From the Fire Into the Frying Pan US: “We are here because you are (were) there”

I couldn’t find an image with the reverse scenario so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

I shared my August 2022 essay They Hate US ‘Cause They Ain’t US! with a number of colleagues with a request for their reaction to my favorite reader comment to date (see below). I wanted to know if they agreed with his assessment of the US as a “fraud.” I also asked them what they like about the US.

Dear Mark,

I seldom write answers to the many great articles I read on these websites. But you inspired me to make an exception.

By sheer coincidence, you published your article on the 62nd anniversary of the day I became a citizen of the USA.  I’ve witnessed pretty much what you have described in your essay.  I’ve seen the decline of the country from 1955 to 2022, a decline so severe I would not have imagined possible when I was a teenager about to enter high school.

My family immigrated from Switzerland because my father was an unhappy laborer there.  He believed in the dream of America, the ‘land of 1000 opportunities’.  And dragged us here.  I must tell you that I actually lived the so-called American dream and am grateful for my life. Thankfully, I figured out how this country functioned early on, and prepared for it by making reasonable decisions.

But by the eighties, I knew America was a fraud. In those 65 years, the US has sunk to where Switzerland used to be when we left in 1955.  In the meantime, the Swiss have built the most prosperous nation in Europe.I could go back, but it’s a challenge at my age of 82. But I’m looking into it.

Thank you for writing your truthful essay.

A comment I received from several well-educated and -traveled people is that the US is still a magnet for people from around the world, many of whom risk life and limb to get there. Exhibit A: It’s maybe a sad reality that the only potent counterpoint I could offer, as devil’s advocacy, is that if the US is so horrible a place, and so unfree, then how do we explain the still steady tide of immigrants to the country, to say nothing of those who are literally willing to risk their lives to get here? In other words, yes the US compares unfavorably to, say, Denmark, Finland and Canada. But it appears we’re pretty damn attractive to folks in countries where, were they to publish an article like yours, they might be killed.  

As I told one, I think US Americans are looking for some kind of consolation, salve, silver lining, or whatever you want to call it, in the midst of an ever-expanding sea of bad news. It’s a perfectly valid point, but the question is why? There are at least two possible answers. First, reality has yet to catch up with and overwrite cultural mythology.

Secondly, many immigrants are in the US because of the actions of the US government. The poet and writer Linh Dinh wrote in a 2010 article appropriately entitled House Slave Syndrome, which I’ve shared with many people over the years, that many immigrants are in the US because of the effect of US policy in their home countries. Or as the writer Viet Thanh Nguyen put it, “we are here because you are (were) there.” (“We Are Here Because You Are There”: Viet Thanh Nguyen on How U.S. Foreign Policy Creates Refugees, 22.3.21) It’s no coincidence that both writers view themselves as refugees, not immigrants. (The former is defined simply as “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.”)

Consider the case of Vietnamese Americans. Without the US war in Viet Nam there wouldn’t be over 2 million of them in the US, including Linh Dinh and Viet Thanh Nguyen.

In effect, the victims of US-sponsored violence end up living side by side with their victimizers.  Think of all of the immigrants from Central America and what the US has done in and to those countries for the past century. For many, it’s akin to going from the fire into the frying pan.

This is not to say that many immigrants who end up in the US for this reason do not have a better life or are not successful, as they define success. The point is, for most, their lives would have been better – on many levels – had they not been forced to emigrate.

As Linh Dinh wrote in the aforementioned essay, “A recent article declares, ‘Tired of war, thousands of Iraqis want to go to U.S.’ What it fails to mention is who triggered all the bloodshed. Who made conditions in Iraq so intolerable that these people must flee? You know who. Over and over again, the U.S. has instigated mayhem or carnage overseas, generating thousands if not millions of refugees, many of whom longing to escape, paradoxically, it seems, to the source of their suffering. You beat and humiliate me, so can I move in?”

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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