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Letter to America | The Nation

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Letter to America

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Let me tell you, America, of the hopes I had for you.

About the Author

Ariel Dorfman
Ariel Dorfman’s latest book is Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile. He lives with his...

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As the smoke was swallowing Manhattan and the buildings fell and the terror spread into the farthest recesses of your land and your hearts, my hopes for you, America.

While around the world many of the past victims of your own terror, your own attacks, were thinking and often saying, saying and more often thinking, they deserve it, serves them right, it's about time they knew what it's like to be on the receiving end. Not true, I thought, I said. Nobody deserves terror. Justice. What we deserve, all of us, is some measure of justice.

My hopes for America: not that this was good for you. No, not that. But I have seen suffering before, I have seen widows wandering remote streets with the photos of their loved ones asking if anybody knows if they are alive or dead, I have watched men and women and even countries turn their deepest sorrows into a source of strength, a form of self-knowledge, a chance to grow.

A chance to grow, America, that was my hope.

Loss turned into maturity.

A chance to understand. Not alone, America, not alone in your grief. A perpetual valley of terror, that is what most of humanity is born into day after faraway day. Ignoring if tomorrow we will once again be assaulted and bombed, humiliated and tormented. America suddenly living what almost everyone else on this planet has experienced at some point yesterday or today: the precarious pit of everyday fear.

My hope for America: empathy, compassion, the capacity to imagine that you are not unique. Yes, America, if this dreadful destruction were only to teach you that your citizens and your dead are not the only ones who matter on this planet, if that experience were to lead you to wage a resolute war on the multiple terrors that haunt our already murderous new century.

An awakening, America.

Not to be. What did not happen.

Your country, hijacked. Your panic, used to take you on a journey of violence from which it is hard to return, the men at the controls not worried about crashing America into the world.

But not just the fault of the men who misgovern you.

They can only do what you have allowed them, responding, those men, to some of your deepest desires.

Above all, this: to be innocent again, to feel good about yourselves, after Vietnam. Vietnam? That country you turned into a mass graveyard?

Innocence, handed back to you, America, on September 11, 2001. A terrible price to pay, but there it is. Those atrocities, that devastation, finally making you all into victims. No ifs, no buts, no listening to the naysayers, no patience for those who suggest you look at your own history, your own interventions across the globe, to understand why so many out there in the crazed world might detest you. No more self-doubt, America.

Beware the plague of victimhood, America.

The finger I point at you, pointed back at my own self. I know that thrill, I have sweetly sucked it in, I have felt the surge of self-righteousness that comes from being unfairly hurt. Anything we do, justified. Any criticism against us, dismissed.

Beware the plague of fear and rage, America.

Nothing more dangerous: a giant who is afraid. Projecting power and terror so the demons within and without will not devour him, so the traumas of the past will not repeat themselves.

Beware the plague of amnesia, America.

Or have you forgotten Chile? Not just a name. Chile? Democratic Chile? Demonized, destabilized by your government in 1973? Chile? That country misruled for seventeen years by a dictator you helped to install?

And other countries, other names. Iran, Nicaragua, Congo, Indonesia, South Africa, Laos, Guatemala. Just names? Just footnotes in history books, your creatures?

But I do not speak to you only from afar.

An insider.

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