“…From the day that I was born I waved the flag,
Philadelphia freedom took me knee-high to a man…”
Once again, the iPod throws up a thought-provoking tune: “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John.
When I was a kid, and when it was first out, I loved that song; it symbolised the patriotism I had been indoctrinated into. For an American child in the 70s, Philadelphia was the place where our great country was born and our liberties were asserted by the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
My British relatives used to get a kick out of having me stand on a chair with my hand on my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I was so proud. I didn’t know till I was much older how much fun they were having.
Not that I’m resentful about it. Knowing what I know now, the concept of the pledge to a flag is intellectually absurd to me. When I went to renounce my citizenship at the US Consulate in London, the consular officer – who was polite and sympathetic throughout – made it a point that I renounce in front of the flag. What is the flag, really? At that moment in time, it was just a piece of cloth, as my decision had been made. I almost burst out laughing.
Which isn’t to say that I am incapable of blubbering like a baby at the American Cemetery in Normandy when the flag goes down and “Taps” is played and I am standing at attention.
I still love the concept of America the Beautiful. But my allegiance to that concept is not determined by my legal relationship to the US Government. Most Americans will assert I can’t have it both ways. To them I say: Eat my shorts. It is you sad f___s who sat aside and watch while Americans abroad get screwed by the USG in the form of tax law. At best, the average American shows indifference to the plight of Americans abroad, at worst, open hostility. For I am either un-American for living abroad or I am trying not to pay my “fair share”.
I repeat here: I have never owed money to the US government since living abroad – the cost of telling the IRS that I didn’t owe them money, as well as the cost of not having a full economic life outside the US – and still remaining compliant with US law – was too much for me. I have a family, I have a business, I have a mortgage. The risk to my future prosperity (i.e., the inability to contribute to a pension or buy an ISA, or sell my only home here in Blighty without paying capital gains to the US government) and that of my family is just too great to remain a US citizen.
From when I was a child, I was told that one of the driving concepts of the US Declaration of Independence was the fact that a sovereign and his (its) people have a pact, and if the sovereign does not hold up his end of the bargain, then the people have the right to be revolting revolt.
But here was my problem: I believed everything I learned about freedom and liberty as an American child. I still do. I am a hopeless romantic idealist. The grown-up in me knows that I will never find that ideal, but I also know that the US government has strayed so far away from that ideal (and maybe it never was anywhere close to it), and that straying affects me personally.
And like someone who has grown up in a fundamentalist church with a literal interpretation of the Bible, but realises that something is not quite right about the practice versus the dogma and leaves the church, it still hurts when I think that I had to renounce my citizenship. (Or else I wouldn’t be writing this right now.)
I still believe in liberty, but I can no longer view the USA as the guarantor of that liberty.
For all I know, “Philadelphia Freedom” was probably not about US patriotism (one never knows), and if it wasn’t, that’s what it meant to me. (Just like Springsteen’s semi-protest song “Born in the U.S.A.” has resonance for people who don’t really get the lyrics.)
But the lyrics quoted above still resonate with me, despite the fact that Philadelphia Freedom no longer shines it light on me.