U.S. Our Trespasses: A Letter to My Friends Abroad
May 7, 2002
By Ernest Partridge
"Power tends to confuse itself with virtue. Once
imbued with the idea of a mission, a great nation easily assumes
that it has the means as well as the duty to do God's work."
J. William Fulbright The Arrogance of Power
an undergraduate, I took a cruise to Hawaii as a naval reservist.
With that one exception, I never left the North American continent
until twelve years ago, when I was invited to participate
in an international conference in Moscow. Since then, I have
traveled abroad ten times -- to Japan, to Russia, and to numerous
countries throughout Europe. Far more valuable than those
frequent-flier miles have been the numerous professional and
personal friends that I have acquired through these travels.
In addition, my professional work has prompted correspondence
with many more scholars and scientists throughout the world.
Thus, when I read of more treaties broken, and conferences
boycotted by the Bush Administration amidst hypocritical preachings
about "defending democracy," I think of these friends and
I am filled with a sense of acute embarrassment. Thus I am
moved to write this open letter.
What must you think of us Americans?
Immediately after the atrocities of September 11, the American
people received an outpouring of sympathy and support from
the civilized world community. The cry of solidarity, "We
are all Americans!," was heard in the streets of London, Paris,
Moscow, Tokyo, and hundreds of other cities. The world was
united in a brotherhood of sorrow, not only for the Americans,
but also for the citizens of over fifty other nations who
perished when the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell.
I was personally touched by this sentiment, as many of you
sent me spontaneous messages of condolence and solidarity.
Typical was this message from friends in Moscow: "[we] join
with people around to the world to express our utter horror
at the terrible violence and devastation in American yesterday.
We send our deepest sympathy to all who have been so affected.
The world today is unsafe, even in the United States. We must
joint to stop this madness. The sickness behind this is hard
to imagine, but we must find a cure. We believe that together
Since September, that fund of good will has been squandered
by the arrogant, shortsighted and self-serving administration
of an unelected President. The reckless hands of George Bush
have torn apart the fabric of international cooperation and
law, as he has withdrawn the United States from the ABM treaty,
and has refused to sign international accords dealing with
land mines, an international criminal court, or even child
labor. The nuclear test ban treaty may be the next to be violated.
The United States stands alone in its rejection of the Kyoto
Accords on global warming and, not content with that, has,
at the apparent direction of the Exxon-Mobil corporation,
finagled the removal of Dr. Robert Watson as Chairman of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And now, Bush appears
determined, in the face of international opposition, to resume
the "unfinished" war against Iraq. The list of outrages is
long, and too painful to elaborate.
In short, my beloved country, The United States, has become
a "rogue state," increasingly despised and feared by the community
of nations. With a military budget exceeding the total of
the next dozen nations combined, this "sole remaining superpower"
exhibits force without wisdom, the restraint of international
law, or even an informed respect for scientific knowledge.
(See my article
"The President of Fantasyland.")
Not only has the Bush regime antagonized its friends and allies
abroad, it has, under the pretext of "national defense," turned
upon its own citizens, defied our laws and degraded our political
institutions – as I will elaborate below.
It would thus be easy for many beyond our shores to despise
and distrust the Americans. Easy, but unfair. For we too are
victims of the misfortune that has befallen our nation. And
men and women of good will throughout the world eager to restore
a peaceful and lawful international order, will find among
my compatriots, many worthy and determined allies.
Because there is no such thing as a "typical American," simple
generalizations about "what the Americans think" or worse,
about "American character," are bound to be wrong. True, the
opinion polls show a solid majority of Americans "support"
George Bush, and those poll numbers have crippled the political
opposition and have stifled dissent. But those numbers may
be more a reflection of "anti-terrorism" than "pro-Bush" –
a rallying around the leader during a time of crisis. Moreover,
the polls are reported by a media that is overwhelmingly owned
and controlled by Bush's corporate sponsors. (See
"About those Polls." )
Despite these considerable setbacks in the United States,
and the consequent loss of American prestige and reputation
abroad, the political opponents of the Bush administration
have both reasons and resources in their struggle to contain
and eventually defeat this usurper regime.
