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Fourteen years ago I left the US on a one way ticket.  For fourteen years I have ranted and fumed at the US and its foreign policies.  For the last 20 years I have been “Bush-Bashing.”  When I left the US I had no intentions of returning.  It was not the country I had known, and not the country I wanted to know.

America, Love It Or Leave It.  Those were the days, my friends.

America: I loved it, I left it.  I loved it too deeply to suffer shame over it.
As my friend said to me recently, “You never recovered from the Kennedy assassination.”  That’s right… although I remember a few rousing good times during the Nixon impeachment hearings.  He’s right, my friend, but it goes further back from that… I never recovered from Sacco and Vanzetti, Ethel and Julius Rosenburg and the House on Un-American Activities.  I never recovered from Vietnam.  No, I never recovered from a lot of things.

I had an extraordinary interview with a member of the US State Department this morning.  I had made myself a persona non gratis and I was in a difficult position.  My two closest friends and I stayed up till one last night rehearsing what my expected interrogation would be like and how I might answer some strategic questions.

But today turned out to be one of the most wonderful and moving experiences of my life.  I had forms to fill out that said who I was, where I was born and who my parents were.  Three times the official asked me “Did you fill out these forms yourself?”  Three times I said yes I did.  I looked into the steady gaze of a steady young man.  He asked me where my mother was born.  London.  He asked me where my father was born.  Boston.

“What did your father do for a living?” asked the man from the US State Department.

“My father was a Company Commander in the US Army,” I said with some great pride.

Again he asked me, “What did your father do for a living?”  “He was a salesman in a company south of Boston.”  The man from the State Department seemed to want to move on from there, so I had to speak up for another great person who lived her life in honorable service to her country.  “My mother was a teacher,” I said.  “Both my parents have passed away.”  “I’m sorry to hear that,” said the man from the US State Department.  “No, that’s all right,” I said.  “They were both really wonderful people.”  I said.

The man from the US State Department asked me to raise my right hand and to swear what I had told him was the truth.  But what I swore to him was that I love my country, that I love my parents, and that I am proud to claim that my father served with distinction in the Second World War.

So the interrogation I was prepared for never happened.  What happened was an honorable ritual… a right of passage.  I love my country and look forward to returning to try to give some part of my life in its service.  On Sunday I will land in California, a state I haven’t seen for 24 years.  

  1.  The first thing I’m going to do is register to vote.
  2.  I think I’ll take a course in American citizenship, like those for immigrants who want to become American citizens.  
  3.  I think I’ll introduce myself to Barbara Boxer.
  4.  I think for the next six months I’d like to work on voter registration.  That’s what I want to do.

You are all welcome to celebrate with me at my US Passport Party. Champagne’s on the house!

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