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Reflections on American Citizenship by a Former Alien

BBC’s Nik Gowing hosts a live “Special World Debate” with panelists Economic Historian Niall Ferguson, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, Goldman Sachs Jim O’Neill, International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Chairmwoman of Sabanci Holding Guler Sabanci at the Istanbul Congress Center October 3, 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Annual IMF/World Bank meetings are being held this year in Istanbul, Turkey. IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe

I recently read a column by Scottish historian Niall Ferguson in which he described the process by which he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. (You can read the entire column at Several things in his article caught my attention and set me to thinking.

As he began his column, titled “I Picked a Fine Time to Become an American,” he seemed to be speaking sarcastically or at least with a little of his tongue in his cheek. He mentioned that his naturalization ceremony coincided with England’s defeat by Croatia in the World Cup, Trump’s visit to London, and a “gray, overcast morning.”

But then his commentary took on a decidedly different tone as he described the other 1,094 people with whom he was being naturalized: people from 85 different countries, about 20 percent of them from China. And he asked the thought-provoking question, “How many Americans became Chinese citizens this week?”

“Very few,” I think, would be a safe answer. In fact, very few American citizens give up their U.S. citizenship to become citizens of any other country. (Even those who famously declared that they would move to Canada if Donald Trump were elected president have now proven that they’ve thought better of that move and decided to remain here, Trump or no Trump!) There’s a reason for why this is so. The United States is the greatest (and by that I mean the freest, most welcoming, most economically promising, and least volatile) country in the world. No other country can compare, especially not those that have sold themselves to the myths of socialism, communism, and all other totalitarian schemes of government. Even when critics bad-mouth the United States for what they perceive its weaknesses and shortcomings, their continued presence here and their insistence on not giving up their citizenship shows that deep inside they know that there is no other better place to go.

Furthermore, Ferguson described the ceremony, including the oath of allegiance that each candidate took:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service int he Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Then, he said, they pledged allegiance to the U.S. flag; sang patriotic songs, such as “Yankee Doodle,” “This Land Is Your Land,” and “God Bless the USA”; and watched a video speech by President Trump. In it, Trump told the new citizens that this country and its history and traditions were their country, history, and traditions. Moreover, he explained, they now had the responsibility and obligation to teach American values to others and to assimilate into the American way of life.

Ferguson admitted that all of this seemed to his British sensibilities as pure “hokum. But this hokum is now my hokum. And this president is now my president. . . .” He concluded, “Yes, I picked a fine time to become an American–because there is no other kind of time.”

We can only hope and pray that the other 1,094 people present that day experienced the same feelings Ferguson did.

a conservative British historian and political commentator. senior fellow at the Hoover InstitutionStanford University an atheist.

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