I have been looking at my country though the eyes of a Don Watson, an Australian historian/speech writer.  His latest book is called “American Journeys.”  He quotes de Tocqueville, of course, and Mark Twain, and a whole lot of people he meets on train trips and at truck stops, people no one has ever heard of.  For me, it makes for fascinating reading because of what it reveals about the Australian point-of-view.

“The celebration of success…is the blossom on the entrepreneurial tree, the profitable realisation of the driven, creative self: or, if you prefer, the fulfillment of the plan God has for every one of us.  Americans, including the President, sometimes speak of entrepreneurs as if they followed a divine calling, one not mentioned in the Ten Commandments only because God knew an entrepreneur was not the sort of person you can regulate.”

The date of America’s post war Pearl Harbor came and went without much fanfare here in Australia.  They write the date backwards, so it is 11-9, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it.  Day, month, year.  And they don’t call 911 in the event of an emergency, (they call 000) so the date itself loses a bit of the resonance it has in the U.S.A.

I have been to the top of the World Trade Center three times.  We took two of our children the last time, and pointed out where we used to live in Battery Park City.  It was right on the Hudson River, built on top of the landfill from the construction of the twin towers.  It wasn’t really a proper New York neighborhood at that time, but our apartment had one characteristic which was remarkable in New York City, it was quiet.

I was in Washington D.C. when the Towers were hit, working at a conservation organization a few short blocks from the White House. We were all absolutely transfixed at the sight of the silver plane heading straight as an arrow into the slender tower.  First one, then two.  Over and over again, as long as you could bear to watch.

When the plane hit the Pentagon the television event suddenly took on a pressing reality.  We were awfully close to the Capitol and it occurred to us that the drama might not be over.  We hovered around a handful of televisions until the CEO called us together.  There was a rumor that the subway line going out to Virginia (past the Pentagon) was no longer running and that the whole system might be shut down.

He suggested that we get home as soon as possible.  On foot, if necessary. It was one of the few days I had worn loafers rather than walking shoes, and I was eight miles from home. Fortunately, the rumor was wrong.  Unfortunately, the unbelievably horrible event that we had witnessed on television had actually happened.

Now, some of the other financial towers in New York City are toppling. There will be a lot of fallout.  We may be as close as we have come to a financial meltdown since the Great Depression.  The only silver lining that I can see is that it just might wake my countrymen from their torpor and sideline the Republican McCain/Palin machine.  Another four years would be twelve years too many.  Financially, morally, environmentally.

With a hurricane ripping up Texas, a deadly train wreck in California, Obama’s momentous march to the White House derailed by a white female redneck from the least populous state in the Union, what more could go wrong?

(photograph taken of Katrina, unattributed)

It’s positively peaceful in Ausltalia and spring is on the way.