George Bush is not a legitimate President
of the United States. Having lost the popular vote to
his opponent, Al Gore, Bush took the decisive electoral
vote through numerous demonstrably illegal voting manipulations
in the State of Florida. A review and recount of the Florida
votes, which would have given the election to Gore, was
blocked by the ruling of five Bush partisans in the Supreme
Court. Their published ruling, Bush v. Gore, is
a legally baseless and incoherent concoction devised with
the sole objective of putting George Bush into the White
House.. It stands in permanent condemnation of the five
seditious judges who crafted it.
Much of Bush's success is due to the unusually
high poll number that have followed the terrorist attacks
of last September. But now those poll numbers are falling,
as the opposition gains strength and the public is beginning
to sense that Bush is unqualified for his ill-gotten office.
The domestic political issues are overwhelmingly
on the side of the Democratic opposition. Bush's economic
policies have cheated ordinary citizens of their welfare,
health, and retirement benefits, as these policies transfer
wealth from the middle-class that produces that wealth,
into the hands of the few who own and control the wealth.
A large portion of the public has been persuaded to vote
against their own interest by a corporate media that overwhelms
the Democrats' issues with empty Republican slogans ("compassionate
conservatism" vs. "bleeding-heart liberalism").
There is good reason to expect that Bush's
Republican party will lose control of Congress in the
November election. The defection last year of one Senator
from the Republican party (James Jeffords of Vermont)
turned the Senate over to the Democrats. If the Democrats
take control of the House of Representatives in November,
they will gain the power of subpoena and with it the ability
to investigate the Bush administration. Several potentially
explosive scandals have been buried by Bush's allies in
the Congress and the media. These will again see the light
of day, if not in Congress, then in the courts.
The record of history proves that the American
people have the capacity to oppose and prevail over abuses
of power and threats to their democratic order: McCarthyism
in the fifties, the civil rights reforms in the sixties,
Richard Nixon's resignation and the end of the Viet Nam
war in the seventies. While there is no guarantee that
the American public will prevail over this latest threat
to its political order, history offers reason to hope.
Bush propagandists and the compliant media
have largely succeeded in defining "patriotism" as unquestioning
support of the President. But there is a higher patriotism,
namely allegiance to our political traditions of democracy
and rule of law, as articulated in the founding documents
of our Republic. If and when the American public perceives
and acts upon this higher patriotism, the rule of Bush
will be effectively ended. (See my article "On Patriotism.")
In contrast to the arrogant and unilateral
"exceptionalism" of Bush's foreign policy, the
United States has, in the past, occasionally acted with
magnificent altruism and humanity toward other nations
and peoples – through its intervention (however belatedly)
in two world wars, with the Marshall Plan, and the Peace
Corps. Given the inspired leadership of a Franklin Roosevelt
or a John. F. Kennedy -- conspicuously absent in the current
administration – that idealism might shine forth once
The political wisdom and idealism of our
founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the
Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, are much admired
and emulated abroad. They are also the foundation and
the hope of the American opposition. Many of Bush's assaults
upon our basic civil liberties, codified in the obscenely
mislabelled "USA Patriot Act," are unlikely to survive
challenges in the courts. In the meantime, significant
numbers of the elite professions have been alienated by
the excesses of the Bush administration, including the
legal profession (by the "Patriot Act" and the Supreme
Court decision, Bush v. Gore), and the scientists (missile
defense, the ABM and Kyoto treaties, and corporate meddling
with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). While
this opposition has been muted since September 11, there
is no compelling reason to believe that it will remain
In summary, the Bush administration is built
upon a foundation of lies, evasions, and contradictions, designed
to enrich the wealthy few at the expense of the vast majority
of the population. This is a regime which has violated and
debased the democratic principles upon which this Republic
was founded, which impoverishes the public treasury and mortgages
the future, which destabilizes the international security
regime by abrogating treaties at whim, and which threatens
the very future of the planet with an outrageous disregard
of the scientifically validated threat of global warming.
