I love political jokes (not if they’re elected, though). The recent discussion on my blog in the comments about some political(ly flavored) jokes that have been deleted, has prompted me to explain further why I don’t want them on my blog, my personal space.
A couple of weekends ago, extra police were monitoring Bergen’s main town square (Torgalmenning) because there was an anti-Israel demonstration taking place, and the police were expecting trouble. My stomach instantly tied itself into a knot. I told the people I was with that such demonstrations, with heated arguments, black-and-white thinking and accusatory rhetoric, took me back to my childhood, and not in a good way. For that reason, I do not like extreme views or the aggression that accompanies them: Somebody gets hurt and the “victim” may not be who you think it is.
When I was 8 years old, I came to Norway with my grandma and grandpa. Both were pacifists, having seen first-hand what war did to people. My grandma often told the story of how one of her co-workers, who became a close friend, had avoided going to Vietnam by refusing to carry a weapon. He spent his tour of duty cleaning toilets – proudly. My grandpa had spent 6 years in convoys crossing the Atlantic during World War II and had been torpedoed a number of times. My grandparents were peace-loving and tolerant people and I was raised in a home where I never heard any political or racial slurs.
So we arrived in Norway and due to circumstances, found ourselves settling here, and sending me off to school – regular Norwegian school. The bullying started almost immediately. It’s amazing how much it can hurt to be called an American, if the word is spat out. I didn’t understand why it was wrong to be an American. My grandparents told me that some people in Norway didn’t like that the US was fighting in Vietnam. I knew there was a place called Vietnam and that American soldiers were fighting there, but that was it. Vietnam was never discussed in front of me at home; the 6 o’clock evening TV news was always turned off if dinner was served at that time. My folks didn’t believe in exposing a child to such horrors, and they also believed in peace at the table.
But in Norway, nobody thought to tell their kids not to pick on another child because of something that was an adult-only matter. My schoolmates probably heard a lot of crap said about Americans at home and I became fair game. The grown-ups never actually asked what my family thought so they never knew that these particular Americans were absolutely against the Vietnam war.
Norway in the late 1960’s and well into the 1970’s listed heavily to the left. The general trend in the nation was to support communists and bash Americans. This filtered down to me as a child via the bullying. Any discussion about America usually put me on the defensive, because I rarely met someone who said anything positive or supportive. When I left Norway in 1976, I practically hated it. It hadn’t given me anything I wanted to keep. When I came back in 1981, the political wind had changed directions, I was no longer a kid, and I met people who had been to the US and liked my country. I liked this Norway. Years later, the “reds” of Norway themselves acknowledged that they had gone too far and had been unfair to the US and quite naïve about the communists. I still encounter the sweeping generalizations – “Americans are idiots to elect that guy!” – but since I also enjoy more support, it doesn’t sting like it used to.
Some of my Democrat friends showed no mercy in their comments when George W. Bush was (re-)elected, and it was too much for me. The extremist point of views and name-calling do not sit well with me. I know first-hand that the effect such attitudes have is not to wake the other side up, but to make them respond in kind, and to create divisiveness, always catching someone in the middle – and that someone may be a child. So when I say I don’t do politics here, that’s why. The child I once was doesn’t want to relive this.