Home of the brave

Independence Day celebrates, among other things, America's repulsion of the alien. Today the land of the free and the home of the brave is often nurse to a great deal of force and fear, and 235 years on from its declaration, the cherished independence is still threatened by the alien.

One such alien was Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who was characteristically amused by the form he had to fill in to gain entry to the US in 1921. He recorded the incident in “What I saw in America.”

One of the questions on the paper was, “Are you an anarchist?” To which a detached philosopher would naturally feel inclined to answer, “What the devil has that to do with you?” ... Then there was the question, “Are you in favor of subverting the government of the United States by force?”Against this I should write, “I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour and not the beginning.”... But among many things that amused me almost to the point of treating the form thus disrespectfully, the most amusing was the thought of the ruthless outlaw who should feel compelled to treat it respectfully. I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting down to write with a beautiful gravity, “I am an anarchist. I hate you all and wish to destroy you.” Or, “I intend to subvert by force the government of the United States as soon as possible, sticking the long sheath-knife in my left trouser-pocket into your President at the earliest opportunity.” There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists... are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies.

I doubt whether this touching naivete obtains in contemporary US customs officials, but the questions come out of an enduring disquiet about America's natural predators. More than 30 years from the end of the Cold War, the communist is still a dreaded bogey. The word “socialism” makes grown men quake. There is much to admire about what America has meant and won in the world, but I'm afraid their tight grip on freedom will finally choke it. FDR told them they had nothing to fear but fear itself; I don't think they heard him.