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August 06, 2008


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Jurjen S.

A quite fascinating and illuminating lecture, not least from the perspective of one such myself, a naturalized US citizen who also maintains citizenship of his country of birth (in my case, the Netherlands). As a holder of dual citizenship, I do take issue to some extent with this passage, from the mouth of Prof. Casper's hypothetical federal judge:

"The forswearance of allegiances that the oath still demands, nowadays means to indicate to you that the obligations you take on are a very serious matter, as is your commitment to participate in the governance of our country, to become one of 'the people.' For purposes of governance, you cannot and you should not
serve two masters."

The reason I take issue with this exhortation is that the United States' government itself has in practice taken, and continues to take, a rather ambivalent stance on this matter, particularly with regard to military service. Military service cannot be other than an aspect of participating in governance, as the members of a country's armed forces are agents of the state.

As a historical example, consider the American Volunteer Groups; American aviators and ground crew recruited from active duty in the American forces to form part of the Republic of China Air Force in its fight against the Japanese, and paid and equipped to this end by the United States' government, albeit clandestinely, as at the time, the United States was not yet formally at war with Japan. The AVGs were to have fought under Nationalist Chinese colors (only the 1st AVG, the "Flying Tigers," actually did) and would thus, formally, have been agents of the Chinese state. In other words, the US government was perfectly content to allow the AVGs' member to--at least formally--"for purposes of governance, [...] serve two masters," and despite doing so, said airmen are, in American popular culture, generally considered to be heroes.

Conversely, the United States' government to this day requires male foreign nationals between the ages of 18 and 26, resident in the United States, to register with the Selective Service System, and asserts the authority, in the event of the reinstatement of conscription, to draft into its military service foreign nationals resident in the US as it would American citizens. In this, the US government does not so much require an individual to "serve two masters [for purposes of governance]," but to serve (at least as primus inter pares) a master whom the foreign national has not formally accepted as a "master."

It is at this point that we need to set aside romantic notions regarding why, in this age of globalization, foreign nationals go through the process of naturalization and become US citizens. Speaking from my own perspective, I came to the United States as the fiancé of an American citizen, and while I love living in the United States, I would have been happy to remain a permanent resident, holding only Dutch citizenship. The problem is that US law places upon resident aliens almost all of the duties of citizenship (everything except jury duty, in fact), with none of the benefits attendant upon citizenship. In short, once you're a resident alien, you might as well become a citizen because there's no benefit to NOT becoming one.

If this comes across as cynical, understand that this is simply a result of the realities of federal law to which resident aliens are subject. The overwhelming majority of us had (and will continue to have) decided, well before we undertook our oaths/affirmations of abjuration, that we liked the United States well enough to live here, and to wish the country and its inhabitants no harm, and would not participate in any foreign venture to inflict such harm. Actually taking the oath makes no difference to that. Frankly, given that I had to wait an extra month to be naturalized because I wanted to state an affirmation, rather than an oath, and the Department of Homeland Security evidently wasn't set up to take that in its stride, my loyalty to the United States would, if anything, have been undermined by the process.

At the same time, one should not confuse loyalty to a government with loyalty to the nation it supposedly represents. While I detest the current government of the United States (as does at least 50% of the American people), I do love the country and its people. I happen to have an evidently particularly hard to pronounce name, but nowhere else but in the United States--including in my country of origin--have people tried so hard to pronounce it correctly, or been so apologetic about getting it wrong. Insignificant as it may seem, these things matter on a personal level, and it's a courtesy I have yet to receive from any self-styled Euro-sophisticate who likes to go on about how Americans don't (and, it is implied, can't) understand or respect foreign cultures.

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