Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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My Beloved America Must Change its Ways
Last uploaded : Thursday 15th Sep 2005 at 02:23
Contributed by : Carol Gould


London --

Last year I went back to the USA for the first time in over a decade, having lived in Great Britain for twenty-nine years since arriving there from Philadelphia as a Temple University Abroad student.

What struck me more than anything when I returned to the USA in 2004 was the constant fear Americans have of getting sick and needing a clutch of expensive medications. As a naturalised British citizen, I have long become used to the welfare state. Last year, when I used the word ?socialised medicine?, Jim Brenner of the John Kerry campaign in Boston became highly exercised. My impression was that if even a supporter of the Democrats, FDR?s party, used the word ?socialised? it was some sort of declaration of anarchy. The idea that anyone can be afraid of extortionate costs should they become sick, need tests and be prescribed cutting-edge pills is beyond my comprehension. The idea that even Democrats can become incandescent with rage at the very mention of universal health care is even more bizarre.

In Great Britain we do not pay especially high taxes. We have a good standard of living and we do not feel swamped by ?big government.? However, when the drekk hits the fan the magnificent social welfare system kicks in, and one is left wanting for few needs, if any.

It is wonderful that so many voluntary groups have appeared at their own expense to help Hurricane Katrina victims. But in Great Britain there is such a vast array of superbly-run agencies that very few private citizens would have been needed had a similar catastrophe occurred on these islands. First of all, the National Health Service would have provided scores of doctors and nurses. The social services would have moved to provide shelter and income support, which includes mortgage and rent subsidy, without delay. This is, by the way, not ?big government? but an extension of the concept of Christian mercy and compassion. The Sovereign is the head of the Church of England and is duty bound to protect the welfare of citizens. One felt that GW Bush, as Christian as he is, somehow did not feel inclined to help those black people standing on roofs with ?help? signs waving from their tired and dehydrated arms.

The British military and reserves would have been in place; yes, this is an island race and is used to lots of rain and water, but in 1936 there was already a massive plan in place to evacuate all of Britain?s children in the event of war. Sure enough, the moment war was declared in September 1939 3.5 million youngsters were evacuated to Canada, the USA and to homes in the remote English and Welsh countryside to escape the Blitzkrieg. 48,000 young men, the 'Bevin Boys,' were sent down to the mines to keep the home fires burning and the munitions factories fuelled.

Notwithstanding the image of Britons ?muddling through? in Titanic-style blunders on 'Fawlty Towers,' the resourcefulness and grit of this nation in its darkest hour is legendary. During the Blitz people were without clean drinking water, gas, electricity and plumbing for months and even years. His Majesty King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the royal Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret stayed in London during the bombings and visited the dreadfully damaged homes after each raid. So did Churchill and the charismatic American Ambassador, John Gilbert Winant. One would see well-dressed ladies picking their way around the rubble, determined to get to work each morning.

Of course, the British people had the good fortune to be led by Winston Churchill and the Americans by Franklin Roosevelt. No stuttering incompetence there. One dreads to think what might have been had a Michael Brown clone been in charge of Emergency Preparedness in wartime Britain.

An interesting thing happened to me in my ten-month visit to the USA. I am a proud graduate of Temple (Phi Beta Kappa) and of Girls? High. At age 51 my career profile is pretty impressive. I spent ten months trying to find an interesting career move across the USA. Only one, Theatre Lab DC, sent me a letter of acknowledgement. Some of those job applications were to charities and to government agencies.When I hand-delivered my CV to a major government office in Washington, an irate woman came down to humiliate me in the crowded lobby with a dressing down about my not having provided 'KSAs.' (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities -- she wanted twelve pages of these.) Obviously the folks reading my CV felt it was one for the waste bin. That is a lot of paper trash to dispose of, because I applied for scores and scores of jobs.

Looking at the breathtaking incompetence of my native country that has been flashed across the world in the wake of Katrina, I wonder if I could have made a small difference had I been in one of the jobs for which I applied. I wonder how the great, inspiring, Churchillian Michael Brown and Ray Nagin pick staff?

This is not sour grapes. One looks at the men and women in authority who have generated such breathtaking disorder and wonders how America can survive with such a vacuum of leadership from top to bottom.

At present I am interviewing people who were evacuated during the war. Each has an amazing story to tell. Each is now a thriving senior citizen. In Great Britain we do not have to worry about getting old or sick or caught in a storm. We are looked after from cradle to grave.

Americans deserve the same.

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