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Forgive 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

While 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.


Dear Friends,

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 we can."

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 again.

  • 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 so.

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 scheme.

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 American citizens.

  • 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.

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