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Yale 62

An Expatriate’s View and Strong Conviction

By Norm Jackson, Fremantle, Australia

Norm JacksonI was last in Afghanistan in 1977, but it seems like I’ve visited the country every day for the last several weeks. I last lived in the U.S. in 1984, but it seems like I’ve been there too, off and on, since 2016, when I last had any faith in Americans’ sanity and goodness. I’ve been living in Australia since 2010, and during nine years of COALition government, my faith in Australians’ sanity and goodness has taken a similar hit.

At first I thought that Aus would be different, and it was: totally different, almost diametrically opposed to France, where I’d lived since I left the States. But then I, an inveterate expat, began to see similarities amongst the differences between the countries I’d lived in.

I never liked ‘History’ when I was at Yale. I preferred Art History, probably because I was young, callow, and preoccupied with ‘the present’ and spontaneity. But when I came to Aus, I became fascinated with Aboriginal Culture, and no one can pretend to know anything about that culture without knowing something about the history of this place. And learning something about our history here has taught me a lot about the history of all the countries of which I’m a citizen.

All three countries — the U.S., France, and Australia — have dark histories of racism, war, colonialism, and plunder, and a large portion of their populations refuse to look at that past, that karma, which is ripening today. All have created convenient illusions of how much good they’ve done, how special they are, and their belief that they’re ‘exceptional,’ that their way is best. They’ve all imposed foreign rule on others, in an effort to introduce ‘savages’ to their ‘civilization.’ Their efforts were doomed to failure, because of a lack of compassion, curiosity, respect, and two fundamental Buddhist principles: impermanence and interdependence.

Ignorance of interdependence led to the attacks on the Twin Towers, which sparked the war on Afghanistan. Ignorance of impermanence led all foreigners to think that they could create a stable, democratic government out of the ruins they’d created. Ignorance of both led to the tragic fiasco of the Iraq war.

Now, all three countries have cut and run from Afghanistan, resulting in unspeakable horror. France has kept a low profile, but I find the behavior of both the U.S. and Australia — as Hillary might say — deplorable. Not that I disagree in principle: the road to this hell was paved with good intent.

Trump ‘left a ticking time bomb in the Resolute Desk’ as Seth Abramson has said. But both Biden and the Australian government have completely failed in their execution of the withdrawal, leaving thousands of good-hearted courageous people to die at the hands of the Taliban. People like to say that ‘Kabul isn’t Saigon,’ but I beg to differ. Both were mistaken, unwinnable wars, and those involved should recognize and take responsibility for them. Rest assured, as a retired Australian army captain said last week on Aus television, “No one will ever trust or work with us again.”

A lot of this (excuse me) diatribe has been fueled by several excellent books I’ve read recently, two by U.S. authors:

  • Play By the Rules by Michael Pembroke, the short story of America’s leadership: from Hiroshima to Covid-19.
  • A Promised Land, by Barack Obama; a beautifully written confirmation of why I voted for him.

And one from an Australian:

  • With the Falling of the Dusk, by Stan Grant. The title refers to a quote from Hegel: “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings with the falling of the dusk.”

 

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