Please excuse my absence. The weather has been so nice that I found it much more rewarding to enjoy the silence of the great outdoors. I’ve been spending a lot of time up at our land…dreaming of what it will be like to one day live there. So it goes.
What compels me to write this day is a comment I got from an old friend. In short, I’m apparently a douchebag. But it’s not the fact that he called me a douchebag that inspired me but rather why. And it’s a subject that has come up many times. I obviously haven’t adequately addressed the issue.
I am often accused and/or criticized for being anti-American or not American enough by other fellow Americans, usually right leaning ones. So I ask myself (quite often, actually), what is an American? What is the American experience? What does it mean to me and why does it seem to mean so much more to others?
I grew up in a middle class Irish-American family on Long Island. My neighbors were mainly Italian and Irish-Americans along with a smaller assortment of German, French and Jewish. It was a great place to grow up…in a Levittown development on the island they call long. I guess in a lot of ways I was an All-American boy. We all were (except the girls, of course). The streets were teeming with kids of all ages. We played basketball in my backyard, baseball at the Geoghegans, hockey in the street, went swimming at the Cozzali’s. I went fishing and crabbing in the Long Island Sound with my best friend Jimmy Hulbert and his dad on a regular basis. I loved the Rangers and Knicks (still do), and could never decide between the Mets and Yankees. I broke the cardinal New York rule – I liked both teams (and still do). I know, shame on me.
My mom worked as a volunteer AEMT (Advanced Emergency Medical Technician) in Medford. My dad was finance director for the Smithtown School District. My grandmother, a WWII immigrant from the Channel Islands, worked in the New York City court system. My Aunt Grace was a nurse in Mineola for 40 years. My uncle Walter, one of the most influential figures for me growing up, was a volunteer fire chief, a NYC cop and later a detective. My two cousins were NYPD as well. Although today we probably wouldn’t agree on much politically – he was and still is a pillar of what I view to be a driving factor in who and what I am as a person. Yes, I have lived outside of the states for almost half of my life now…but I am a direct result of the type of community service the Irish-Americans have been so dedicated to since we started arriving from the western shores of Eire.
On my mom’s dad side we have been New Yorkers since the 1640’s. From my dad’s side the Clancy’s started arriving during the great famine years. John Clancy was a cobbler who didn’t speak a lick of English. He was sent straight from the boat to the front line to make boots for the Union army. Not an uncommon Irish story.
I get the feeling many ask themselves ‘where did Tim go wrong?’ ‘What happened to Tim?’ ‘Why does he hate America?’ One: I don’t think I ‘went wrong’. Two: how does destiny sound as an abstract answer. Three: I don’t hate America.
I probably ask a similar question though. When did America go wrong?….or perhaps better put when and where did I lose touch with it a bit? There’s no hiding the fact that I enjoy Europe. I’m fascinated by the old continent. I love the food and wine in Italy. Provence in France. London is one of the world’s greatest cities. Istanbul runs neck and neck right along with London. I love the order of Germany and the disorder of the Balkans. I am mesmerized by the mountains of Austria and Switzerland. I find the Poles to be comfortingly odd. Poland is a great nation. The Swedes have the most admirable and humane ‘system’ I have ever seen or experienced. I like trying to figure out how the Fins and Hungarians have a similar language?! I like the anarchy of driving in Albania and Iove how Guinness in Ireland really is different than anywhere else. I love a good craic!
Europe opened my eyes to many things after leaving the states as a young, naive American college kid. Then I found myself in the midst of a nasty war. That certainly changed me forever. For the better I hope. I did learn a lot about politics in that time. I saw the power and influence of American foreign policy from an entirely new spectrum. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Admittedly, I did grow critical of American foreign policy. I think when one yields so much influence over the lives and deaths of so many…that comes with an enormous amount of responsibility. We have been, to say the least, irresponsible on many occasions. And that was at the cost of many lives, including our own.
In my mind, however, this does not qualify me as anti-American. Nor an American hater. I do think we have serious issues with our culture of gun violence. I do think our food industry is run by ruthless multi-nationals that are literally killing us off with the shit they feed us with. I do believe that the American ultra-capitalist system is unfair and unsustainable. All of these voices are more than vocal from within the states as well, though. So nothing new there. But I also believe that many Americans are do-gooders. I know how generous and kind we can be. Although we are far from perfect, it is a magical melange of people of all nations, races, and religions. We breathe diversity. We reward creativity. We set high standards for ourselves. We try hard (and sometimes fail) to be fair and just…at least domestically.
So sure, Europe and the war in former Yugoslavia gave me a whole new perspective on the US. So did my travels to South America, Africa and the Near East. America changed for me, though, after 9/11. Patriotism bled far into the realm of nationalism. Having lived through the rise of nationalism during the Balkan wars, it was scary to watch the States falling into the same pit. A very dangerous one at that. Any word of dissent was immediately seen as treason. Benedict Arnold labels were being slapped on Americans who disagreed with the mainstream mania. Flag waving became a national pastime. After all these years, this phenomena has stuck. And it’s part of new generation that I sometimes have trouble connecting with. I have never been, and never will be, a flag waver of any kind. It’s just not my style. I do get a healthy tingle of patriotism come Olympics time. OK, maybe a bit more than a tingle.
I am often asked by old friends stateside if I am serving in the military…as if that is the only reason to be overseas or that is the only way to serve ones country. I have worked with refugees for Save the Children US in Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. All financed by American tax payers. I have worked on USAID and US Embassy funded projects on many occasions, not only representing myself but the country of my birth as well. Whether we like it or not, when we travel abroad we are Americans. We are viewed as Americans and treated as Americans. So in that sense, whether we do good or bad, we are representing our country. So I ask, how am I less of an American for trying to do good elsewhere? Why am I anti-American for having opposing views on what are, to me, glaringly obvious injustices? I thought that’s what we were all about, n’est pas?
I am neither proud or ashamed of being American. I simply am one. It is where I was born. It was where I was raised. I am a direct product of my experiences there which molded me into the person I am today. I make no apologies for that. I’d much rather walk through life as Naomi Klein put it, though, with “No Logo.”
peace (and happy Labor day to all you hard workers!)