Some years ago, I faced up to the futility of reporting truths about America’s disastrous wars, and so I left Afghanistan for another mountainous country far away. It was the polar opposite of Afghanistan: a peaceful, prosperous land where nearly everybody seemed to enjoy a good life, on the job and in the family.
It’s true that they didn’t work much–not by American standards, anyway. In the United States, full-time salaried workers supposedly laboring 40 hours a week actually average 49, with almost 20 percent clocking more than 60. These people, on the other hand, worked only about 37 hours a week, when they weren’t away on long paid vacations. At the end of the workday, about four in the afternoon (perhaps three during the summer), they had time to enjoy a hike in the forest, a swim with the kids, or a beer with friends—which helps explain why, unlike so many Americans, they are pleased with their jobs.
Often I was invited to go along. I found it refreshing to hike and ski in a country with no land mines, and to hang out in cafés unlikely to be bombed. Gradually, my war-zone jitters subsided and I settled into the slow, calm, pleasantly uneventful stream of life there.
Four years on, thinking I should settle down, I returned to the United States. It felt quite a lot like stepping back into that other violent, impoverished world, where anxiety runs high and people are quarrelsome. I had, in fact, come back to the flip side of Afghanistan and Iraq: to what America’s wars have done to America. Where I live now, in the homeland, there are not enough shelters for the homeless. Most people are either overworked or hurting for jobs; the housing is overpriced, the hospitals crowded and understaffed, the schools largely segregated and not so good. Opioid or heroin overdose is a popular form of death, and men in the street threaten women wearing hijabs. Did the American soldiers I covered in Afghanistan know they were fighting for this?
Ducking the Subject
One night I tuned in to the Democrats’ presidential debate to see if they had any plans to restore the America I used to know. To my amazement, I heard the name of my peaceful mountain hideaway: Norway. Bernie Sanders was denouncing America’s crooked version of “casino capitalism” that floats the already-rich ever higher and flushes the working class. He said that we ought to “look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”
He believes, he added, in “a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.” That certainly sounds like Norway. For ages, they’ve worked at producing things for the use of everyone—not the profit of a few—so I was all ears, waiting for Sanders to spell it out for Americans.