28 October 2004

Are you here again?

The countdown to November 2 continues:

(We're halfway there, folks)


I spent some time in Europe this summer, four days each in Barcelona and London.  While I had never been to Spain before, I've been to London a few times in the last decade.

It's always easy to find a conversation in the British capital.  Every time I have been there I have found the people to be very friendly.  As soon as they hear an American accent, a conversation starts, whether in a pub, on a train or out on the street.  London is one of the friendliest cities I have ever visited.

Well, until 2004.  My time in London this summer was unlike previous visits.  People weren't as eager to talk, and they seemed to shuffle past you in public places a lot quicker than they had in the past.  I didn't have one meaningful conversation with a Brit.

When I travel abroad, I am not one to advertise that I am an American.  It's not that I am ashamed to be one, obviously, quite the contrary, but I have always enjoyed the idea of being a "stranger in a strange land" and have no desire to reveal who or what I am.  I want to be treated like anyone else, not better or worse, and I want others to assume that I belong there, so that I can see what everyday life is like in that certain place.

We took a guided tour of the British Parliament this trip.  At the end we walked out of the building around a gated courtyard and then up a drvieway towards the sidewalk.  On the gate separating us from the street was a sign that said "Public Muster Point."  None of us knew what that meant, so we asked a policeman standing there what it was supposed to mean.  His response was that it wasn't to be a concern of ours.

For me, that was a completely un-British moment.  I realize my experiences in the UK seem to be the opposite of the stereotypes that I have heard all my life, but if I experience the same behavior over and over I have to think that is how life normally is.  I heard and saw several things in London this summer that made me wonder if I was in New York City instead.  That has never happened before.

I don't know if being an American had anything to do with it.  I do know that London seemed a much more tenseplace than it was in the past.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the entireworld was in support of the United States, except for a small number of rouge countries.  The civilized world reacted in horror to the terrorist attacks.  It was a time for the world to unite against the forces of evil that were a danger to us all.

It took about six months for us to piss it all away.

Agree or disagree with it, a lot of the free world looks upon us as war mongers now, thanks to the policies of pre-emption.  That tends to happen when you attack an enemy that posed no realistic threat to begin with.  It also doesn't help when you openly mock organizations set up so that the world can have a forum to discuss issues of force, treat them as if they don't really matter, so that ultimately you can do whatever you please.

Since then, we have heard phrases like "Cheese eating surrender monkeys", "Old Europe" and, my personal favorites, "Freedom Fries" and "French Toast."  One wonders if they serve hamburgers in Paris with thick slices of "Moron Cheese."

I remember when we had leaders that tried to solve conflicts in other parts of the world by getting involved diplomatically.  Can you imagine President Bush sitting down with the leaders of Israel and Palestine and trying to forge ahead with, like Carter and Clinton did?  Can you imagine Bush meeting with other leaders and hammering out treaties to reduce weaponry like Nixon, Reagan and his father did?

To have influence in other parts of the world, you have to be respected.  Influence through force creats nothing more than the festering of more conflict, whether it comes now or years ahead in the the future.

This President has isolated us from the rest of the world.  Only those who have felt the earth shake when our bombs have fallen know him.  He has destroyed credibility, he has destroyed the good work of many who held the office before him, and he has mocked the system that the world has used to try to keep a general sense of peace.

Four years of that attitude is enough. 


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