An Exchange on American Values

With her permission, I would like to share with a broader audience, an email exchange I recently had with a student at Tartu University after a speech I delivered there on March 16.  The student’s questions and comments were both thoughtful and thought provoking.   Here is the exchange:

Dear Sir,

Before your lecture at the University of Tartu I only knew what Google had to offer, after it – I knew I had to get your e-mail! : ) Thank you for this oportunity to speak to you once again. I appreciate it.

Thank you for a substantial and thought-provocative speech. The questions addressed were timely, if not to say urgent. As you might have already noticed as a people we are not that talkative (well, except for myself, but I’m a mixture of cultures :), therefore I am also proud of the audience, for they spoke. What you usually get is a silence not only during the speech, but also after it. I am more that satisfied with your explicit and straightforward answers. It’s a pity that we had such little time to discuss them.

And because you happen to be a representative of the country that I study and have a wide range of expertise and experience, I would be very much interested in finding out what you think about some issues concerning USA. In my thesis I study political documents, sort of the core documents of the country, namely The Constitution along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Combined they fullfil each other and give a nice overview of the transformation of american society in terms of inclusiveness and exclusiveness throughout time. Having studied them line by line (taking into account the historical background) there are good reasons to believe that the notion of ‘americanness’ has tremendously expanded. But, taking this a stage furhter, would you agree, considering globalisation as well as the latest developments as 9/11… etc. in the world, that while the notion of ‘americanness’ has expanded (including more and more people), the notion of ‘non-americanness’ (or  America as opposed to the outer world) only strengthened? In the sense that, the notion of  the ‘other’ became more prominent? Which, in fact, is contrary to what globalisation with it’s ‘melting borders’ is supposed to bring.

Once again, thank you for your help. And if it’s not  too much to ask, I wonder if I could maybe once in a while ask you about something that occupies my mind and that you might have a better understanding or experience of? I promise not to bother you with tons of questions, to use it only for learning purposes and not to disclose your email to the third parties 🙂

All the very best & have a great stay in Estonia (the sunshine’s on it’s way)



 It is good to hear that the Tartu speech struck a responsive chord with many of you in the audience.  I certainly enjoyed greatly my meeting with all of you and the interesting questions and comments.  I look forward to other opportunities to engage with Estonia’s next generation of leaders.

As to your question about America’s view of the world post-9/11, I would agree that there was an unquestionable reaction of pain and anger among Americans, reflected in comments such as the one by President Bush noting that those who did not stand with us in the aftermath of the murderous attack on our people, were against us.  At that time, you will no doubt recall that there were spontaneous expressions of solidarity among European publics saying that in this tragedy, they were “all Americans.”  NATO invoked the common defense clause of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty responding to the attack on our country.  And there certainly were instances of fear and suspicion toward individuals who were identified in the minds of our citizens with those who had perpetrated the attack.

But at the same time, there was also a counter-reaction with calls by our government and civic leaders, and individuals throughout the country, not to tar certain ethnic or religious groups with the stain of the 9/11 outrage.  I would argue that this counter-reaction to this day has worked in maintaining our sense of justice and fairness, including through our engagement in Iraq , Afghanistan, the Gulf region, and elsewhere.  Today, I would argue, we have not become more exclusionary, but actually more inclusive.  In President Obama’s current Administration, we are reaching out to our partners as well as to our adversaries in seeking common ground and peaceful solutions to problems.  As you know from our founding documents, Zanna, we still believe that “ certain truths are self-evident”  —  that all men (and women) are created equal, and have the same rights to life, liberty , and the pursuit of happiness.  We hold these values not just for Americans, but for mankind.  Of course we do not always live up to our high ideals.  As human beings we are obviously fallible, but the American ideal in my view is as vibrant today as it was at its inception.  The United States and what we stand for remains a work in progress and will always remain so.  I think that is also the beauty of being an American.

 Hope this gets at your question.


1 Comment

Filed under American Values, Civil Society

One response to “An Exchange on American Values


    My wife’s family has members in Narva and Tartu. I personally spent many hours at “THE AMERICAN CORNERS” location within the Narva library talking with Estonians who had come to check out books about America and American history.
    They were suprised that I had read many of the English books located there.
    I can tell you from experience that Estonians are as interested in America as we are interested in Estonia.
    When I wanted to visit the US Embassy in Tallin a close family member offered to make the 6 hour round trip to take me there. He actually knew where the US Embassy was located without looking it up on the internet.
    My wife is an Estonian Citizen and in fact has asked me if it might be possible for us to retire there.
    I would encourage American companies to dilgently explore forming business relationships in Estonia. The country shares many fine business qualtities with American companies.

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