Expat loyalties

Mr Tall is not joining the Taliban, unlike at least one of his fellow Americans. Never the less, he wonders sometimes about just how loyal to his homeland he really is. Mr Tall is an American, from deep, deep, deep in the heartland, the home of Jell-o salads, green bean casserole, and flags on the front porch. But he's chosen to live his adult life far away from his home, he has no plans of returning anytime soon, and he may in fact never go back.

Well, since I don't want to sound like a terminally narcissistic sports star, I'll desist for the moment from referring to myself in the third person. I've been thinking about this national loyalty thing a lot in the past three months, for obvious 9/11-related reasons. In particular, we've seen young Johnny Walker the Pure Islamist Wonderboy creeping from his subterranean Afghan lair. He's likely to face charges of treason or something of the ilk -- as well he should, the little snake.

But it's easy to condemn the obvious. It's also easy to feel patriotic when one is comfortably distant from any need to suffer for a national cause. It's harder to picture my own reactions if -- let's say at age 25, when I'd been in Hong Kong for a couple of years and had met the now-Mrs Tall -- I had been called back to the USA by a military draft. Would I have complained? A resounding yes, and in tedious profusion. Would I have felt a sense of loyalty to my country sufficient to have torn me away from Hong Kong and into boot camp? I don't know.

I get an email newsletter from the Electronic Telegraph in the UK; it's designed especially for expatriates. Recently there was a link to an online discussion about just how one defines an 'expatriate'. Does it simply mean someone who lives in a country he wasn't born in? Does it imply someone who also retains deep ties to his homeland, no matter where he might physically be, or is it someone who consciously cuts those ties? It's a good question. Who are we expatriates, especially those of us who choose to be?