Only in the USA — refugee Madeleine Albright meets a refugee from Ethiopia
By Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Emeritus Faculty in Humanities, Austin College
May 18, 2022
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The death of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in April brought reflections of praise from many who knew her; and some criticism from those who believed she was too hawkish in some instances. Her early years in eastern Europe during the Holocaust may have influenced her in this direction. 

What I will never forget is her account of a ceremony granting U.S. citizenship to mostly refugees-- she was a speaker. Afterwards, she shook the hand of a proud Ethiopian only a few minutes into his new US citizenship. He said to her that only in the USA could a refugee meet like this with the Secretary of State. Albright replied that only in the USA could a refugee become Secretary of State!

The late Madeleine Albright’s reply underlines one of the many reasons why so many in the world are eager to risk being a refugee in the USA, especially from countries in conflict. Ukrainians are the most recent example of a nation in conflict. Many are coming to the USA-- most are being welcomed in many other nations.

Ukrainian refugees are the immediate result of President Putin’s brutal military invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Some would argue that many refugees at our southern border have long been fleeing oppression in Latin and Central American nations.  Some argue that in many cases, the oppression is partly the result of the support the USA has given to autocratic dictators, especially in fear of the country becoming communist, followed by the loss of profits by US corporations. 

Henry H. Bucher, Jr.
It is important that we not forget the conflicts that have been going on for many months—even years: Yemen, Syria, Israel/Palestine, Western Sahara, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Somalia and more. The USA is now a country struggling in another kind of conflict—a polarization of the right and the left over what is often called a “culture war.” The issues are many and some are complex. Only in the USA can we celebrate our diversity and hope it will make us stronger rather than leading us to more and deeper conflict. We should work harder for unity without uniformity and welcome diversity that does not divide us.

Part of a memorable prayer by university chaplain, William Sloane Coffin, at a commencement in 1969 is as follows:

“O God give us the strength to right wrongs, yet never to revenge them.

To suffer and die for peace, yet never to kill for peace;

To liberate the wretched of the earth* in such a fashion that those responsible 

for their wretchedness will be liberated also.”


*The Wretched of the Earth is the translated title of a book written in French by psychologist Frantz Fanon in 1961. By 1960 most of the European colonies in Africa were celebrating independence; but not Algeria which France then considered to be a permanent province of France. Fanon focuses on Algeria and its National Liberation Front—considered by France to be terrorist until the NLF won. Algeria became independent in 1962. Fanon’s classic is a key to understanding racism, colonialism, violence, and new nationalisms in the global south. Much of his writing is contemporary with the US’s war in Vietnam.