions is ‘no, and this is why I am making this desperate appeal.
It is all up to you my friends. Yes, you are still my friends–at least until your bombs, daisy cutters, J-Dams, missiles and your bunker busting nuclear warheads rain down on Baghdad. It’s true that the Iraqis will be awed and shocked… but so will the rest of us.
Bye for now and thanks,
Linda S Heard is a specialist writer on Mid-East affairs and welcomes feedback. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org