The Vanity of Nations

Issue 2’s Editor’s Note

Illustration by Miguel León | Written by Joel Campbell

The sky beneath the aluminum carriage was illuminated by amber, sapphire and emerald explosions as it passed over Washington D.C. The sunrise would mark America’s Independence Day. For the first time, I wouldn’t be on American soil to see it.

I woke up over Ireland according to the in-flight tracker. A glance out of the window only revealed a soft blue stratosphere. I readied my passport as the nose dipped. The hues of green and shades of brown were calming. Even the noiseless traffic seemed relaxing. Nothing from my aerial perspective denoted a national holiday though. After landing I walked through the labyrinth of belt barriers to the Garda station. Considering the day and absence of stamps from my passport I flipped it to the Independence Day page. I handed it to the border guard and had it promptly returned. “I don’t think you need a stamp,” he said. Briefly puzzled I agreed and asked for one just to be safe. I didn’t realize that the gold eagle insignia and navy blue cloth were enough.

Ireland doesn’t seem to fit within the traditional caricature of rich and poor countries. The reality is that their corporate tax loopholes replicates the preferential treatment afforded by states around the world. Free trade zones, duty-free shopping, and tax havens are designed for the enrichment of a few. It’s not only politicians and corporate shareholders, consumers benefit from them as well. The ability to purchase goods 24/7 or assumption that a passport is enough to travel with are some trickle-down perks. The drawing of preferential access lines for Western citizens, consumers, and corporations is detrimental to foreign self-determination.

This pattern of building beneficial infrastructure is not unique to the American empire. The World War I-era Sykes-Picot Treaty, depicted on the previous pages in Carving up the World, was the divvying of the Ottoman Empire and other territories by the French and English. The rigid lines in North Africa today are the scars of such actions. Had either the French or English citizenries, political classes, or militaries decided that imperialism was unjust they could have prevented or ended it with greater impact and ease than their colonial subjects. The uprisings in the 20th Century were an attempt to wrest control from colonial rulers. While some French and English citizens dissented against their respective empires, they lacked a critical mass to end them.

It is difficult to think beyond immediate surroundings. Even cities can seem too large to adequately handle. It is understandable why the State Department can set the foreign policy tempo so effectively: the entire organization is the size of a small city. The feelings of isolation and disorientation in the face of state and corporate policy is normal. The power and alleged prestige of these forces often dampen democratic tendencies. They do no snuff them out though. In the 1980s the Solidarity movement used a variety of local tactics to draw attention to the continuum of foreign policy. The U.S.-backed dirty wars in Central and South America begot a refugee crisis in which thousands fled northward, dramatized in films such as El Norte. Ann Arbor and Detroit, responding to citizen and church-led practice of sanctuary, codified it. This response recognized that solving problems locally would contribute to the national and international issues.

In this issue our writers and artists examine their roles in an international context. Dustin Matthews discusses how to get around the world in a contributive fashion. TJ Kimball and Evan Potyrai will lead you through the streets of India to a boarding station. You’ll disembark in Florence where I’ll show you the art-soaked walls and muse on the city’s democratic veins. I’ll leave you in a café to discuss new perspectives with Jenna James. We’ll sit down later to view her artwork and reflect on the human condition. After all is said and done, I’ll offer up a final thought with a nightcap. It’s a lot to take in, might as well do it over a drink.

Realizing that we are a part of a continuum is different than the traditional portrayal of affairs. Despite interacting daily with the global community, we are seldom directed to examine it. As I settled into my stay at the Dublin airport I was dismayed by the ease afforded to me because of my passport. While I have yet to lobby the Consulate General of Ireland to tax “American” corporations, the citizens around the country calling for corporate and state accountability are doing just that. The power of my passport abroad is affected by how my domestic government behaves. Unlike 95 percent of the world’s population, American citizens can actively engage in the governance of the United States. Rather than wait for an election cycle action can be taken now. It is the essence of democratic citizenship.

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