“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage and port of call.”
So begins one of my favorite books – “The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy.
There are many ways in which I can relate to the novel on a biographical level. The first time I read the book: the words “My wound is geography” had little meaning. They have now defined what is left of my life.
I was born in the United States during a different time and during a different era. I left the U.S. before I became a teenager and never returned. Although I was very young I did spend a few years in the public schools. I remember starting the day with the National Anthem. I remember being taught a certain version of history. That version of history depicted the United States of America as a land of opportunity, as a land of freedom and of justice. The American Revolution was necessary and heroic. The British were evil. The Colonists were oppressed but good people. Were it not for people like Paul Revere, we would have been slaves to the British and North America would have been a concentration camp. I learned that the Russians and Chinese were evil. I learned that the Europeans were primitive. To give you an approximate indication of my age, I remember the day that Kennedy was shot. I also remember my classmates crying. (I thought the tears were a bit much.) But, I did understand that Kennedy represented a period of idealism in America that ended with his death and probably never returned. Of course nobody could measure up to President Kennedy (including President Kennedy). After Kennedy died, President Johnson continued the escalation into Viet Nam. I lived in the U.S. during this period. Interestingly it was NOT until I left the United States that it was clear to me that the U.S. really was at war. (But I was young. What did I know?)
I learned that the United States was the center of the universe, the greatest country in the world, the most modern country in the world (did Canada have electricity?), the greatest and perhaps the only true democracy in the world. It was true then and it is true now that U.S. “Homelanders” have very little capacity for objective analysis and that U.S. Patriotism depends on that lack of capacity.
Sometimes you have to leave a place to really understand it. For me, this occurred years later while standing in the War Museum in Beijing, China. Like most countries/people of the world, the Chinese hate the United States. (Message to Homelanders: ”Hatred” for the U.S. is NOT based on any kind of resentment of U.S. success. It is based on resentment of the U.S. involving itself in the affairs of others and infringing the sovereignty of other nations.) But what China and the United States have in common is the tremendous ability to mobilize their residents into a force of “blind patriotism”.
As a good “homelander” I believed all of this. I worked hard, studied hard (well not really but I managed to get good grades), was upwardly mobile in Scouts and played many sports. My life revolved around swimming, basketball and baseball. I was ambitious. I had a paper route. I was the “All American” person.
We all go through “rites of passage” in life. My first “rite of passage” was when I moved from the United States.
It was not my choice to be born in the U.S. It was also not my choice to leave the U.S. at a young age (who wants to move, much less move from the “greatest country in the history of the world”). Basically, I had no choice. I was thrown into a moving van and that was that. I was part of what I would call the third group to leave the United States for Canada. Interestingly, I have come to see that most people who are born in the United States and leave the United States (in one way or another) become exiled from the United States. There are four identifiable groups of U.S. citizens who have been exiled from the U.S. In all cases they were forced to leave. I was part of the “third group” to leave physically and part of the “fourth group” to leave mentally.
The first group were the Loyalists in the American Revolution. As Maya Jasonoff documents in her book “Liberty’s Exiles”, those who were not loyal to “The Patriots” could no longer live in post-revolutionary America. In fact there are many parts of Canada (particularly Ontario and Nova Scotia) that welcomed large numbers of Loyalists. This group was exiled from the United States. Like many things, this was both good news and bad news.
The bad news was that they were exiled from the United States.
The good news was that they were exiled from the United States.
History has proven that many countries are at least as free and (in many cases) much more free than the United States.
The second group was the slaves. The U.S. is full of hypocrisy. But, one of the most hypocritical examples was how the U.S. tolerated institutionalized slavery as long as it did. It is amazing that it took a war to free the slaves from their physical bondage. It is said that “Habit is the prison of the mind”. It would take many more years to free the slaves from the prison of their minds. Interestingly, Canada was a beacon of liberty for U.S. slaves wanting to escape. The freedom crossing in Lewiston, New York is a monument to the second group of Americans who escaped U.S. slavery by moving to Canada.
The third group was largely composed of the “draft dodgers” – those who did not want to participate in the Vietnam (it wasn’t a war, but young men were drafted and sent to their deaths).
Although this is a bit of an “aside” I have visited Viet Nam. I have seen the holes and tunnels that were used to attack American soldiers. I have seen the “Hanoi Hilton” which was home to John McCain. I have seen what is left of the prisons in Viet Ham that were used to house American soldiers. The prisons exhibit a level of brutality that is beyond what a U.S. homelander can imagine. They were (for the most part) built by the French and not by the Vietnamese. The point of the Viet Nam conflict is completely beyond me. Basically what happened was that the French tried to occupy Viet Nam and got their asses kicked. For completely inexplicable reasons the U.S. replaced the French and the result was the same – they got their asses kicked. If you want to see why – just visit Viet Nam.
Compulsory military duty is a form of slavery – perhaps a more socially accepted form of slavery – but slavery nonetheless. By accepting U.S. draft dodgers, Canada was once again providing “freedom” for U.S. slaves. After arriving in Canada, many of these newly freed slaves became Canadian citizens. By so doing they lost their U.S. citizenship (this was the law of citizenship of the time). I doubt that many of them cared. In fact, for many, obtaining Canadian citizenship was the last step in their journey to freedom.
I moved to Canada, not as a “draft dodger” but as a young kid who just happened to be part of a family that moved to Canada. My move was during the same time period that the “draft dodgers” sought their freedom.
The fourth group are U.S. citizens living abroad who have been and are being forced to renounce their citizenship. The “Obama Witch Hunt” has made it impossible for them to live a normal life abroad. Their treatment at the hands of the U.S. government has resulted in their having to renounce their citizenship in order to protect themselves from threats of fines, penalties, imprisonment and more.
During most of my life I have had to endure a tremendous amount of “anti-Americanism”. As a patriotic American I resented the resentment that non-Americans have for America. The more I experienced anti-Americanism the more Patriotic I became. In 2011 my life (like the lives of many U.S. citizens abroad) was turned “upside down”. I began to experience the United States the way the rest of the world does. The most painful realization for me is the realization that those who were “anti-American” were/are right. The United States of America is not – as Margaret Thatcher would say – “that great citadel of freedom and justice”. It is the opposite. Maybe it never was the nation we were taught (as school children) that it was. Maybe, it has evolved into the narcissistic nation that it is.
Regardless of the reason I am a U.S. person no more.
These thoughts are really my reflections on one year of blogging and healing. I hope that it will assist others who are sure to endure what is coming. The fastest growing source of anti-Americanism is being nurtured by “U.S. Citizens Abroad”.
It’s unbelievable and unconscionable, in 2013, how much of your life is determined not by who you are, but by where you are born!
I was born in the United States of America. Therefore:
“My Wound Is Geography”.
I hope you find this blog, in some small way, helpful. It is now close to 250 posts. I am certain that there is something here to help you come to terms with the practical and emotional decisions that lie before you!