For over thirty posts, I have related experiences and observations from my life in France. Vignette by vignette, I have told the story of Nantes becoming my third home. This is my last post in this travel journal, and it is not about the details of the story I have been telling you. Today, I step back.
A while ago, I heard of an idea that stuck in my head as though Leonardo DiCaprio had been hired to put it there. Travel is not just a personal act, but also a political act. While I don’t remember where I heard this, I am fairly certain it originated from the book Travel As A Political Act by Rick Steves. I haven’t read the book, but I have been reflecting on this idea a great deal.
As my semester went on, it became clear to me that my travels were political as well as personal. Travel, especially long stays with close human encounters, builds lines not just between people, but between cultures, nations, and countries. In fact, the relationship between two countries is actually just a collection of relationships between people. Part of the relationship between France and the United States is made up of my relationships with French people.
War between France and the United States is impossible. Not improbable. In this era, it is impossible. People like me are too common. Too many from one country have studied the other’s language, history, and culture. There are too many Franco-American marriages. There are too many for whom both countries are home. In a sense, war is impossible with France and the United States because there is too much travel between the two countries. Of course, we’ve been allies for a very long time, but I don’t think that’s an entirely separate fact.
I remember hearing on French news a while back about the possibility of war between the United States and Iran. I’m not the expert on this situation, nor how it has progressed. Sadly, I am not at all alone. I don’t know very many people who have been to Iran. I don’t know many Americans who have studied it. I don’t know anyone who studies Persian, and I know even fewer who realize that Persian (not Arabic) is spoken in Iran.
I don’t have a host family in Iran, and I will bet a bottle of fine wine that none of you reading this do either. War is possible between the United States and Iran because too few Americans call Iran home, and vice versa. The less we know about a nation, culture, and state, the easier it is to respond with force. The less we have traveled somewhere and met its people, the easier it is to forget their humanity.
When we have traveled somewhere, we have heard the sound of the language. We have photo albums of the wonders of a country that we wouldn’t want bombed. We have tasted the food made by the hands of its residents. We have put our feet on the same dirt where they walk. We may have friends there who can give us a window into the people behind the state.
I’m not saying that our frequent flyer miles are directly proportional to the amount of peace, love, and fluffy bunnies in the world. Travel is not a solution to war, and there will always be conflicts even if we’re not killing each other over them. But whether or not travel is a solution to war, it is in some way a response—because when we move, learn, and encounter others, travel becomes a great act of peace.
So let us travel everywhere. Let us create a home in many places across the world, because no one will go to war with their home.