Travel Teaches About Nationalism

America, Love It or Leave It

It seems the country is so divided these days. People say if you don’t love the country you should go somewhere else, or “go back where you came from”. Ironically, that kind of statement is very un-American. Just because you don’t agree with what is going on and you speak up about it doesn’t mean you hate America. Quite likely it means you love America and want to see it be better than it already is. If more people traveled, they might get a different perspective.

Eyes opened in the Soviet Union

Just after college I traveled to Europe and spent some time in Finland. Part of that trip was a side trip for a few days to Leningrad in the Soviet Union. (The name has now reverted to St. Petersburg.) I was with a group of students and recent college graduates. They warned us not to bring any anti-Soviet printed material into the country. At the border, Soviet soldiers came on the train to check passports and sometimes check through luggage. One person had a Time magazine and it had a page advertising a bunch of books, each with a picture about an inch by an inch. One of these was a book that was critical of the Soviet Union. The guard tore that little part out of the magazine. We figured he must have been alerted to look for that issue of Time.

The trip organizers told us to be careful what we said because our rooms were likely bugged and that they would be searched when we were out sightseeing. If all of that doesn’t give you an appreciation for the freedom of speech and thought that we have, I don’t know what will. We should not be trying to shut down other viewpoints in the US but instead be encouraging dialogue. As the Germans found, you can too easily fall into a dictatorship that doesn’t allow dissent.

Eyes Opened Further in Poland

While in Finland I met a Polish girl who was an engineering student. (She later managed to get to Canada and is now a professor of engineering there.) After my time in Finland I spent some time in Belgium. While there I got a visa and managed to visit her in Poland for a few days and stay with her family. They generously shared what they had while I was there even though the country was very poor at the time while under Soviet domination.

Almost every night I was there some of her friends came over. We talked until late into the night. It was fascinating hearing about their experiences and debating politics. They longed for the freedoms that we had.

We talked about anything and everything. But then during the day as she showed me the sights, several times she shushed me and said you don’t know who is listening, we will talk about that when we get home. It was like something out of George Orwell’s 1984. That really gets your attention and makes you glad to live in America.

Embrace Our Differences

No one here in the US wants to experience on a daily basis what I saw in the Soviet Union and communist Poland. So please, think before saying America, love it or leave it. Be open to listening to other people. Try listening to different news channels. Just listening to one news channel or news channels that all have the same point of view is just as bad as the controlled media in the Soviet Union.

When I was in the Soviet Union, our two tour guides were speaking in Russian and I heard one use the word Pravda. (It caught my ear because that was the name of the Communist Party newspaper which was known for giving very biased information. In today’s lexicon, it was famous for fake news.) I asked her what pravda meant and she said “truth”. I cracked up laughing that Truth was the name of the newspaper.

So welcome diversity, look for various opinions. Usually one side is not all right and the other is not all wrong. We only make ourselves better by working through our differences and compromising rather than sticking to one ideology. Sticking to rigid ideologies will destroy this great country over time.

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