November 13, 2004

They Sent Us Love Notes, We Sent Back Rants

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- The world sent us delicately worded letters, asking for our friendship yet eager not to intrude, written in longhand and sent in the mail.

We sent back a flood of hateful e-mails in return.

Marina Celina McCall of Uruguay sent us this ardent note:

“I remember sitting in my junior high school classroom in November 1963,” she wrote to a correspondent in Ohio. “A nun came in to call us to the chapel to pray for the president of the U.S., who had been shot. I remember sitting for two days watching on TV and crying like I had never cried before, just like I cried on September 11 when the twin towers collapsed.

“I have loved America ever since, and it is because of this love that I write to you today. Because I’m saddened to what is happening to America’s image abroad and the hatred I see all around me.”

That is just one of more than 14,000 letters sent by people who live outside the United States to swing voters in Clark County, Ohio, before last week’s national election. The letters were sent as part of a campaign organized by the Guardian newspaper of London, which encouraged people in Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia who felt their lives would be affected by the election, to express their feelings to people with a vote.

Old Grudges

Ms. McCall urged her Ohio correspondent to vote for John Kerry because “dialogue is what Mr. Kerry is offering and that is what the world needs now. I would please beg you to vote for all of us that cannot, but whose lives are affected by the decisions take by the leader of the free world.”

As a result of setting up a channel through which non-Americans could reach actual voters in Clark County, Ohio, the Guardian was deluged with thousands of vicious e-mails from Americans all over the country.

It would be impossible to print in this newspaper the e-mails that the Guardian published. Wishes that sudden death, bad luck, and tooth decay be visited on the Guardian’s editors were numerous. Every act of human elimination was invoked in capital letters. Grave threats were made.

“Keep your noses out of our business,” read one of the milder notes. “As I recall we kicked you out of our country back in 1776. We do not require input from losers and idiots on who we vote for in our own country.”

When I lived in England in the middle 1990s, I was amazed how both the Brits and the Irish invoked centuries-old battles with the freshness of a recent grudge. Now I am hearing the same thing here.

So Cynical

When is it going to sink in that we all live together on this one beautiful earth, and that if we want to survive we’re just going to have to get along?

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet,” said President John F. Kennedy in a commencement speech at American University in 1963. “We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

History can sometimes reach such a point that the noblest aspirations we’ve ever managed to articulate can come to sound outdated and naïve. Have we really become so cynical that Kennedy’s call to common humanity no longer moves us?

In the election just past, the world was for John Kerry by 8 to 1.

That certainly doesn’t mean that John Kerry should have been elected. The campaign was enlightening, the election was fair, and we got the president that most of us wanted and that we as a nation deserve.

Kind Words

I’m just saying, we can’t tell 7/8 of the world to shove it.

Already our foreign policy has made us unpopular around the world. Of course, governments sometimes have to take unpopular positions.

But the role of individuals can be different. Even when governments clash, on a personal level there can be peace. Hospitality can thrive. It’s not easy but it can be done. It’s one thing that individuals who otherwise feel powerless in the face of great world events, can actually do.

Kennedy also said in his commencement speech:

“ What kind of peace do I mean?" Kennedy asked. "Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. I am talking about genuine peace, not merely peace for Americans, but peace for all men and women; not merely peace in our time, but peace for all time."

He didn’t specify how to attain that peace, but here is my suggestion for a good start: politeness by politeness, kind word by kind word.

Copyright @ 2004 The McGill Report