The year was 1973. As an aeronautical engineer, I was working for Rolls-Royce in London. One fateful morning, I was summoned into the presence of the personnel director. “Jolley,” he intoned, “we want you to go to New York for two years. Find out what makes the U.S. tick and then come back to London.”
All my years of scheming had worked! My South-African-born wife Judy and I never went back to live in London, and in 1984 we proudly became citizens. Today, I can claim a unique 40:40. Forty years lived in each country and a citizen of both.
It all started just before Christmas 1942. As a present, my mother took me to London for the first time. We stayed at the Strand Palace hotel, and for the first sightseeing trip, we walked toward Trafalgar Square. I shall never forget the sight. Striding down toward us was a soldier, well over 6 feet tall, in an immaculate uniform, looking happy and confident like a million dollars. “Mother,” I asked, “who is he?” Her reply, “He is an American.”
Six months later, America’s rearmament program resulted in the appearance of the first Army Air Corps’ B-17 bombers on England’s East Anglian airfields. For a 10-year-old schoolboy, what could be more exciting than seeing huge four-engined silver airplanes droning across the sky, crewed by young men who spoke with a strange drawl and who gave unlimited supplies of a splendid thing called gum chum!
It was all too much. Sometime in that summer of ’43, I announced to my fellow schoolmates that “I wanted to become a Yank.” The nickname was inevitable, and the enthusiasm for all things American grew. There was a B-17 base within a bike ride from home, and a friend and I would sometimes get up early to watch the morning takeoffs, an amazing sight of 60 B-17’s going off to war.
Why did I forsake the U.K. for America?
For lots of reasons:
- A better career opportunity, the weather, the incredible generosity, kindness, friendliness and natural self-confidence of Americans, and the country’s economic self-sufficiency.
- The total lack of “class” that encourages personal entrepreneurship, wonderful fast-food outlets, the wide-open spaces and the sheer size of the country, the efficient interstate road system (sadly in serious need of new funding and repair) and an extraordinarily sophisticated airline system.
- Some of the best newspapers in the world, the wonderfully diverse theater and Hollywood’s ability to make brilliant movies — 600 a year.
- The ability to integrate refugees and make them Americans, a political system that drives one crazy but is still fascinating (Will they ever give the president a six-year term?) and successful national attempts to minimize racism.
There are inevitable downsides. In particular, the obsession with guns, resulting in tragedies like Columbine and Newtown, with 11,000 firearm-related deaths in 2013. Why is it that the text of the Second Amendment to the amazing and brilliant U.S. Constitution has become so grossly distorted over the years? And another thing, the World Cup has hopefully demonstrated to U.S. football enthusiasts that soccer is a really exciting international game and deserves support.
We recently visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York. The U.S. is brilliant at creating war memorials, and 9/11 is no exception. Viewing the site of the two World Trade Centers and listening to the last messages from the victims to their families is a sobering experience.
America is an amazing country. We have serious problems, like the threat of terrorism, air pollution, and for us in Tucson, a very serious water shortage.
I am convinced that we will solve these problems, and that’s why I love America.