Love Letter to a Lost America

Illustration by Lucy Zammit

Dear America,

I think it’s time we sat down and had a talk.

I know you’ve been going through a lot lately, what with the slow decline of your middle class and a veritable maniac as your new democratically elected leader. But lately I’ve come to realise that we’ve drifted apart and I’m beginning to think that we’re no longer right for each other.

It’s become clear that you’ve changed. Perhaps I’ve changed the way I look at you. Once upon a time, I gazed upon your timeworn shores with fondness and found courage in your moral righteousness. I can still remember the first time I heard the poetic words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty…

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name,

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

These words accompanied my ascension in the world. When I was born, I was filled with an exuberance that can only come courtesy of youth. I looked out into the world and saw you as my mentor. I looked at your Federation and it inspired mine. I remember when I was vulnerable, with Japan on my door. It was you who came and stood steadfast by my side. Since then I’ve followed your lead, and together we’ve gone into Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. It has cost me deeply, and the scars of war still play on my memory. But I had always thought that it was for the betterment of our pursuit of liberty.

You were born out of a struggle for freedom. Your first statement to the world was bold – a declaration that all are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was these ideals that inspired my actions and the actions of other nations around the world. In following your lead, it was for the benefit of our shared ideals and in furtherance of freedom and democracy; or at least that’s what I thought.

Lately you’ve changed the way you speak, the way you act. You’ve shut yourself off to those who, in a different time would have found refuge in your open embrace. Your minorities live in fear, ostracised and paraded as criminals for the God they find comfort in. When you attempted to bar the entry of peoples based on their country of origin you lost your moral credibility. What scares me even more is that the social progress you’ve made is diminishing.

You’re failing to respect the bodily autonomy of women, revoking the fundamental freedom to decide whether or not to have a child. The passage of Act 45 in Arkansas sickens me to my core.  

The hard-fought civil liberties of your people of colour are being violated. Kids are growing up today in fear of the police that are supposed to protect them from violence, not perpetrate it. When the poverty rate for people of colour surpasses 1 in 4, you know something is terribly wrong with your system. You’ve closed your golden door. Your status as leader of the democratic world is in doubt and I fear that this is only the beginning of your descent inward and away from what used to define you.

Your actions lately have made me reflect greatly on the things we’ve been through together. Now that I’m seeing a different you I realise it’s been there all along – I’ve just made excuses for it.

Your nation was born in a time of abhorrent slavery where the subjugation of other human beings was lauded for its economic benefit. Even though you came out of the civil war determined to end the practice, I don’t feel as if you’ve ever fully come to terms with your past. The injustices of the practice still lives in your society. You haven’t made steps to come to terms with the genocides of your founding, and you’re still abusing your Native population. Native Americans, Alaskans and Hawaiians figure as large percentages of your prison system even though they are a small part of your population.

I admit I was naive. I only have to look to Iraq where it’s impossible to overlook the deaths of 150,000+ innocent civilians. I can’t deny we had a hand in those deaths. Casting my gaze back further I am again horrified in the role I played in the half a million civilian deaths in Vietnam. That’s been on my conscience for quite some time and I don’t think I could be a part of where your new America is going. You’re still bombing innocent people in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Those aren’t the actions of a nation that believes in ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ I can no longer hold my head with pride and declare that standing with you is for the betterment of all when all I see when I gaze back is a trail of devastation and loss.

As you focus inward, stepping back from your role as the leader of the international order I hope I have the courage to do the opposite. I’ve grown up.  I can’t ignore the fact that I’ve developed a vibrant multicultural soul, welcoming people from all over the world with the declaration that I am the sunburnt land of the fair go. Threaded in my fabric is the toil of those wanting a better life, and the solemn belief that what defines me is not origin, complexion, language or culture. What defines what I am is the celebration of diversity. It’s part of my narrative, and I can’t partner with a nation that works to reject it. I’m far from perfect., I’ve got a lot of work to do on myself. I still have to make things right with my traditional owners, I still torture kids in juvenile prisons like Don Dale and by god I have to close the fucking detention camps. But I’m hopeful that perhaps I can regain my moral standing.

I’ve been in love with the idea of you, rather than what you really are. I think for me to continue to grow we need to take separate paths. You’ll always hold a special place in my heart, but I must forge my own way forward.

Love your long-time friend,


Benjamin Caddaye

The author Benjamin Caddaye

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