It starts in elementary school. You’re sitting in a small plastic chair, amongst 20 or so little kids. You start learning things about yourself you never knew. The teacher’s saying things like "We bombed Japan in WWII and killed hundreds of thousands of people," or "We enslaved African-Americans in the 1800s." I couldn't have been the only kid thinking, I didn't do any of that.
Yes, I’ll admit, what led me to this column is a rather trivial thing in the grand scheme of things; the commonly used “we” when referring to things the U.S. government has done in a classroom setting. But this annoyance made me think about bigger things: nationalism, foreign policy, the role of government.
The common perception of American government is so varied. One side is full of gun-slingin', homily-spewin', cowboys, and the other includes a bunch of progressive, pot-smokin', twenty-somethings, plus everyone in the middle. By the way, I’m aware of the stereotyping there, but I made fun of both sides. Everyone’s got a different view, and some are more or less willing to share it with you or force it upon you. But simplistically, we've got people who love our government, people who hate our government and those who couldn’t give a rat’s caboose what our government does. Now, I wouldn’t say that "the man" has always made the best decisions, I'm well aware of that. But (and as a journalist, this is probably obvious) I think one thing most people can agree they got right was the first amendment. You don't have to be a nationalist to appreciate the rights citizens have. Sure, some of the things they do may not sit well with you, but at least you have a right to complain about it. There are a lot of things that suck about living here, but I believe it would be extremely difficult to find a better place. Also, it could be a lot worse.
Another unique thing about America is that it isn't restricted within its own borders. Like it or not, foreign involvement has always been prevalent: the World Wars, Vietnam, Iraq. Sometimes it seems as though we’re giving them too much money, or things are desolate enough in the U.S., and other times, most people feel it's "our duty as a country to help those in need." Until recently, I'd always possessed the opinion that worrying about citizens back home was more important than sticking our noses into other people’s business.
Then, I saw the turmoil in Egypt.
People, under a government supported by America, fighting for change due to a government fueled by hate and often oppression, with an almost non-existent economy, by a lead who has been in power for thirty years. Who knew? If you'd asked be a few months ago what I knew about Egypt, I'd have said "The Capital is Cairo, and they built some pyramids." I knew they weren't as affluent as most countries, but I certainly thought the apparent lack of news from the country meant things were at least okay.
It's inspiring, really, to see them out there, with their signs and their words of hope and change. People here voted for change in 2008. In Egypt, they're literally fighting for it. They deserve human rights, and if the U.S. has the ability to help that, it's what should be done. The progress they've already made is amazing, and it made me realize that unlike situations of the past, this is something happening now, something relevant to me, and it’s something I can care about. It'll be in the history books someday, and I'll talk about how we-oh... Wait.
I guess I'm a hypocrite.