My responsibility was to go out to another country, observe what I could, and process my experiences into useful lessons. I needed to learn. Some of what I learned relates only to Ireland. Some relates to the differences between Ireland and the United states. Some relates only to the united states.
I do not think I want to live in the United states longer than I have to. It is not a good country. several times in my trip people I had just met took it upon themselves to list out the United States war crimes and atrocities. The funny part was that I already knew about them. I had heard about what we did in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan but the reality had stayed in the back of my mind. they told me about the US funding the troubles in Ireland and supplying guns to terrorist groups and dictators all over the world. Hearing about these crimes from the mouth of another, telling me about it because I am american, made me see all this evil as my responsibility. If I was not actively involved, my inaction still makes me culpable.
Coming back to America I saw the country in a different light. The lines at border security weren’t making us any safer. the TSA lets in 80% of weapons during security tests. The lines were to make us accustomed to a military state. The pictures of the president on the wall reminded me of North Korea and their pictures of their “great leader”. When I got back home I watched the Guy’s choice awards by Spike TV. The awards ceremony was filled with soldiers. It reminded me of the awards ceremonies the Nazi’s used to have.
I’m not sure what can be done for my country. mainstream media broadcasts a view point I’m not sure I agree with, spouting platitudes like support the troops or god bless america. Politicians are bought and sold by corporate interests. Democracy and free thought are dying. our schools are under performing. our prisons are overcrowded. racism and prejudice are stronger than ever. We poison our beautiful country to support an unsustainable energy infrastructure to enrich the select few. We oppress the rest of the world to manufacture cheap trinkets that suppress our spiritual decay for just a few moments.
I don’t know what can be done.
Talking to some lads from Belfast I heard more about the troubles and the way that the Irish (especially the northern Irish) saw the way Americans viewed the troubles. Many Americans have Irish heritage making them sympathetic to the IRA cause. So they supported them with guns and money. Most Americans don’t have a clue what the troubles were actually like. It was a terrorist war that the whole country paid for in blood and tears. Car bombings, kidnapping, executions, and shootings were common. Yet that isn’t how we saw it. We saw the scrappy underdog IRA fighting imperialist brits and we supported them. But neither side was right or wrong and there was blood on the hands of both sides, innocent blood. The point is that what we Americans saw as true is in no way true and we stuck our noses, our money, and our guns where they didn’t belong and people died because of it. But we are so far away that we could not see.
Americans simultaneously isolate themselves from the world and dominate it. Only about a third of Americans have passports. When we do go overseas we go on Disneyland-eque tours that are heavy on cliche, simplifying a country into a few stops at often irrelevant cultural sites. Countries are the people and we need to talk to them and learn from them before we act as we have in the past.
It’s interesting how fast friendships form and dissolve. Much easier to end a friendship than start one but I find I make more friends than I lose. So far I’ve made a few good friends— friends whom I’m sure will remain my friends for a long time. I have lost a friend as well but considering we were really only friends for a few days I don’t mind so much. Of course I apologized and was forgiven but in the beginning friendships are so fragile that they aren’t easily mended once broken. At least she was American. I should hate to lose those Irish and foreign friends I’ve made so far.
The way I see it people are like particles, bouncing around the world. Some never achieve enough velocity to escape the place that they were born. Some are so energetic that they cannot remain in in place. Some particles attract each and others repel one another. Some particles, separated by time and circumstance, never cross paths. That is why one should value the unlikely friends, the rare and the beautiful souls who you might never have met if circumstances were different. Besides, though all people are different those who share a country are more alike than not. Surrounding yourself with reflections of your own thoughts and views does nothing to grow the soul. It only makes it rigid and inflexible.
As great as it appears to spend the nights wiling away over a pint at a pub making friends, it is hell on school work. I honestly have no clue how Irish students manage it. Probably the same way American students manage it but with twice as much willpower. The university brings together a diverse crowd of people. Last night I drank with two Frenchman and an Englishman. I think the Frenchmen spoke better English than the Englishman did by the end of the night.
In any case I am caught up in the mix of cultures and nationalities. It all seems so cosmopolitan (a drink I must resolve to try while I’m still here). It is sobering to think that john, Thomas, max, and I never would have come into each other’s lives if it weren’t for this trip. Now I don’t know if we’ll be bosom buddies for life, but for complete strangers we had deep conversation. We considered the nature of free will (I don’t believe in it) and whether it will be ethical to download information straight to the brain (I think it will be). I can’t even have that kind of conversation with friends back home. They’ll get bored and want to gossip about this or that person and all sorts of silly surface level BS. I’m afraid I will miss this place very much when I leave.
Ireland is a country like no other. Of course, the same could be said about any other country but not to the same degree. The Irish identity has been forged in uncountable conversations over a pint, in a history older than many know, and the long struggle to maintain an ancient culture against foreign invaders. Revolution is in the air in Ireland. This is a people used to speaking their minds and exercising their natural rights against all adversaries. Throughout history the Irish have been accustomed to the fine art of disputation, on and off the field of battle. It is little wonder that a race so familiar to strife should be so adept at enjoying themselves. The land has been filled time and time again by foreigners imposing their culture on a people who do not welcome such intrusions and time and time again the Irish people adapted to foreign occupation then expelled those who try to rule a land that is not their own.
The mythology that the rest of the world has created to describe the emerald Islands is endless. The reality is much more prosaic. The Irish are not leprechauns or drunks or ruffians. They are on the most part ordinary peopling who want to live ordinary lives. This is reassuring to travelers, who may not realize that most people everywhere share the same hopes and dreams. What they hear of foreign places is the lurid and the bizarre and from those odds and ends they construct a place that does not exist. Take for example the referendum on gay marriage. The foreigner will see Ireland as a very devout catholic country—that is the stereotype presented to the public. In reality, the Irish saw that homosexuals deserved the same chance at a normal happy life as everyone else. They wanted to have families. And so the Irish people voted to allow gay marriage, an exercise in popular democracy that the American public could learn from. We imagine foreigners to be thoroughly foreign and are surprised to find they are just like us.
However, one of the most revealing aspects of my journey to Ireland is not the world of Ireland opening up to me. It is the new view of American that I can see through the windows of my fellow travelers. Foreigners abroad share a kinship completely unlike any kinship they can find back home. Surrounded by the vast mass of fellow Americans we forget those beliefs and experiences we share through our common culture. Abroad, we band together, forming rafts of familiarity fast amongst unfamiliar seas. We share with each other, safe in the unfounded notion that we will never see each other again afterward. We are ones who might never have met if we had not gone to another country. Indeed, freed by the anonymity of distance we act not as we acted at home but as we wished we lived our lives. The opportunities an unknown land offer are dangerous.