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Steve Earle - An American In Limbo, 2003
Steve on BBC 4 radio,  5 April 2003 (5 mins)
aired 5 April 2003

An American In Limbo

By Steve Earle

Contrary to popular belief, Iím a pretty typical American. I speak only one language and until I was thirty-one I had never travelled farther afield than Mexico. I like baseball, stock car racing, lots of ice and consider the importation of Dr Pepper to be one of the greatest cultural advances in British History. On the other hand, over the years, and as direct result of my travels Iíve learned to appreciate black and white pudding, a good curry, dance hall reggae, and football (go Gunners!). Iíve also come to believe that all Americans could benefit from the nationalistic out of body experience of watching from abroad as our nation goes to war.

This ainít my first rodeo. When the first Gulf War broke out I was touring out in Australia and I was amazed at the difference in tone of the coverage in the newspapers as well as on television and radio. Back home in the states our media has become increasingly homogenized as large corporations buy up local newspapers and broadcast outlets. I used to think that subscribing to the New York Times when you live in Nashville, Tennessee was pretentious, that is until our local Pulitzer prize winning paper was bought out. On this side of the pond I can still pop over to the newsagent and purchase a wide array of broadsheets and tabloids espousing a variety of viewpoints. Iím obviously The Guardian type, but I read The Independent daily and  I occasionally pick up a Times or a Telegraph just to see what those guys are up to.  The end result is that I am, I believe, better informed abroad than I am at home. The sad fact is that in the brave new world of high speed digital information most Americans wouldnít take the time to read a good newspaper if they had one.

I left the States on the 1st of March knowing full well that, barring a miracle, I would be returning to a nation at war. The tour began in Milan and I followed the last ditch attempts by the United Nations and the governments of France, Germany, and Russia to avert catastrophe as we made our way north though Western Europe retracing the steps of conquerors. Hannibal. Caesar, and Napoleon slept here. In Berlin we played rock Ďní roll in a circus tent pitched in the shadow of the Reichstag. As I stopped to sign a few autographs on the way to the bus a fan, a guy about my age, presented me with a faded GDR flag. He said ďthis is the flag of the country I was born in.Ē

We were in Oslo when the first bombs fell on Baghdad and Stavenger when the ground war began. Most people that I talked to seemed to understand that my views vary widely from that of the administration that is currently in power in Washington but I would occasionally encounter a tenacious soul who asked hard questions and expected me to answer for the actions of my government.

Fair enough. I am a voting, politically involved member of a more or less democratic society and am therefore accountable for this war. signing the ďNot In Our NameĒ statement that ran in the New York Times late last year wonít get me off the hook. When this is all over I will be have to answer along with every single American and British citizen to the World Community. We will have to learn to live with the blood on our hands. The blood of hundreds and possibly thousands of Iraqis, Brits, Australians and Americans. Men, women and children. Combatants and non-combatants, alike, they all bleed the same color and the stain cannot be removed by any substance known to mankind. Water canít rinse it off. Desert sun canít bleach it out. And oil only leaves a telltale stain of itís own.

After the Bergen show, a fan wondered,Ē arenít you ashamed of being an American?Ē

I said ďHell, no.Ē  Woody Guthrie was an American. So were John Reed, Emma Goldman and Martin Luther King.  Sad?  Yes.  Guilty?  Sometimes.  Embarrassed?  Often.  But never, ever ashamed?  Not in a million years, for I am descended from a long line of Patriots, steeped in two centuries of resistance and dissent and I still believe that Americans are a good people who aspire to be a great nation, which is a noble pursuit. And like every potentially great nation that came before us, history will judge us by how we seek to realize that ambition.


 © 2003 Steve Earle  ó   All Rights Reserved

© 2003-2005   Clint Harris  (clint@steveearle.net) – All Rights Reserved
© 1995-2003Lisa Kemper  – All Rights Reserved

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