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Shooting from the other side of the ocean
by Thanos Kalamidas
2015-10-11 11:42:28
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guns01_400_01The last days a shooting at the Northern Arizona University and one at Texas Southern University hit the news with one dead each, three and one wounded respectfully. This only a week after another shooting, at Umpqua Community College in Oregon leaving ten dead and nine seriously injured.

In Europe we all felt the pain the parents felt and we tried to express our sorrow for the young people, but the same time we all shook our heads adding …Americans and somewhere inside us wish that we will never be like them. Think of it.

Fifty years ago America was the land of opportunity and the dream for the average European. I said fifty, make it the last two hundred years at least. Members of my family immigrated to USA in search of a better life, recognition, and acceptance. Two uncles, both academics, moved from a Europe still trying to stand up from a world war, a lot of local wars and a civil war with every structure destroyed to USA in search not only for a better financial life but also for a place they could improve and evaluate. Soon both entered the academic world in very prestigious universities. That was when USA was the land of opportunities.

Look at the news today, the news that make headlines in Europe and they involve USA. Shooting, police violence, paranoia, racism and …Donald Trump. Of course the Kardashians, the contemporary first family in USA as a lifestyle magazine called them. The country that preaches democracy and equality is deep in discrimination and racism and whatever Americans like to think about themselves, from this side of the ocean they look like hypocrites.

guns02_400You will argue that Barack Obama tries, plus the fact that he is the first black American president. Well obviously trying is not enough especially since we can all see how powerless he is in front of a trigger-happy, anti-immigration, often discriminating Congress. From this side of the ocean president Obama looks like a toothless caged in the White House lion that only roars and scares nobody.

Twenty-two school shootings from the beginning of this year. Twenty-one young people dead, thirty-seven seriously injured. And 2015 is still not over. Can you understand the semantics of what I just wrote? The year is not over yet, it means that I won’t be surprised if those twenty-two shootings are the only ones for this year; I’m expecting more to come.

And this is not just me. Every time a school shooting happens in USA, united all the political spectrum of every European country sends their condolences to the American administration wishing that it will never happen again and hinting that perhaps time has come for USA to do something with the gun-laws. Do you know what the best part in this is? While Europeans united express their sorrow, Jeb Bush said that things like that …happen! I don’t know what shocks me more, the fact that a young man with proven social and psychological problems was permitted to buy and carry a weapon or the reaction of some American politicians. Especially the politicians that aim the US presidency.

Please don’t argue that Donald Trump has not chances and most likely he will be out of the race long before the final round. He is there now. He is there and he is the favourite of all the polls. He is one of the leading figures in the American political spectrum. That you don’t like him doesn’t dismiss the fact that he is there, that he has support and he is playing a major role into shaping public opinion. Donald Trump is giving an alibi to all those who carry a gun and think to use it.

guns03_400And fine, let’s say that Donald Trump is a stupid example. What about Jeb Bush? He is also a stupid example. Ben Carson? He is mixed up, dazed and confused. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, George Pataki? Even Carly Fiorina has avoided to answer straight to any questions about any kind of gun control and all of them – absolutely no exceptions – have openly supported NRA and the twisted, paraphrased Second Amendment. This last one thanks to another President Bush.

Last week Barack Obama called the media to start publishing numbers that compare deaths caused by gun violence and deaths caused by terrorism. The numbers never lie and they are devastating. Between 9/11 2001 and December 2013, 3,380 were the victims of terrorism including the victims of the 9/11. The same time the victims of gun violence were 406,496. Reaching the end of 2015 this number most likely exceeds by far half a million of people. I suppose the answer is: “Things happen.”

But this is just the tip of the iceberg isn’t it? However devastating it might be and however high the cost of human lives might be still USA has a lot of problems. Actually I don’t know where to start. From a manipulating electoral system that this moment might leave hundreds of thousands without the right to practice their most democratic right or with the fact that it seems that black lives don’t really matter? Returning to the guns issue, yesterday I read a very interesting article which was all about how the American society and especially the police acts in front of the picture of an armed white man and an armed black man. While the armed white man will be considered as a man who practices his right according to the Second Amendment, the armed black man will be profiled as a gang member and definite murderer who should be shot dead.

Few weeks ago the Pope visited USA. I have often mention that my relationship with religion is a very distant one. Different space and time. Still, I felt embarrassed with the lack of respect some American prime politicians shown to the man who leads literally hundreds of millions. The man was called unacceptable names, lacking any kind of respect. You might argue, freedom of speech. So why some are already upset because me, a foreigner who lives in old Europe doubts that there is democracy in USA and thinks that carrying a gun is not a sign of masculinity but a sign of cowardice? Freedom of speech isn’t it? Why suddenly I become the enemy? The other side? Might sound a poor argument and there are many others much better still it is true isn’t it?

guns04_400Think again the GOP candidates for the American presidency. Seriously, one of them arrogantly expect to be the leader of the democratic world? Seriously any of them expect respect from anybody in this wold or he will follow the Bush dogma, you are with us or against us and if you are against we bomb you?

