It’s that time of year again — a time when I feel uncomfortably out of step with my home country & culture.
Nine years ago, I had lived in the UK for a little over a year. One Tuesday in September, I decided to take a day off and go shopping in London. I have vivid memories of the day: both the very nice winter coat that I bought, and the “buzz” on the streets in mid-afternoon, as people learned of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Like everyone, I was gripped with shock and sadness. I didn’t know anyone who was personally affected, but it was a tragedy nonetheless. I greatly appreciated the support from friends, and the moment of silence observed in our office the next day.
But I wasn’t ready for the ensuing changes in American culture and attitudes. People were fearful, suspicious of anyone with darker skin. The US government capitalized on this fear, using it to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion. Anyone who did not support the war was considered anti-American. When I returned permanently to the US in 2004, I was surprised to see the American flag, well, just about everywhere. And there was a level of nationalistic fervor that I’d never experienced. Memorial Day and Veterans Day, which were created to remember military service and loss, had become opportunities for many to celebrate American military power instead.
There’s also a new holiday, created in 2001: Patriot Day is intended as a day of remembrance for those who lost their lives in the 2001 attacks. A tragedy of such magnitude clearly should not be forgotten. But patriotism is defined as national loyalty and defense of one’s country — what does that have to do with remembrance? I can’t help feeling that the day itself has become yet another way to stir up militaristic feelings in a certain segment of the American population. I just don’t get it, and it makes me feel a bit sick.
Sometimes I wonder: if I had been in the US on September 11, 2001, would I feel differently? Possibly, but I can’t change that. So I go against the grain, and do not fly a flag. I still remember the day, but I do so quietly and in my own way. And I hope that someday I will feel at home again in this country.