(Host) For ten Mondays, VPR is featuring a new series of commentaries from “10 in Their 20s,” in which members of Vermont’s 20-something generation share their perspectives on issues that matter the most to them – from the local to the global. This week Brendan Fisher reflects on how the U.S. is perceived by the rest of the world.
(Fisher) I’m 27. Half my life ago I thought I’d have it all figured out by now. I was a freshman in high school and even though my little part of the world was rapidly changing, I thought the greater whole made a lot of sense. At that time it was a black and white world. You were either a cat person or a dog person; adults drank coffee, kids drank juice.
It was the time of the first Gulf War. The U.S. was everything good and noble, a large scale Robin Hood, and Iraq was a sad, sad place. With this world view I thought that by the time I hit 27, I’d have my dream job, comfort, security and a clear understanding of this black and white world. Is that where I am now?
Well, I’ll come back to that.
On September 11, I was traveling through Europe and I noticed a sincere and beautiful outpouring of support. At a soccer match between a German and English team, there was a moment of silence for the U.S., and just before the game started 5,000 Germans dressed in blue started chanting “USA, USA.” This lasted for at least five minutes. While my nationalistic pride was welling up, I also felt like I was part of some kind of international solidarity – the beginning of world citizenship.
This feeling continued throughout my travels. I was offered free phone calls to the U.S. while in England; free dinners in Italy; drinks, toasts and condolences in Spain and Switzerland. Everywhere I went I was the beneficiary of good will. That was 2001.
This past year I went back to Europe, and I must say things were a lot different. I was constantly questioned about American policy, as if I had the ear of the president. I was often asked whether I had voted for George Bush.
In a pub one night, a drunken 20-something asked me who I voted for in 2000. When I told him, his reply was “You’re lucky, if you said ‘W’ I was going to hang you.” Considering this guy could barely stand I wasn’t all that worried, but the interaction spoke volumes to me.
At the international student conference I was attending, there were 46 other countries represented. At the opening ceremony they read the names of all the countries there. All were cheered except right in between the United Kingdom and Yemen, “boos” resounded.
The 14-year old me certainly had it wrong. I’m not settled, sound and secure. I don’t have my dream job, or even know what that job is and the larger world doesn’t make all that much sense. Unfortunately, that adolescent view of a black and white world is being espoused by our nation’s highest office: “You’re either with us or you’re against us.”
The 14-year old me would have agreed, but the 20-something me thinks this is a na ve and dangerous position, being defended with the lives of my fellow 20-somethings.
I’m Brendan Fisher of Charlotte.
Brendan Fisher is a PhD student in Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.