Patriotism and humility

7th August 2003, Comments 0 comments

For many Americans living overseas this 4 July, patriotism has been redefined. It is not about the bluster of a war won, or the pride that comes with waving a flag. Instead, the holiday will be low-key — a time for self-appraisal, even humility. After all, an angry world is watching them, writes Jeffrey Zaslow of

Last 4 July, the first Independence Day after the September 2001 terror attacks, brought proud and public celebrations overseas. There was "righteous anger and consequent 'hang-together' patriotism," says Francesca Kelly, an American who lives in Rome. But this year, she and other expats say they will attend non-ostentatious embassy parties, or gather quietly at private gatherings — or do nothing. In the wake of a war in Iraq that was unpopular in much of the world, the anti-American backlash has been both painful and enlightening for the estimated 4.1 million Americans overseas. Some say their identity has become a burden; they empathise with fellow American expatriates who introduce themselves as Canadians. "Some people dismiss you right off if you're American," says Brian Wall, a 28-year-old Internet marketer from St Louis who now lives in Holland. "They assume that you believe in whatever the US government is doing, that you're not multilingual, that you have a superiority complex."
Still, many expats see opportunities for dialogue and they're vowing to be conduits of understanding between cultures. If Americans and non-Americans are to move on from their rifts, they say, expatriates may be crucial facilitators. "We see things from multiple points of view, so we can help 'de-passionate' the debate," says Tom Rose, president of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, who has lived in France for 40 years. Unlike Americans in the States, expats often have a clearer sense of why non-Americans are upset. The US decision to initiate war in Iraq disappointed a lot of Europeans, says Isabel Cole, 30, a New Yorker who now works as an English translator in Berlin. "It's not anti-Americanism. It's disillusionment." This 4 July weekend, Cole is co-organising a conference for a group called "American Voices Abroad." About 50 American expatriates from throughout Europe will gather in Berlin "to remind our host countries" that they also question US policies. Delegates will discuss strategies for mending international ties and host a concert for people who "like American music, but not the politics," with proceeds benefiting Iraqi children. "The 4 July isn't about being complacent or blindly patriotic," says Cole. "Dissent is an American value that our founding fathers expressed in the Declaration of Independence." That is an easy message to impart abroad. It's far trickier for people like Kelly, who have generally supported US policies in Iraq. She has been upset by popular slogans in Italy equating President George W Bush with Saddam Hussein. But when talking to locals, she resists raising her voice. "I find something they say that I can agree with," she says. "It shows you're listening." Rather than being "yahoo patriotic," she adds, "I've explained that I backed US actions with some qualifications." But other American expatriates who supported the war admit they are less diplomatic. Ernst Zwick, who has lived in Norway for 36 years, says his wife keeps telling him to "tip-toe" when discussing US foreign policy. He refuses. He tells Norwegian friends that Hussein was "a scoundrel" who had to be removed, and that they shouldn't believe uninformed "radicals" who said the war was about oil. "There's so much baloney around," he says. "I should be as straight as possible." The internet has been a lifeline for many expatriates, helping them communicate and strategise with other expats world-wide. Wall this year began organizing a small online community through Another site, dubbed "Tales from a Small Planet" (, is run by Kelly and Victoria Hess. Both their husbands are longtime US Foreign Service officers. American expatriates say that many non-Americans question their allegiance to the American flag. Five years ago, American marketing consultant Denis Campbell, 45, married a Dutch woman and moved with her to the Netherlands. "A few months after September 11," he says, "my sister-in-law said to me, 'Denis, what's the deal with the American flag? Every time I see American TV, all I see are American flags.' " Saul Carliner, an educational technology professor who recently returned from Hong Kong and now lives in Montreal, admits flag-waving has political overtones, so he's careful about 4 July. The Baltimore native says he'll be working Friday. "Thanksgiving is the holiday more expats make an effort to celebrate." Campbell's father, who died in February, was a naturalized US citizen from Jamaica who always called himself "an American by choice, not by chance." Campbell has participated in rallies, gone on Dutch TV, and spoken to countless Dutch citizens — all in an effort to understand their perspective and offer his views as an American with reservations about US policies. He tells Dutch neighbours that he is embarrassed when the US seems to be "a strutting rooster" on the world stage. "My actions today come from the fierce love of country my father instilled in me," he says. Like other expats, Campbell considers serving as a face and voice for his homeland to be both a tough patriotic duty and an honour. "It makes my stomach ache," he says, "and it gives me goose-bumps." July 2003 Jeffrey Zaslow is a staff reporter of The Wall Street Journal. Subject: US patriotism during wartime

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