HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!
I’m not your typical flag waver but I love our flag and what it stands for even so.
Part of it is that the United States of America is my home of birth and so I just have a natural loyalty and love for it as anyone might for his native land.
But I also know how fortunate I am to be a citizen of the nation that has made freedom and democracy and opportunity for all a reality — well almost. I mean it is the way of the world, of real life, that we are not all created equal in abilities and even in the breaks we might get in life. And prejudice and racism and jealousy are ever with us. And even though we are supposed to have freedom of religion, some people seem to think only one religion is the correct one. And like I always say, we also have or should have freedom from religion.
Nonetheless, despite our imperfections we as a nation are continually striving for the ideal of equality under the law and equality of opportunity without regard to race or religion or sex or origin and so on. The whole premise for our nation’s existence was based on individual freedom of men (in a continuing evolution since our founding we expanded and clarified it to be freedom of both men and women and now seem to be adding people who don’t seem to know which they are). And we have set a standard for the world. Some might say other free nations have actually surpassed us. I’m not convinced of that. Hard for me to know. I’ve not lived in other countries (only visited a few or was stationed in the army in one for a couple of years). But however well other western-style democracies and doing, the U.S. is the one composed of a multitude of nationalities. Well there is Canada. It comes close. But don’t tell them up there this, but they take their lead from us — no offense. And they depend upon us for their own security to some extent (although as an ally it is a two-way street). We are the bigger brother (or is it sister? sister nations).
Hey, but I love Canada (and now I sound like you know who). But I guess the difference, according to a class I took in comparative government, is that while Canada pushed westward with the rule of law preceding major settlement, as we know, the movement of non-indigenous people into our Wild West generally went through a lawless period before eventual settlement into civilized society on the frontier. Now of course there are major advantages to the rule of law. But it was just in our blood to be a land of opportunity where people could start over no matter what their station in life or background or perhaps trouble with the law in their past. While Canada continued to be connected in one way or the other with Great Britain, the U.S. made a clean break so it could be a unique kind of nation-state not based on ethnicity or religion or allegiance to royalty but on the ideal of democracy and opportunity and freedom for all (if a little slow to really expand to all).
Others have copied us, and we are complimented.
I can’t talk for those of color or other groups who have faced or continue to face discrimination, but in my own world I know that life offered me a wealth of opportunity. I did not have to carry a certain family name or depend upon an inheritance (although it could have been nice).
During my life, while I never had any guarantees, I’ve passed up so many opportunities it makes me shake my head, maybe because the opportunities presented daunting challenges. But thankfully I did have the gumption to respond to some.
But people in so many other countries don’t even have the daunting challenges at their disposal, that is the ones for success; they just have daunting challenges to survive or maintain status quo.
I grew up with the impression that America was always right. We were the good guys. We did not practice evil. We fought evil. We led the free world in the fight for survival against fascism and militarism and then went on to fight the attempted enslavement of the world by communism, in which the individual, by the system’s own doctrine, was just a cog in a giant wheel composed of the masses amalgamated into something called the “state”. The individual was stripped of all self pride and opportunity and forced to work for the betterment of the state. In exchange for cradle-to-grave security (if you call being subjected to arrest in the middle of the night security) one gave up his or her own personal identity.
But we remain the only country to have ever dropped the bomb (nuclear), or bombs — we dropped two on Japan. They attacked us first, true, and we no doubt brought a much quicker end to World War II. Thousands of U.S. soldiers were saved from fighting and dying on the Japanese mainland — but somehow if you have ever seen that death and destruction and terrible human suffering from the effects of the atomic bombs on the newsreels and the mushroom clouds that preceded them — that is the face of evil. Sometimes when you do right, it can seem so wrong.
And then came Vietnam.
Ever so slowly, so painfully slow, we learned that sometimes we did not seem to be on the side of right or maybe it was difficult to determine what right looks like. We had good intentions? But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
And nations can be slow learners or maybe have little institutional memory with the passage of a decade or more.We again questioned our position as to right or wrong in Iraq (and elsewhere).
And here at home, despite all the talk of progress in civil rights for all, we realized the old racism and denial of rights still existed in many cases and places and we were either blind or in self-denial.
But did we not fight a great civil war, partly or mainly over the issue of whether human beings could own other human beings? And did not the side against slavery win? And did not the other side have to accept that (begrudgingly)?
Some people question the value of citizenship in America. But why then do so many people want in to this country?
A strange example: one of my platoon sergeants in the army was a German national. He told me that in his native land he had few choices as to occupation. At that time at least, most young men followed what their fathers did. He would have had to serve an apprenticeship. That’s fine, unless you want something else. He did. He wanted to go into motel management — okay, I said it was a strange example. But he was tidy and very handy — I’ll bet he made it and did quite well in America (what a country!).
All I know for sure is that after spending a couple of years overseas (in the safe and democratic nation of then what was West Germany) when I walked out of the airport terminal at Columbia, South Carolina in 1971 and saw the yellow cabs on the neon-lit street and then on the bus out to the army post saw the white picket fences, I knew I was home and I never wanted to call any other place home — visit yes — but home is home and I am happy and proud to be an American, a citizen of the United States of America.
When I see our flag flying and I hear the national anthem and see fireworks on the Fourth of July I am never ashamed, instead I tremble a little with pride. No matter our missteps or what others may think or charge, I know who I am and I know who my country is.
(And I think if we have our heads on straight and our hearts are true and we don’t fall for the mindless jingoism of neo fascism or the empty promise of spirit-debilitating socialism we won’t have to question who we are.)
Happy Fourth of July America!
The Fourth of July is all but over for me now, having just watched the annual fireworks display from my apartment, and it was spectacular as usual. Okay, I did not tremble after all, but I was quite satisfied and happy to be an American and happy to be on my home turf. And it makes me sad when I think of people wanting to mess this up for us all. We have something good, and we can’t let them do that…