The country that has won 323 Nobel prizes literally dominating chemistry, physics and mathematics; the birth-place of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, London, Steinbeck and Poe today warships …the Kardashians. They have become the …Americans always followed with a shake of the head.

I have often read about the way Americans look at the Europeans. Extreme liberals, without values, cowards, the decadence of a dead civilization. Sadly the last thirty years Americans have proven to Europeans that they don’t have mirrors, otherwise they would have seen their real face and they would have found out that there is absolutely nothing good about it. There is no beauty at all. And sadly, there is no promise for improvement either.

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Emanuel Paparella2015-10-11 15:18:40
I have lived in the US for 62 years and have dual citizenship (Italian and American). I have also lived and worked in Europe. Given the plethora of ugly Americans now running for President, your analysis of Americans in general does seem plausible, I’d be the first to admit that much, but I am afraid, Thanos, that there is another side to this particular coin.

Perhaps a couple of simple personal anecdotes will make the point. From time to time within that span of 62 years I would go back to Italy, and I remember being confronted by a particular cousin of mine proud of his membership in the Communist party who, as soon as I met him, began a veritable tirade by exclaiming “You Americans…” which I promptly interrupted by asking him in turn “Which Americans?” I then attempted to convey to him that he was unfortunately painting Americans with too wide of an ideological brush, the equivalent of addressing all Europeans, on the right and on the left, as “you, Europeans” which some Americans actually do… meaning it as an insult, and that not all Americans were “ugly”; that if such was the case I would no longer be living in the US. I also proposed to him this paradox: the more second rate American cultural programs were eagerly watched or imitated on Italian TV (they were and still are very popular there), the more public opinion of America seemed to decline. I counseled that he should be watching more first rate material from the US which may indeed have a different culture from European culture, but it most certainly has a culture and it is not inferior to the European. You also make that clear in your piece.

Alas, I was not able to persuade him of those facts; so I invited him to visit America so he would not end up judging all Americans by the ones he met in Italy as vulgar tourists, which, somewhat to my surprise, he did a few years later. To my even greater surprise he returned two more times and his opinion of Americans has substantially changed. He no longer uses the word “American” as an insult of sort.

Another anecdote is that of a second cousin who has was born and lived in America all his life, became a navy doctor, and has been a Republican most of his life, while his father and his grandfather (my grandfather’s brother) were Democrats. We had a running correspondence for a while where we exchanged opinions. Obviously some of my opinions were not to his liking, so at one point the argument became an ad hominem one and he proceeded to ask “what keeps you here?” That was a way of saying a la Donald Trump: you are not a true American patriot. So I took the question at its face value and tried to answer it with a long open letter which I believe was published in Ovi magazine. The correspondence ended there and was never resumed. Were Trump to become president I would expect that question to be asked again by someone knocking at my door before being declared an undesirable subversive and served with deportation papers.

Now, one may say that these are just trivial personal anecdotes which in no way disprove the obvious troubling circumstances of today’s America; and here again I would agree with you Thanos, that present day America is quite different from what it was 62 years ago or 120 years ago when my grandfather emigrated to America. Perhaps such is the case, but that does not mean that having failed in the attempt to improve it, to become what Lincoln called "the last best hope of the world" one should declare the attempt a mistake too; or perhaps there is a moral to these two anecdotes. I suppose much depends on how one interprets them.

Thanos2015-10-11 21:29:06
Exactly as you wrote it Emanuel, it didn’t use to be like that and just like you I have personal stories with my uncles who moved to the states in late 1950s, had the opportunity to improve their studies and actually enjoy a long academic career which was their dream. And of course there are many other example but I have the feeling that this stops somewhere in late 1980s and year after year the land of opportunity has become a land to avoid. There were always stereotypes on both sides. US was the land of drugs, gangs and big hamburgers but the same time it was a land of opportunity even for my generation thirty years ago. US universities and jobs were the ultimate aim for a lot in my generation who wanted something more from their studies and life. Today, it is Germany, it is Britain or France, definitely Scandinavia.
And yes I do agree that it is a wrong generalization to think that everybody is like or likes Donald Trump, but the problem is that there are a lot who do, or at least that’s how it looks from this side of the ocean. Plus the possibility that anyone – and I mean anyone - of the GOP candidates reaches the presidency is really terrifying for all of us.

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