Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Cultural Comparisons: America and Micronesia

BOND: Let me shift gears a couple of times and talk just for a moment about Micronesia.


BOND: What did you learn, not just so much about the Micronesian people themselves but about a being in a different place? What did you learn?

WATSON: Let me just say this. To be appointed as a United States ambassador and representing our country abroad was one of the superior goals of my life and one of the greatest honors I'll ever, ever have. And I thank President Bill Clinton for appointing me. Now, what did I learn? I learned that there are cultures around this globe that have not had that much contact with, say, western society. And I learned that the people have a native ability that we don't have. And I have learned that in many ways they have more of a spiritual connection and it gives you a great appreciation for these cultures and what they can offer to enrich capitalist America.

I learned that we could bring them along if we gave them the kind of education, so we have every education program out there in those islands that we have here because we're under a compact, but I learned so much from the people. I learned about the love of family. I learned that when a woman is being considered as being the wife of a son, she has to go and live at the mother's home to learn how to treat her to-be-husband. I learned a lot about their customs. I appreciated their ability to communicate non-verbally with each other. I learned that they saw in nature their every need being met so they drank, they washed, and so on, in the same water and, of course, we had a cholera epidemic and we had to teach them about purifying the water before they drank it, but I learned a lot about nature and appreciation for nature that we don't necessarily get in our urban centers where we grow up. So, it was much of a learning experience for me.

Oh, I could do the administrative work. I loved it, and if you wanted a position in public life, there's no higher position than going as a United States ambassador and that was the time that we were loved and appreciated. Our position in the world today has sunk to the bottom. We're becoming one of the most hated nations on the globe, and I can tell you that because we travel the globe. By the way, I was part of that group that went to Caracas, Venezuela, three weeks ago and we could not deplane.

BOND: Yes, because of the protests.

WATSON: But [Hugo] Chavez, you know, is not going to be jerked around, and so I learned that the principles that we stood for -- the moral and ethics that we have always stood for, the humanity -- has been sullied with the invasion of a sovereign nation. And the fact that the truth was not forthcoming, and people recognized it. And I saw 9/11 turn people into fear -- well, not fear-mongers -- but our administration uses the politics of fear and connected a situation that had no connection with the invasion, and so people have lost their trust in the United States. We were always there as allies to help, but this time we invaded a sovereign nation under false pretenses, so we've lost a lot of that and I am saddened greatly because I was proud to represent what the United States stood for. The island nation that I was assigned to is composed of 607 islands, but only four of them are in the Federation and it's called the Federation of Micronesia. And so I would go to the four islands all the time and then to some of the outer island on occasion and spread the word of democracy, which they adopted fully, but I could not explain to them the need for the Electoral College after the 2000 decision.

BOND: No, it's hard to explain to rational people.

WATSON: Believe me, believe me. And I had been asked questions. One native woman on one of the islands said to me, "Ambassador, do the students at the College select the president?" And I had to thank about that. I said, "Well, yes, the Electoral College does. Now, let me try to explain it," and it wasn't making sense to me why in the year 2000, we would go along with a system that was put into works a hundred years before.