Saturday, July 03, 2004

Fourth of July

We had a lovely Fourth. Alaskan salmon on the grill, fireworks downtown, and a tiki torch, which was Luke's dream come true. Unless you're a 13-year-old boy, you can't imagine how cool a tiki torch in your back yard is.

Along the way, we found time to talk about those people back in 1776 and what a brave risk they took and what they were probably thinking when they did it. They could never have imagined the way we live today. But that doesn't matter, because the difference between them and so many rebels, past and present, is that ours did not want to lock their descendants into one pattern of life. They wanted to give us a free and open field to wake up to every morning, with the chance to make something of it every day.

Driving through town, I've seen this bumper sticker (on a big, expensive, gas-guzzling van, of course): "I don't have to like Bush to love my country."

Of course you don't. But your bumper sticker still only tells me what you don't like about the place where you live and work and drive and express yourself. It doesn't tell me whether you do love it, or if so, what you love about it.

And I suspect that question, if I put it to you, would be an awkward one.

No, you don't have to like Bush to love America. But certainly if you hate America, any projection of its power and idealism, as embodied in what Bush is trying to do in Iraq, is going to rouse you to fury. Which is why an irrational frothing rage at the current president is often a good indicator of some serious anti-Americanism. To the point where people feel compelled to deflect attention from it by a bumper-sticker.

It reminds me of a sign that was posted during the anti-American protests at this year's D-Day commemoration in France: "We love Americans, we just hate Bush." Which immediately runs into the logical problem that Bush is an American. So it seems that the position being expressed is, "we love Americans who think and act the way we want them to think and act, and we hate those who don't." Which would be an honest expression, but it should hardly serve as a reassuring example of trans-Atlantic fellowship.

Writing the post below, about U.S. dependence on foreign oil, I realized that my family and peers will tolerate me only if I periodically say something negative about the U.S., or Bush. It's not difficult to find qualities in either of them that I regard as serious flaws. But this seems to be a test case for these people. It reassures them.

I wish the common ground didn't have to be some condemnation of America, but it seems to be the token demanded by anti-war people to even consider you as a human being. What if the test was, "Tell me something you love about America." I somehow foresee a long hemming and hawing, followed by, "I'm proud to live in a country where I can send George Bush back to his ranch in Texas in November!"

Knowing only what you're against, not being "for" anything; knowing only that you hate, not being able to love what nourished you. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the anti-war British commentator, is more readable than most of that tribe. She is articulate and passionate and sometimes she actually thinks about things before she writes them. Recently she caught a glimpse of that abyss. "The past months have been challenging for us in the anti-war camp. I am ashamed to admit that there have been times when I wanted more chaos, more shocks, more disorder to teach our side a lesson. On Monday I found myself again hoping that this handover proves a failure because it has been orchestrated by the Americans. The decent people of Iraq need optimism now, not my distasteful ill-wishes for the only hope they have for a future."