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  • Writer's pictureCarrick Ryan

An open letter to Americans from an Australian:Please fear Nationalism.

Hello America, I’m an Australian. Ever since the 2nd World War when you guys came to our shores to help us push back the Japanese (we actually do really appreciate that) we've basically been like your little brother. We've listened to your music, we’ve picked up all your trends, we’ve followed you into every war you've got yourself into since then (the only country in the world to do that). In fact my country's affinity for yours has been so strong that our accent has actually changed in the last 60 years because of all those TV's and movies you’ve made (true story). We like you guys, we have flourished in your rise, and whenever I have found myself in your country I have found myself amongst the most welcoming people on Earth, truthfully. I was lucky enough to study for a semester in Virginia and was overwhelmed by how many mothers that had never met me insisted I come over for a meal. Every Australian knows that whenever he or she is within your borders they need only speak loudly in their Australian twang and suddenly a friendly American smile will appear with an offer of assistance. Now before you start to worry where the “but" comes in I will quickly point out, this is no less true of Trump supporters, at least the ones I have met. I was in Texas just before the election and remain friends with a few great people who clearly see politics in a different way. I take solace in the hope our occasional debates on Facebook have done nothing to lesson the friendships I have built with these amazing people. So fear not, I have not come here to talk you out of supporting your guy, I know quite well there are few things less welcome than an outsider telling you how to run your country and let’s be honest, if far more knowledgeable and eloquent people than me haven’t been able to change your mind then I certainly won't. It's your democracy, your vote. I’m writing this not because I am asking you to not vote for Trump, I am asking you to be wary of just one single thing he has mentioned. Nationalism. You see, as an Australian I’m as patriotic as they come. I get close to tears watching Aussies playing sport (good tears and bad), I am proud of our stable democracy, our quirky culture, and the many great Australians that shared my heritage. But I know that nothing about being Australian makes me better than anyone else. I just happened to be born here. I have grown up enjoying the fruits of its culture and benefitted from the education the state supplied me, but nothing about being Australian, on its own, adds any inherent value to me.

It's worth remembering, the idea of “nations" let alone “nationalism” is actually relatively new in human history. For thousands of years we identified as tribes, then by religions, and usually by race. But only in recent centuries has the notion existed that the mere geographical boundaries in which you were born in somehow defined you and gave you something to fight for. The fine document that the founders of your nation wrote articulated beautifully that all men are created equal, not just those born within your borders. They created your state as a beacon for humanity, an example of how humanity should prevail over identity. For the most part, your ancestors have lived up to these ideals more than we often give you credit for. Over the past 100 years the USA has utilised its strength to spread this ideal, that we as humans have more in common than anything that divides us. You created global orders, international treaties, alliances of nations, and whilst you made mistakes, many hidden from the view of the American voters, as an Australian we always remembered that the Americans, this nation of immigrants just like us, were the guys who would come to our side when an island in Asia became indoctrinated with militant nationalism and began bombing our cities. 

Our friendship was forged because the nation of Japan formed the belief that they were worth more than the people they conquered. Indeed your European allies still preserve monuments to your brave forefathers who stormed the beaches of Normandy because another nation believed their people had been endowed with an inalienable right to rule the world. You have been asked to defend these ideals time and time again, I concede probably more than your share. But remember, we have been by your side every time. 41 of Australia's strongest sons were slain in the fields of Afghanistan, we were there because you were attacked and we didn't think twice to support you. When Obama rightly pointed out, as thousands of Yazedis screamed for help on Mount Sinjar, the world turns to America... and we came too. We are a small nation, but we have given our share. The reason we always have, is because you have always spread that ideal, the belief in humanity over dogmas and ideologies. The notion that every human is worth saving, every life worth defending, whether it be from war, poverty, or tyranny. You were there leading the way, us and the allies we have made trailing behind you. Together, but mainly through your strength and ideals, we have made this world a safer and more prosperous place than it has ever been in history... for all of humanity. So what does it mean to me, an Australian, when your President declares to rapturous applause that he is a Nationalist? To be honest, I hope, sincerely, he doesn’t fully understand what that word means. But I need to make sure you do. History is punctuated by the horrors of people possessed by ideology. Nationalism is the same ideology that drove the Japanese to bomb both our countries 70 years ago, and the Germans to almost destroy western civilization. We know quite well by the brilliantly progressive and pacifistic societies that now occupy those lands that there was no inherent qualities in these people that made them suddenly inhumane and indifferent to the suffering of their fellow humans. 

It was the indoctrination in the ideology of nationalism that permitted it, the sincere belief that being born within the boundaries of their nation somehow made them greater than others. This is not a hyperbolic comparison of Trump to Hitler. I am not accusing you of going down that path. But I am scared that more and more Americans feel that being an American makes them great, when instead it has been Americans that have made America great. They received no supernatural power from being born with an American passport, but grew up believing in the ideals which were proclaimed upon your independence. The moment Americans declare their nation as holding an intrinsic value beyond the ideals for which it stands, you declare to everyone of us that live beyond your border that we are no longer equal, for we are not American. The moment you hold the symbol of your flag above those core ideals of equality and humanity, we lose the very reasons our forefathers fought side by side for the past century. Australians never died for an American flag, and no Americans ever died for our humble flag. They all died for the core beliefs that bind our democracies. They died to advance humanity. They usually died to defeat nationalism. By all means, vote for your jobs, vote to promote your economy, and be proud of your culture (you should be). But please proceed with great caution at the mere mention of the word “nationalism", even if may have been used incorrectly, because the idea that we could lose our big brother, the greatest economic and military power the world has ever seen, to the scourge of nationalism is both heartbreaking and terrifying. 

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