Friday, August 10, 2007


Houston Steve was sitting at breakfast this morning, holding forth on the topic of Fear.

We have become a fearful nation. Terrorists abound; environmental disasters loom. We’re in the midst of a mid-August heat wave (Dog Bites Man!), raising the specter of Global Warming. (Never mind that the number of tropical storms and hurricanes this year will once again fall well below the Dread Prognostications.)

We’re all gonna die!

We have become a nation of cowering, crouching Pussy-Wimps, with our kids afraid to play outdoors (You’ll get a sunburn! You’ll get abducted! You’ll get a rash!) And the media are, in Houston Steve’s estimation, largely to blame for this state of affairs, for whipping Americans up into a frenzy of terror helps sell newspapers and advertising minutes on the evening news.

In Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine, Steve observed, Moore contrasted the television evening news in Detroit with its counterpart in Windsor, Ontario, right across the river. In Detroit, the news was filled with murders, shootings, car crashes, and other Exciting Stuff. In Windsor, there were reports on the topics discussed in City Council.

Fear-Mongering versus Good Government.

And that got me thinking about the national character of the United States, as compared with that of the other major offshoots of the British Empire at its height: Canada and Australia.

Think about it. Each a country of Anglophone heritage, but each with distinctly different personalities. And to understand these differences, one must look back to the national origins of these various Former British Colonies.

The United States: Settled by jackleg freebooters, fortune-hunters, and the religiously disaffected. The Puritans came to these shores seeking freedom of religion...and freedom to oppress anyone who practiced a different religion from theirs. From these humble roots came Jimmy Swaggart and Anal Roberts (Oral’s brown-sheep brother).

Australia: Settled by transported criminals, Oz still has a raffishness unmatched anywhere else. Listen to “Waltzing Matilda,” the unofficial national anthem. No bombs bursting in air for the Ozzies. Instead, you have a vagabond stealing a sheep, then drowning himself to avoid arrest. Sweet.

Canada: To our north lies a nation established by the Hudson Bay Company and government bureaucrats. It’s as though the guys at the post office and the guys at the driver’s license office got together and said, “Hey, kids - let’s put on a country!” Not very exciting, perhaps, but never a problem finding postage stamps.

If you want to understand a country’s personality, look to its origins.

It certainly explains why Israel is so tenacious. You have a nation built by an unexiled remnant of a people who have been chivvied from pillar to post these past two millennia, fortified by people who immigrated in the First Aliyah with a dream to build a nation, followed by those who survived the inferno of the Holocaust and World War II. Its citizens, for the most part, share a heritage thousands of years old. They will fight to survive: they have no alternative.

Maybe we’d do well to remember our American origins. No more snivelling! Stand up straight, kick an ass, fix a bridge, and drill an oil well!

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