Americans targeted in 'Old' Europe

17th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

Despite the signs of improvement in relations between US and European political leaders, we report that American expats on the old continent are still very much in the firing line over Iraq.

George W Bush, Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac may have tried to play down differences over Iraq in the last fortnight. First at the Normandy beaches then at the Group of Eight summit at Sea Island in Georgia.

George W Bush and Jacques Chirac have publicly warmed since the D-Day ceremonies

But for many American expats those warm exchanges were cold comfort. Expats find they are paying the price of an unpopular war and its fallout – and for some the photos of Iraqi prisoners being tortured was the final straw.

"Americans couldn't be viewed worse in Germany," says Margaret Rankin, a press officer from Washington who has lived in Essen for the last three-and-a-half years.

"Everyone I meet can't resist saying: 'Aren't you ashamed of your country?'

"Some Germans don't even think I'm worth talking to. They think if an idiot is leading the country, we must all be idiots."

Initially, Rankin acted as an 'ambassador' to her country, listening patiently to German criticisms and responding sensitively to "cheap digs".

"I didn't defend the war. I defended my country as not exclusively a land of idiots," she says.

But, after the Abu Ghraib images, her approach changed. "I've stopped defending us as vehemently," she admits.

"There are so many things to defend, it's become boring. It's a depressing and unhappy subject."

For some, photos of Iraqis tortured in Abu Ghraib prison were a turning point

Events in Iraq have sown anti-American feeling among the Spanish, according Alberto Moreno who is half American and lives in the south-eastern region of Almeria.

"I've even seen my cousin, who's also half American, who used to cheer Americans in war movies, calling them idiots as he watches the news."
Anti-American feeling in Europe attracts concern among the families and friends of expats in the States.

"Everyone back home is very concerned that we are being abused," says Ellyn Eaves-Hileman, who moved to Brussels from Rhode Island two years ago.

"But the only incident I've had was when I was collecting a friend from the train station and my friend heard a man say: 'Fucking Americans'."

Hileman has travelled with her family throughout Europe and to Morocco since the invasion of Iraq. "People have been kind and just keen to discuss the war with us," she says.

"On the flip side, what I find very sad in the US now, is that if you disagree with the administration, you're labelled anti-American."

Hileman, whose husband is a naval officer who has served for almost 28 years, watched the release of the torture photos with horror. "They made me sick," she says.

"My husband and I both asked why the officers are not being called to account for this."

But for Pittsburger Charles Ruffolo, who served in the US army for 20 years, the photos were "a reflection of a small group of individuals, not of the system".

Ruffolo, the president of Amsterdam American Business Club, appeared on the Dutch television show Nova after the publication of the photos and defended Rumsfeld and the strategy in Iraq.

"It's easy to throw rocks at a glass boat. People say to me: 'Look what's going on in that prison? How could it happen?' You have to hold these people responsible for their actions, but I believe in the American system of democracy."

Like many Americans abroad, Ruffolo gets asked: "Aren't you ashamed to be an American?" "I say 'no'. I come from a country with more individual rights than any other and I speak as an immigrant. My family emigrated to America from Italy in the 1900s. My father fought in the Second World War and my brother in the Gulf War."

British expats also get asked to justify the war, but the tone is different.

 "Whereas Americans are seen as idiots, you get labelled 'chicken'," Rankin tells me. "You have succumbed to this great monster."

Englishman Guy Grundy, a real estate consultant in Paris, says he's had little antagonism from the overwhelmingly anti-war French.

"My French colleagues and I swap jokes about it. I fully share their jokes about Blair," he says.

Turbulent times: outrage is galvanising expats to vote in next US presidentials

"It's been a misguided policy. But the war hasn't affected how I'm treated here."

Angelika McLarren, a 48-year-old Berliner who is the president of American Women's Club of Berlin, says Berliners still view Americans and Brits with affection due to events like the Berlin airlift, regardless of recent history.

"We know also that Americans who live abroad tend to see things much more from our perspective, rather than that of a small town American," says McLarren whose husband is from Washington.

"They understand why Germans didn't support the war."

In France, at the D Day commemorations, Jim Begg, the president of the American Overseas Memorial Day Association in Belgium, was touched to see how the French, young and old, paid tribute to their liberators.

"Both George Bush and Chirac's speeches were elegant and from the heart," he says. He was less impressed by remarks made by Rumsfeld about 'Old Europe' when France and Germany did not back the war.

"That was flippant and showed a lack of understanding of the history of our countries," he says.

Verbal attacks on other countries and the renaming of "French fries" "freedom fries" to snub the French angered many Americans abroad.

"It's isolationist," says Hileman. "The administration has put every single American outside America in an untenable situation. Bush carries on as if we're all in America. We're not: we're all over the world.

"Off-the-cuff remarks can hurt American businesses financially and they put individuals in danger. When we are posted abroad, military families are warned that we are ambassadors for America.

"The same needs to hold true for the government: don't you embarrass me while I'm in someone else's country. For me, it's like going to someone's house and making disparaging remarks about their children."

It's that outrage which is galvanising many Americans who didn't vote in the last presidential elections to prepare to do so this year. Republicans Abroad and Democrats Abroad and non-political expat clubs are all running voter registration campaigns.

The message: though you may be happily settled in Europe, it pays to have a say in who calls the shots at home.

June 2004

© Expatica Communications

Subject: The Netherlands, American expats, Iraq

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