Letters

Readers around the globe respond to Jeff Greenwald's "Make Wanderlust, Not War." Among their suggestions: Instead of a military draft, how about a travel draft?


Salon Staff
March 28, 2003 12:51AM (UTC)

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Jeff Greenwald's piece touches on a critical point when he attempts to explain that foreigners are more interested in raising issues with Americans than they are in hearing Americans' responses. The millions that have taken to the streets of the world, as well as the billions who fume silently or not so silently at home, are mostly inflamed by that most undemocratic of situations in which they find themselves: that of being completely incapable of controlling the actions of leaders whom they have not elected and who will never be accountable to them.

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Watching the Bush administration pursue this war in opposition to the wishes of the vast majority of human beings on this planet, even after it has been clearly expressed by institutions of international law and massive protest, makes you want to climb a fence and holler at the world. And if I feel that, when I watch events from a comfortable, civilized setting on my digital satellite TV and broadband Internet connection, I imagine someone who watches as his children starve and his family is murdered before his eyes because of these events will go beyond shouting, and one day strap some explosives around his waist and make sure Americans listen to him.

So please, my dearest Americans, follow Mr. Greenwald's advice, and travel, and listen to people, who just want a say on how people run their lives. The risk of a terrorist attack on you when abroad is insignificant compared to the risk of another terrorist attack on your doorstep after you've shut yourself in.

-- Stephanos Piperoglou (Athens, Greece)

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As a citizen of the world (in my case, New Zealand), I would like to celebrate Jeff Greenwald's article.

Americans, for the most part, are among the most open, generous and wonderful people in the world. It is unfortunate that, as with every country, there are those who choose to behave in ways that instill fear, anger and violence in others.

As Greenwald points out, it is in listening to others and in hearing them, as opposed to ignoring them, that contact is established and understanding and rapport built.

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Whatever the merits of American and British actions toward Iraq, most people of the world are able to dissociate the actions of leaders from the individual. All they ask is that their point of view be heard and considered. Nothing more.

And so, I ask Americans to heed Jeff Greenwald's call to travel. Meet with others and learn about yourselves. Examine assumptions you harbor. Expand your horizons. It is a beautiful world in spite of the horrors perpetrated by the few -- on all sides of the sociopolitical spectrum -- who would prefer to divide by strength and fear. And remember, we might despise American government actions, but we still love America.

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-- Mark Graham, New Zealand

Jeff Greenwald is absolutely correct. On a recent trip to Guatemala (have no delusions, the war in Iraq impacts nations like Guatemala very negatively, mostly through higher gas prices they cannot afford), I spoke with hundreds of people about the war, and my opposition to it. On a charter plane, I managed to express my displeasure with our government in my broken Spanish to a planeful of Italians who spoke neither Spanish nor English. "Odio" -- I hate -- seems to work in all Romance languages. Get out and talk to people. The world needs to know that Americans think foreigners' lives have value too. It is when their point of view is ignored or treated with disdain instead of respect that anger and violence result. A fact we all learn to our regret.

-- Larry Breckenridge

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Jeff Greenwald has hit on one of the most crucial deficiencies of the American condition.

An example: Several years ago, a visiting French friend of mine was pulled over for driving a little too fast on a Minneapolis freeway. Upon examination of her foreign driver's license, the state trooper said, "Oh, you're French. You guys don't even drive on the right side of the road over there." Then he let her go.

Needless to say, she was happy about avoiding the ticket and was certainly amused by the cop's ignorant rationale.

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Not only is our insular, xenophobic culture (and current "leadership") probably the most compelling force behind this nonsense in the Middle East, this Amero-centric attitude is something that can be easily avoided.

As we stare down the barrel of the possible reinstatement of the draft (an easily conceivable notion under the Bush regime), I propose this: Instead of compulsory military service, let's enact a compulsory travel abroad program for Americans. Let's send our young Americans somewhere else, somewhere away from conveniences of the strip malls, the SUVs and MTV. They can go anywhere they want, as long as it's not on American territory. Let's send everyone somewhere else so they can see what it means to adapt, to learn, to appreciate.

A pipe dream, perhaps, but compulsory travel abroad would go a long way toward diffusing this "us-against-them" mentality we Americans now face.

-- Jeff Schroeder

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Jeff Greenwald makes a good point about the need for more Americans to travel abroad. Of course, he doesn't really address the two major obstacles to our traveling overseas -- time and expense. Many of us have limited vacation time. And it seems typical that a contributor to Outside magazine -- where every profiled trip seems to cost at least two grand -- would write such an essay irrespective of these constraints. Hey, I've got a raging case of wanderlust. I'd love to go to Iran to view the last eclipse of the millennium. I would have loved to go to Tibet this week on vacation. Instead, I'm on the South Carolina coast, having a great time with minimal damage to my bank account.

-- Shay Pratt

Kudos to Mr. Greenwald for pointing out a simple solution to this nation's current hysteria and intolerance of others. I have always believed that travel changes your worldview by letting you see the humanity behind the labels we place on people. As I prepare to go on a missionary trip to Haiti, I know that the hardest part is not going there, but coming back to this land of wealth, indifference and consumerism. A trip to Europe (the old world) and a trip to a Third World country should be required for every American. How else can one have an understanding of the whole world if one does not visit all of it?

-- Luis Garcia-Rivera

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Despite Greenwald's assumption that everyone who would travel agrees with his political view of the war and the Bush administration, I am canceling my trip to France this summer because:

1. I would rather not spend thousands of dollars trying to explain every stupid move that the Bush administration makes (many of which I do not agree with but some of which I do). What I suspect is that most Europeans want an apology or a "he's not with us" excuse rather than a dialogue with people who may disagree with them for some very good reasons.

2. I really have a problem with France specifically for their cynical U.N. power grab and their diplomatic lobbying that will end up killing a lot more 18- and 19-year-old Americans and Iraqi civilians than was necessary.

(By lobbying Turkey to refuse American fly-over rights and now by trying to tank Iraq's Oil for Food program, France is leading the charge to use food and American casualties as weapons in their endeavor to counter American power. By the way, this is why people have a problem with France and not Germany, which is just as opposed to the war.)

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-- James Wynne

I would like to thank Jeff Greenwald for his essay on international travel. I was greatly inspired.

My wife and I have traveled internationally every year now for the last seven and we've always been careful about sharing the fact that we're Americans. We try to blend in with the locals as much as possible and when pressed, claim Canadian citizenship (not so hard to fake; we live in Seattle).

I recently decided to stop lying about being American, however; we are good tourists. We are respectful of the local culture, we make an effort to learn the language and customs, and generally "do as the Romans do." We are not loud, boisterous, rude, or your "typical American."

I realized on our most recent trip, as Mr. Greenwald also noted in his essay, that sending this kind of positive message through our actions is the best kind of American diplomacy. Nothing makes the point more strongly to me than connecting across the language barrier with a shopkeeper in France, Hungary or Thailand as I try to buy a piece of fruit or bread and we both smile and laugh together about the effort.

International travel and the experiences it affords are something that benefits both individuals and nations at large. I would hope for every American to follow Greenwald's advice and get out and see the world.

-- Matt Jones


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