Thursday, April 07, 1983

The I-don’t-give-a-damn Syndrome

By Carlos Martín-Gaebler

Published on The Daily Tar Heel, Chapel Hill, NC, 6 April 1983

This column is not intended to praise our wonderful basketball team, the beautiful spring at the Hill, or UNC’s reputation as an educational institution. Things like these are on every Tar Heel’s mind. I am a Spanish citizen who has lived in the United States for the past three years and, as an outsider, would like to contribute my political insight to what is going on in this country. Even though I was somewhat reticent at first, I finally decided to write these words out of encouragement from my politically motivated American friends.

It is a shame, tough, that this column may not fall into the hands of the people to whom it is addressed, since they don’t usually read anyway, but spend their time watching soap operas, drinking beer or playing video games. In their apathy, they believe that this is what college is all about. After all, who cares anyway? In Europe we call it the I-don’t-give-a-damn syndrome.

I would like to remind those people, those Americans from Rednecksville, U.S.A., that in this state women still don’t have equal rights; people are still arrested for protesting United States intervention in El Salvador; gay people are still verbally and physically harassed every day, everywhere (in fact, homosexuality is still considered a “crime against nature” punishable with up to 10 years imprisonment in North Carolina); blacks and leftists are still discriminated against and even assassinated by the Ku Klux Klan, and, what’s more, their arrested members are acquitted after a “trial” in which a video, showing the killings, has not been considered sufficient proof. The list could go on and on, but let’s stop here.

In other words, this is not the southern part of any heaven, because nowadays there can be no heaven on a planet which can be blown up in a matter of seconds by either of the nuclear empires.

Now, here comes a little piece of well-intentioned advice: when you leave this country, try to be a little more humble and less presumptuous. Why don’t you let the Russians be the only imperialists, say in Afghanistan, Poland…? But, please let the rest of the world live in peace, free of nuclear threats, military build-ups. Most urgently, don’t let this Administration, which only 25 per cent of the eligible American voters have elected, mess with the red buttons. One never knows when they will push the wrong one. And that is all it would take. President Reagan would like to play cowboys again, but this time with no fake revolvers in front of the camera, but with real MX, Pershing II and cruise missiles, and Star Wars technology, the latest style in military “fashion,” with a European scenario.

Some of us non-US citizens feel that this administration should not talk so much about “American interests abroad” (a ridiculous euphemism standing for blatant imperialist intervention), but should implement and fund more social programs and student aid for its citizens at home.

Also, in 1984, remember that not only other fellow Americans would be grateful if an end would be put to this reactionary-quasi-fascist-Reagan-Weinberger-Kirkpatrick-Helms crowd that seems so much “in charge” these days, but also we Europeans, and others in every corner of this Earth, would breathe in relief if the people of America for once would mind their own business and would not let the McCarthy pupils at the Pentagon and/or the Mortal Majority TV politicos interfere. How about making an attempt to overcome the “Red Scare” paranoia that is so damaging to international detente?

Finally, one last message for those American students going on exchange or on vacation to Europe or anywhere in the free world: try to keep in mind the responsibility you carry with you of regaining your country’s reputable image as that of a leader in human rights and democratic principles that used to exist no so long ago, and in which most allies used to believe. Put down that superiority complex which has so seriously harmed your great country’s credibility abroad. Enjoy different people, different lifestyles, and learn to be citizens of the world!

As far as I am concerned, and before things get any worse and the Reagan administration decides to pull the trigger in Central America, I have made up my mind to leave this country and, by doing so, avoid an unbearable feeling of complicity which I don’t believe I have to put up with.

Since a great number of Americans lack a minimal amount of self-criticism, I just thought that by providing a foreign perspective, I would wake them up and for once be critical of and for them.