A gentle reminder that Australia and America are not the samePosted: May 3, 2011
When President Obama announced Sunday night that the United States had killed Osama bin Laden, it was around 12:30 pm Monday here in Australia. I was working at my internship with an outdoor interest magazine. The past weekend’s royal wedding was dominating office conversation, until one of my Australian co-workers interrupted, saying, “The U.S. says Osama bin Laden is dead.” Someone else said, “He is?” “The U.S. says so,” she replied with a hint of skepticism.
The conversation ended there, though I’m sure most of my co-workers spent the next several minutes checking their preferred news websites–I know I did. For the rest of the afternoon, we didn’t discuss the news. Someone mentioned Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was giving a speech in response, but that was it.
Back at my dorm, the reactions were much the same: no one really had any. Initially, the only reactions I saw were from the other Mizzou study abroad students living in the building. We gathered in the hallway, watched the video of Mizzou students celebrating in Greektown, and bemoaned the fact that all the exciting stuff happens while we’re gone.
At 7 p.m., about seven hours after the news broke, just two television channels were discussing the news during their regularly scheduled nightly newscasts. There were no special reports, no interrupted programming, or anything like that. I didn’t have access to a TV then, so I don’t know what the television media reaction was like when the news broke, but I was quite surprised at how quickly programming had gone back to normal. As I watched the newscasts, I finally got the opportunity to gauge everyone else’s reactions. I was startled by how different they were from the scenes portrayed on American news websites.
Most people here were satisfied that an evil man had been killed, but there was no jubilant celebration. The Australian and international students took a more skeptical view of the news. They questioned the United States’ decision to spend ten years, billions of dollars, and countless lives on the operation to find bin Laden. They debated the ethics of celebrating a death, no matter how evil the victim. They questioned if the whole thing was an elaborate hoax, since the US had not released photos or video of bin Laden’s body. They worried about retaliation against Americans from governments and terrorist organizations.
The U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert for American citizens travelling worldwide. If I were in the Middle East, I would probably be scared silly right now, and justifiably so. But here in Australia, I feel reasonably safe. Australia is an American ally, but I think–I hope–they haven’t played a big enough role in the war on terror to be considered a serious target.
As for my personal experiences as an American, the worst abuse I’ve dealt with so far is from people who feel the need to blame me for everything my government has done. In America, people spent the night waving flags and chanting “USA.” Here, when I quietly admitted I’m proud to be an American, I was faced with a torrent of verbal abuse.
Like most citizens, I don’t agree with everything America’s government has done. Yet some of my fellow students feel the need to chastise me for everything they feel is wrong with America. It’s infuriating, and I admit there have been a few moments where I wish I were at home where I can–usually–wave a flag without being made fun of.
But as much as I complain that all the good stuff happens while I’m gone, it’s been interesting to see such a major international news story unfold from outside America. There are no parties in the streets. No one is waving flags or congratulating themselves on a job well done. Instead, they’re thinking about the future. While Americans are caught up in patriotic fervor, the rest of the world is looking on calmly, skeptically, wondering what is going to happen next.