Friday, 19 June 2015


Pic courtesy BBC & Getty Images

Once again, we hear of cold-blooded slaughter across the Pacific.

To Australians, the almost routine nature of incidents like these is baffling.

How can a country, which claims leadership of the free world, continue to tolerate a firearm fatality rate which kills 30 of its citizens daily?

How can the same country abide a situation where there is so much broadcast hate (much of it on extremist websites) that it culminates, amongst other things, in a young man, taking his birthday gift into a place of worship, and killing nine of his fellow citizens?

Why don't these incidents happen with such sickening regularity in other developed western nations?

I don't pretend to know much about American culture. Most of my understandings about Americans were developed when I encountered them during my service in Vietnam many decades ago. Later, as a teacher, I was working in Queensland, when Education Queensland recruited many American teachers to fill an unprecedented shortage.

Those two very different experiences drive the following generalizations.

Most Yanks are pretty similar to us in terms of attitudes and values, but there are significant differences. I'll try to specify these differences.

As a group, they take patriotism very seriously. I remember being threatened with physical violence by a GI when in conversation on a bus during R & R in Bangkok, I called American cars "Yank tanks".

They also have deeply ingrained views about race. Again on R & R, there were a group of black GIs (Southerners) staying at my hotel (which rejoiced in the name "Florida"). The white Yanks had nothing to do with them. We (the diggers in the same hotel) found them to be good value, and their sense of humour not unlike ours. We spent a lot of time with them, and by the end of the week. had been invited into a number of soul bars, and found ourselves the only white faces present. We had a great time. The music (Motown) was great, and there were lots of pretty African-American nurses.

This experience showed me that our Australian values (pretty laid-back, generally not taking ourselves too seriously), resembled more those of black Americans than their white compatriots.

The general consensus amongst us was that many Yanks were "up themselves" to use the crudity in use at the time. 

Encounters with American teachers in the late 70s and early 80s have reinforced this impression, together with the observation that as a group their knowledge and appreciation of cultures outside their own is abysmal. They weren't prepared to take advice from us; Australians who were well experienced in our system, and attempted to use strategies which simply didn't work here.

I recall two of these teachers in particular who came to the conclusion that the problem was our system, not their methods, and swiftly returned to the states at the end of their contracts. It reminded me eerily of the US military who believed that they had all the answers to insurgent warfare and wouldn't be told anything by Australians. We know how that worked out.

As one of my digger mates was heard to say - "You couldn't tell them anything, but you could sell them anything". The unique combination of naivety and arrogance was baffling.

The other element of US culture that baffles Australians is their attitude towards firearms. To me,  carrying an SLR in Vietnam was a necessary evil. There were, after all, people trying to kill us. I left the thing behind on return to Australia without regret, and haven't touched a gun since.

This is because (with the exception of some people I encounter when driving) I don't believe anyone is out there trying to kill me.

This, apparently, is not the belief of Americans, if you pay attention to the NRA, and other firearm lobbyists. They obviously believe that there are sufficient homicidal maniacs in their country to warrant every citizen "carrying" as they so elegantly put it. According to this dogma, everyone, including teachers, should be armed. This is despite the fact that there are already 88 guns for every hundred American citizens, that is every man, woman and child in the country.

In Australia, the figure is 15.

It's conceivable, that in my lifetime, we will see a situation where there are actually more guns in the USA than people to shoot them. Somehow, nobody across the Pacific has yet twigged to the fact there is a correlation between firearm prevalence and firearm deaths.

The standard counter-argument to this starkly obvious fact is "because constitution".

I kid you not.

When it comes to hate speech (or more accurately hate posting), there are differences between Australia and the USA.

In this country we have laws against racial vilification. In the USA they don't. One of the results of this is the cancer of hate websites in the USA, most recently, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, numbering 784.

They operate with impunity, and generate fear and loathing. Unfortunately, because the internet knows no boundaries, this cancer has metastasized to the point where it has become a feature of many Australian blog sites.

So what has happened in Charleston is entirely predictable and a product of a combination of race hatred and bizarre gun culture.

Australians as a rule, have more common sense than to stand for this lunacy. Unfortunately, I can see it spreading across the Pacific. Most stateside trends do.

I hope I don't get to see it in my lifetime.

*FBI estimate of active hate groups in mainland USA.

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