It was an early April morning when I awoke to the news that an American pilot had bombed a Canadian training exercise in Afghanistan and killed four Canadian soldiers. I sighed and prepared for the fallout.
It was quick. The killing was labeled ” friendly fire” and Canadian radio call-in shows and coffee shops exploded with angry debate. Canucks were mad; we helped those Yanks after September 11th and they thank us with death? No doubt, as Canadian bodies were flown home for funerals, more than one ?United We Stand’ bumper sticker was ripped from a Canadian car and dumped in the trash.
Oddly, I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t crushed, disgusted, or crazed. Instead, I was amazed. Amazed that Canadians were so frantic about the death of soldiers (soldiering is a risky profession?and they were in a combat zone) and amazed that Americans didn’t care (Bush said sorry, this stuff happens). Mostly, however, I was amazed by how often I think about the U.S. Think about their isolation, that is. And wonder about their nerve.
Overseas under siege
Back in 1998, I was in Taiwan. I was sitting on a bench and talking with a friend from Sudan. He was a Christian, from the south, and had spent time in jail, in Sudan, for refusing to join the army that was loyal to the northern Islamic government. He told me, “We were nomads. I’m not a Muslim. I wouldn’t join an army that would eventually attack my family.” So, he sat in jail. When he got out, his family had moved and, after searching for them, he left. He found his way to South Africa and then Taiwan, where a friend of a friend worked for the South African embassy. He soon spoke fluent Chinese?his fifteenth language.
The day the US bombed Khartoum he greeted me in English. He sat on the bench, waved his hands, and fumed. “They bombed my country! They bombed my country because they say we’re all terrorists. Not true. They bombed them because they’re Muslim. I’m not Muslim but I’m tired! Americans stick their big noses everywhere and tell the world they are right. They are not always right and their stupidities breed stupidities!”
Caution for caution
Naturally, I realize the strength of American democracy, the importance of the American economy, the hope American freedom gives to the world.
But I think about my Sudanese friend and worry about American policy that makes an American baby more important than an African; an American mother more blessed than an Iraqi; an American tragedy more tragic than anyone else’s. I worry about Canadians who think Americans think about us at all.
Then, I worry when I remember that, when I travel, I carry with me my white face and the possibility that I am American. When asked, I always shake my head. Always, strangers seem calmed by my words as if the presence of an American at their roadside stall or hostel will bring trouble. It’s a chilling welcome.