The view from afar
December 22, 2015 37 Comments
It will soon be time for Neo to go East – which never seems quite the thing, as I always think of him in terms of the West and the wilds of Nebraska. I recall from being in the States for a year or so in the early 90s that the thing which hit me most was the size! I remember driving to Abilene from near St Louis, and I71 seemed to go on for ever – and once we got past KC, it was (or so I recall) an endless straight line; it was the first time I’d ever seen cruise control – there’d be no point on English roads.
I was brought up a semi-rural part of Wales, and you could probably fit the whole country into Kansas and have room for France. I’d never had any idea that a country could be that big – and when we flew from St Louis to Sacramento, I remember thinking that it was like going from one country to another – and yet it was one country. I learned in school about how important the flag was (can still recite that pledge) and the language and, though no one I think said it – Christianity.
With so many different nationalities emigrating from all over the world, America could just have become a maze of different cultures – and yet it became a nation – one nation under God. From afar, where I am, that still seems a pretty remarkable achievement and worth examining and defending – not least at a time when migration is high on the political and religious agenda.
As I understand it (so just put me right if that means I understand squat) it was the allegiance to the flag and to ‘these United States’, as well as the need to learn a common language which, along with a common religion, served as the sinews to unite the fledgling nation. At a time when so much writing seems to be about what the USA got wrong – slavery, its treatment of the first nations – it might be worth a little balance here? We lose much if we project our values on to the past and judge it wanting. Go that way, and let’s think what a future where no one kills babies in the womb would think of us?
History has winners and losers, but we are all its heirs. We all want to be the good guys, and it is easy enough to use our value judgments to make ourselves more virtuous than our ancestors. But I guess they did their best, and we have inherited their work – and if we don’t concentrate on the good bits as well, and we see only the bad bits, then what sort of world will we bequeath to the future?
America is an idea, and it is always in development. As you guys enter an election year, it looks as though things will get pretty polarised – but I hope, for all our sakes, that as usual, you’ll do the right thing – even if it is, as Churchill once put it, after doing all the wrong things first.
That journey Neo’s about to take is across the breadth of a great nation – and Americans, not least at this time, might stop and think about those pilgrims who took so long going the other way and in so doing, created a great nation out of a wilderness. I know in our ecological times that’s not a popular viewpoint – but let’s face it, the critics would have nowhere to live or to have been educated without those old white men. So, I’m saying a thank you to them – and wishing Neo a happy journey – and a merry Christmas.