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Letter: What is true of Reagan is not true of all Americans

JOHN CARLIN is right about the appalling behaviour of the Reagan government in Latin America in the 1980s ("What's my problem...", Section 2, 10 May). He is equally justified in reminding us that the US still has much to atone for in its promotion of brutal and exploitative regimes. Where we part company is in his presumption that government policies are ever an adequate diagnosis of the "national character" of a people as numerous and diverse as the US. His patronising remarks about "Mr and Mrs Apple Pie Smith and their charmingly computer-literate children in Toledo, Ohio" demonstrate the limits of his understanding of the terribly complex social fabric of our nation.

Carlin goes on to discuss Timothy McVeigh, the man convicted of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing which he says had "no political objective" akin to those of the IRA or ETA. McVeigh's involvement in the militia movement is indicative of the growing popularity of anti-federalism among those who feel disenfranchised politically. Rather than reflecting some inherently brutish streak in the American mindset, this represents a frightening social and political problem we have thus far failed adequately to address.

While I hope it will not be too great a surprise to Europeans to learn that there are, as Mr Carlin grudgingly concedes, "wise, humane Americans aplenty," they should not suffer from his delusion that such people are "strangers in their own land".

RB Tobin