European Tour 2008 - Monuments to Americans

Giorgio Washington, Lugano
Giorgio Washington, Lugano

"Giorgio" Washington in Lugano, Switzerland, under a cupola on the lakeside promenade.

The Rough Guide to Switzerland says that George Washington never set foot in Lugano, but a nineteenth-century Swiss entrepeneuer who made a fortune in the US donated the statue as a "mark of honor towards the land of opportunity across the ocean."

Thomas Jefferson, Paris

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and our third president, is seen here in Paris, beside the Seine. Jefferson was ambassador to France 1785 - 1789.

Miles Davis in Montreux

Bust of Miles Davis on Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. Nearby is the Miles Davis Hall, an auditorium for musical performances. In front of it are statues of Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, B. B. King and Ray Charles (see below).

Ray Charles in Montreux
They hate us because of our freedom

Graffiti on a tourist telescope in Como, Italy. Rough translation: "America shit. Go out from Europe with your fucking military bases and your fucking 'democracy'."

The Italians have reasons for resenting the presence of the US military in their country.

In 1998 a US marine pilot based at Aviano Air Base near Venice was hot-dogging his EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare plane through the mountains of northern Italy when he clipped a ski-lift gondola cable, sending 20 people plunging to their deaths. Although the plane was flying only 300 feet above ground at 540 mph, in violation of orders to stay above 1000 feet, the pilot and navigator were acquitted of negligent homicide and manslaughter by a military court in the US.

On February 23, 2003 a band of about twenty CIA operatives kidnapped cleric Abu Omar off of a street in Milan. Abu Omar had been granted political asylum in Italy. The operatives drugged him and drove him to Aviano Air Base, near Venice. From there he was transported ultimately to Eqypt, where he was imprisoned and tortured. The kidnapping interrupted an Italian investigation of Abu Omar and a Milan judge issued criminal charges against the CIA operatives. Most, including Robert Seldon Lady, a former Milan CIA station chief, and Joseph Romano, a USAF lieutenant colonel at Aviano Air Base, were convictd in absentia.

In 2005 a US soldier in Iraq killed Nicola Calipari, Italy's number two man in military intelligence, and wounded Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian journalist, as they were approaching an automobile checkpoint near the Baghdad airport. A judge in Rome demanded that the soldier, Mario Lozano, be put on trial in Italy, but the US government would not hand him over. The US declared Lozano was just doing his job.

I wasn't looking for expressions of anti-Americanism when I traveled through Europe Old-Bull-Lee-style in 2008. This graffiti was the only instance I saw. I was aware, however, of ongoing peace movement protests at the Aviano and Vicenza bases.

George W. Bush said, "They hate us because of our freedom." But perceptive and informed people worldwide knew the main reason they hate us is not our freedom or "democracy" but our nation's imperial hubris, manifested by 750 military bases used to occupy and subvert foreign peoples and to project American power and commercial influence. What surprised me was to see this sentiment crudely expressed on the edge of beautiful Lake Como.

This graffiti brought to mind Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian who objected to the presence of non-Muslim military forces in Muslim countries. In the 1980's he got American support when he and his followers fought against the Soviet military occupation of Muslim Afghanistan. But in the 1990's he demanded, in fatwahs and press interviews, that the US end its military presence in Saudi Arabia, the country of Muslim holy sites. The US ignored him, preferring to base US policy on the wishes of the oil-rich layabouts who rule Saudi Arabia and American businesses that profit from our imperialist ventures in Asia.

Bin Laden retaliated with the 9/11 terror attack, where 15 of the 19 highjackers were Saudis. Propagandized Americans still believe bin Laden organized the attack because he hates our freedom.