The American public is vulnerable to a slick public relations
campaign: Ronald Reagan proved that. And that public is slow
to anger and action. But while changes in public opinion can
be glacially slow, they can also become glacially irresistible,
as Richard Nixon was to find out when he went outside the
law to destroy his "enemies," and as Lyndon Johnson was to
discover as he pursued an immoral war in Viet Nam.
The opponents of this illegitimate President are scattered,
disorganized, and muted; but their cause is just and they
are determined. Unlike Bush's operatives, those in the opposition
will, I am convinced, work within the Constitutional structures,
and if successful, they will deprive Bush of his Congress
in 2002, and of his office in 2004. In the meantime, determined
dissent both within and outside the United States can derail
the most obnoxious aspects of the Bush Agenda: his opposition
to effective action on global warming and his missile defense
Because the misfortune of the Bush insurgency has fallen most
immediately upon the American public, it is our primary responsibility
to effect remedies. Indeed, due to nationalistic sentiments,
direct international support of American efforts to repair
our body politic can be counter-productive (as would American
interventions into your own domestic politics).
Even so, there is much that our friends abroad might do to
contain the Bush menace.
Support international efforts, both within
and outside of your governments, to present concerted
opposition to the Bush policies on global warming and
missile defense. Do not be bullied by the threats and
power-plays of the Bush operatives. In this regard, the
ousters of Robert Watson from the IPCC, and Jose Bustani
from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons are very regrettable. The international community
must stand firm to prevent additional setbacks of this
kind. It is past time to demolish the American conceit
that "nothing significant happens internationally without
American participation, approval, or even leadership."
Supply us with the informed and responsible
journalism, of which we have been deprived by the American
corporate media. For decades, we prided ourselves on our
ability to supply the people "behind the Iron Curtain"
with accurate news via Radio Free Europe and the Voice
of America – news that was absent from the propaganda
mills of the Soviet Press. Now the situation is reversed,
as the once magnificent American "free press" has been
transformed into a font of "infotainment" trivia
and apologetics for the Bush regime. If even a small portion
of the American public abandons the domestic media and
turns to the foreign press for reliable information, the
corporate media may get the message and effect some reforms.
Support and expand the work of international
NGOs, with joint conferences and publications, etc. Emphasize
and publicize the participation by American representatives
who dissent from Bush Administration policies. Let your
compatriots and the world know that Bush does not speak
for a large body of scientifically and ecologically informed
Encourage your industries and governments
to engage in massive and aggressive research in alternative
energies. Regardless of action that may or may not be
taken with regard to global warming, the petroleum age
is likely to come to an end during this coming century.
Unless research on a transition to a solar and hydrogen
world economy is undertaken immediately and a new energy
infrastructure put in place, the eventual depletion of
available petroleum will cause a collapse of industrialized
agriculture and global famine – most severely in the industrialized
nations. Bush's answer is to increase petroleum consumption
while cutting research in alternative energy, thus bringing
that day of reckoning even closer. It therefore falls
upon scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and governments
abroad to take up the urgent task of leading the industrial
world into the post-petroleum economy. It is altogether
likely that such an enterprise would receive generous
support from progressive American investors. If benign
technology abroad succeeds and leads, then American industry
will follow, as it did when Germany and Japan took the
lead in automotive and electronics technology.
In closing, I would say once again to my friends
abroad, that the "accidental President of the United States"
does not speak for me, or for millions of my fellow citizens
– a majority of whom did not vote for him in the 2000 Presidential
election. Both inside and beyond the borders of this unfortunate
Republic, we are united by much more than that which separates
us. The debasement of the American democracy in the November
2000 election, and the decrees and policies of the illegitimate
administration which have followed, are both a national and
an international tragedy. We are joined in a common cause
to contain and then to repair the damage.