Thursday, October 18, 2012

God bless America?

Had my first really uncomfortable with being American moment.

In my mythology class, we were talking about the Trojan War. Surely there's nothing scandalous about that, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.

Just to give a little bit of background, my mythology class is made up of two Americans from SF, four Mexican exchange students and one white haired Spanish gentleman. The class is taught by the coolest professor, Iñaki. He's an old hippie. He's all the students in my program's favorite professor. I'm lucky enough to have him for three classes. The mythology class is a little odd for us Americans because we're not native speakers.

Ok so my professor the old hippie puts up a bunch of theories on war on the board. Iñaki knows that we're both from a pretty liberal town so he's not as hesitant to talk openly about his anti war stance. That was fine. What wasn't fine was the other American , he just said something along the lines of: the Trojan War was stupid, who fights for 10 years over a woman? and the Spaniard in our class jumped on him and was like well your country's wars are stupid and you only went for economic reasons! And look how many people have died because of you! And he was glaring down my fellow American. Whoa. Hold up. Not ok.

After a more than slightly awkward (but mercifully brief) pause, our professor jumped in and asserted that just about all wars are fought for economic reasons.

The class continued on and we talked about much less controversial things, like Ninja Turtles.

So walking to our Spanish class together, he turns to me and asks, so what did that guy in our class say to me? I explained, well, he kind of demanded to know why the US went to Iraq and Afghanistan, but he basically was already decided that it was for greedy reasons and lots of people died. While neither of us were particularly opposed to that opinion, it's just really uncomfortable to be put on the spot because of American foreign policy. I mean, the two of us were in fourth grade when 9/11 happened. What answers could we two possibly give as to why our country is at war? And besides, we were talking about ancient Troy, not modern day Iraq and Afghanistan.

Discussing this episode with other Americans, we came to the conclusion that demanding to know why the US did all these terrible things is like asking a Spaniard why the Spanish conquistadors treated the Native Americans so badly. Or alternatively, why the Inquisition tortured so many or why the Recomquista expelled non-Christians. There just isn't an answer to any of those. Somebody must have thought that they were good ideas at the time. Every country has things in their history they aren't proud of but that doesn't make all the people from that country horrible people. Granted, the US probably has done more terrible things than its citizens are aware of but my fellow American and I are no more responsible for the wars, slavery, segregation, removing democratic leaders during the Cold War, etc. than our Spanish classmate is responsible for the current economic crisis, the Inquisition, the devastation of Native Americans, or the Reconquista.

So a lesson for all: people are not necessarily as you assume them to be.

It just goes to show that you are absolutely an ambassador for your country when you are abroad.

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