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When I was 11-years old I came to America from Scotland, as some of you
already know. Many things happened in my life in the years that
followed, some good and some bad (I had a terrible bout of
homesickness). I have lived 11 years in Scotland, and have lived 41
years here in the U.S. I love the Scots and the Americans. If my
parents had decided to emigrate to Australia (and I'm told the decision
really did come down to the flip of a coin) I'd now be writing that I
love the Australians, too Actually I do. Why is that?
Some of you may feel that when I was plucked from my homeland and
settled someplace else I became less of a Scot. And yet it is because
I have been away for so long that I have become more of a Scot.
Domestic Scots live among the stuff I can only enjoy from afar, and so
take that stuff for granted. I must search out my heritage and bring it
to me, like a fish I have caught rather than one I have bought, frozen,
a couple of blocks away. One of the things I have learned to love from
afar has been Scottish traditional music. It brings the seas and the
mountains to me that some of you enjoy every day. When I go on vacation
to places like Cape Cod I make it a point to take at least one dip in
the ocean, the ocean that we all share--even (if you think of it) if you
live in Australia. No matter where I die, if my ashes are put in
whatever ocean, I hope to think I'll be touching "home." I know my
mother thought that way.
So, on to the end of this.
I am a Scot, and I am an American. What would have happened if I had
spent a few of my formative years in some other, more foreign country?
Would I have learned to love those people too? I hope and think I
would. I can think of no deeper hell in life than to live next door to
people who you cannot love.
Living in both Scotland and America I know my allegiences have been
stretched a bit. Lucky both countries have been on the same "side" for
quite some time now. But that was not always the case, and if we walk
on down the line a buncha years may not be the case again. The enemy
today may not be the enemy tomorrow. You don't need to be a historical
rocket scientist to realize that throughout the grand scope of history
there have been many strange bedfellows which seemed appropriate at the
time to the masses but, in retrospect, well ...
America is usually polycultural. It did not really begin that way, but
it has become so. And that's a good thing. But it is not polycultural
today. A few days after 9/11 a Sikh came onto my crowded bus platform.
He had made the grave mistake of wearing his turban, or had decided to
wear it anyway, to show that he was who he was. Every head turned to
make sure he was not getting on their particular bus. Things were
whispered which sickened me. I thought I knew the world I lived in.
Obviously I do not. Perhaps we should ban the turban, much like the
bagpipes once were, as a weapon of war.
My father told me a World War II tale about a shop near where he lived
in the Restalrig section of Edinburgh. The shop was owned by an Italian
or German family (I'd call him for the correct details but it really
little matters which), and on the day that some particular wartime
atrocity had been broadcast on the news, the store window was trashed.
In the morning the son of the house, who had arrived home the night
before, swept up the broken glass from the sidewalk, in British military
uniform, with the one arm he had left after losing the other to enemy
Edinburgh was not hit hard during the war. An eyewitness to one of the
few dogfights that were fought in the skies over Edinburgh claims that
the German pilot, caught in the crosshairs of a British pilot, purposely
drew his pursuer out over the Firth of Forth so as not to endanger the
citizens on the ground. He may have been a gentleman. What do you
think? I think he might have had a family back home. I think he might
have seen families just like his among the faceless ant specks on the
ground below. I would hope that I might have that man's vision were I
called to spit fire down on the enemy of the day. I would hope that I'd
have just a few moments to tell myself that, even tho' I was flying over
over enemy territory in a machine meant to kill, I had simply and
finally decided to raise my fist, and do my duty, for humanity--for
people much like me!
But I could be wrong about that. Although I know there are a few in
Edinburgh who still think otherwise, he may have simply been just
I have heard that the British high command got wind that those Nazis
were soon to conduct a massive bombing on Coventry. To evacuate the
town would be tantamount to admitting that the Allies possessed the
"Enigma" machine, and therefore could break the unbreakable Nazi code.
The high command decided that it was better to let Coventry be bombed
than to make that admission. Coventry was bombed in a "surprise"
attack. We can only speculate about how many managed to get out
beforehand, and whose relatives they happened to be.
It has been a few years since I read that piece of info, and so I feel I
argued on shaky ground here, but mention it anyway.
I believe that one of you may have obliquely accused me of being
"squeamishly tolerant." This is a bad time to be saying what I am
saying, because what I'm saying is only what you hear--not what I say.
If you have kept my Emails handy, rather than consigning them to the
trash, you might actually find that I did not say what you think I
said. What goes in the ear has a long way to travel before it hits
either the heart or the mind. And that is actually the case with much
of what's been said in this group over the last few days. Much has been
said that hasn't been heard. Much has been heard that hasn't been
said. When things are going good in the world it is not hard to find
the time to intellectualize an easy brotherhood among diverse
peoples--and to agree that that is good. When things are not going so
good, it is difficult (perhaps impossible for some) to conjure up any
common ground above the sounds of battle.
I think we know who the enemy is, and it is not everyone. Point of
fact, I am not saying we should be doing anything different, much as you
"hear" I am. The most important battles in history, Bannockburn for
example, were fought when the common soldier listened only to his
leader. But hand-to-hand combat was no big thing back then, and the
record shows that Bruce addressed his men, and gave them the chance to
go home, if they did not think they were fighting for freedom. Twenty
miles north of Bannockburn there was probably an old shepherd who heard
nothing of the battle, even at the height of it, tending his sheep and
eating his lunch, thinking about a quiet evening with his wife and kids
Things have changed. Afghanistan is half a world away from many of us,
but in 2001 it is right next door. We are all now neighbors, like never
before. And we are fighting each other.
When I see the fanatic crowds, screaming "God Is Great," that the CNN
news cameras have brought into my livingroom, I get the the feeling that
there is not a simple shepherd among them. It saddens me. But I
increasingly get the feeling that there are precious few shepherds among
us, either, and that has made me mad. I had hoped that we were are a
bit better than them, and I had hoped that you would prove me right.
I moved from Scotland to the U.S.A. Although I have recently wished for
the single-mindedness so many of you seem to possess, I cannot let
myself have it.
I am a citizen of a world which, increasingly so, is my neighborhood.
When the war cry was "don't shoot until you see the whites of their
eyes," war was a bit of a better thing--but only a bit.
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