Oldgamer Reporting for Duty ...
I'm Proud to be an American ...
These are the days in which all Americans are expected to be ashamed of their country. People from other continents and countries tell us this, all the time. And yet, it is in times like this that I am most proud to be an American.
Why should I be proud of being an American? As it has been told to me, America is the worst polluter on the planet. America is the worst terrorist nation on the planet. America is an aggressive empire, seeking to extend its hegemony over the planet. America is a racist and genocidal state, having held millions of black Africans in slavery for over four hundred years, and slaughtering the indigenous population without mercy. America is a capitalist state, holding its citizens in virtual slavery to interest and the corporations.
At least, this is what we're told ...
From the standpoint of its geography alone, I am proud to be an American. I've been able to travel extensively, in my country, and everywhere I see the grandeur, the beauty, and the pure unadulterated space that attracted our forefathers to this continent. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Rio Grande to the border with Canada, I have traveled the United States and witnessed the power and majesty of the country. Forests, lakes, mighty rivers, vast plains that feed the world, rolling hills, and towering mountain ranges that kiss the sky, I've seen this country. What is there not to be proud of?
I've gone deep into the back-country of Arkansas, with nothing more to sustain me than my wit, my skills, and my equipment. There are places where you can travel for up to a hundred miles, and never see a human inhabitant. I've encountered deer and bear that obviously have not had contact with people, if their behavior is any indication. I remember sitting up from a long night's sleep, in the midst of twenty deer, some of which were only a few paces away from me, and watching them graze and play for over an hour. They took little notice of me.
In the north, I've gone into the vast pine forests near Voyageur National Park
, and sat close to my campfire, as I listen to the plaintive howl of wolves in the distance.
Whether the mountains of the west, the deserts of the Southwest, or the thousands of miles of seashore, I've walked and driven this country “from sea to shining sea”, and I'm proud of it. I'm proud to be part of it.
I'm also proud of our system of government. This country was built by hard-working, hard-fisted, straight-shooting, God-fearing people who escaped the numberless tyrannies and castes of Europe, and carved out an empire of freedom in the wilderness that was America. When Europe objected, they declared themselves to be free, and put their lives on the line, literally, to secure that liberty.
With their independence won by blood, they could have replicated what their forefathers escaped from on this continent. But they didn't. George Washington did not become King George ... which would have been a great irony, indeed ... but instead, became President Washington, as the head of state and government of a political system which endures to this day. That government was based upon values and beliefs that were codified in our Constitution, and have provided the people of the United States with the liberty to choose their own way of life and worship, in a way that had never happened before in the long, sad, oppressive history of the human race.
Finally, I'm proud of what America has done with this vast liberty. True it is, our cities are not alabaster, some of our leaders have led us astray ... and some are still trying to do so ... and not everything that America and Americans have done is worthy of pride. But consider what America has done ...
We have overcome our basest instincts and created a nation of laws and liberties. It is these liberties that have made our nation economically and militarily strong, and it is our laws that have protected the innocent against those who would prey upon the weak. It is the unique balance of law and liberty that has brought untold millions to our shores with hope, and in search their place in the world. They have come here, from Europe, from Africa, from Asia, from Central and South America, and from the multitudinous islands of the Pacific, in search of their dreams of freedom. As Emma Lazarus put it, “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”.
What is this thing that they have sought?
As simply stated as I can put it, what the millions have sought is something that you cannot understand, until you hold it in your hand.
I'm proud of this nation that overcame itself, and sacrificed six hundred thousand of its sons so that men could be free. I realize that this statement is itself contentious, one hundred forty years after the end of the Civil War. But what was the effect of the War? Men were set free.
In Ottawa, Illinois, is Washington Park, which was the site of the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, in 1858. Lincoln stated flatly that there was no difference in the humanity of “negroes” and white men, and that the slaves should be free. He based his arguments upon the Declaration of Independence, which stated that all men were created equal, and that all men were endowed by “their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” He also based his argument upon the Constitution. Stephen Douglas took the position that the States should decide the question of slavery for themselves, and that his position was Constitutional.
I agree with both of them. That's the beauty of the American system. I have the right to agree and disagree, and in this, we see the delicate balancing act in our system of government between law and liberty, once again.
I am proud of the entrepreneurs who built the economy of this country ... one without which the economy of the world would collapse, overnight. No one sought such power. It was our liberty and law which provided the opportunity to rise above that which a person once was.
I am proud of a country which came to the defense of millions of people in the 20th Century, including those of every continent. Twice, America rose to defend the liberties and lives of people in Europe, in two world wars. We didn't have to do this. We could have hid our heads in the sand and ignored Europe. Indeed, in the Second World War, we could have used all of our power against those who attacked us, the Japanese. But the blood of over two thousand Americans who died at Omaha Beach, in one horrible day, testify to the decision that our nation made. Yes, I am proud of that.
I am proud of what I and millions of others did in Vietnam. I don't care what anyone says about the reasons why we were there. I know why I volunteered, and why I was there. This same spirit is alive and well in Iraq and Afghanistan, on this very day. Staying is difficult, but leaving is the wrong thing to do.
I am proud of my country's history in space. I watched with millions of others , on a July day in 1969, when Americans stepped onto the face of the moon. I watched with bated breath, and very little sleep, when Apollo XIII faced the crisis that threatened the lives of three astronauts. I wept with pride, just the other day, as I watched Endeavor
lift off the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, and rocket into space.
Americans will finish the space station. Americans will go back to the moon. Americans will go to Mars. And Americans will be among those who, someday, will journey to the stars, Albert Einstein's objections aside.
Yes, I am proud of my country, a nation of immigrants who forged the world's premiere power, and one that is based upon the twin pillars of liberty and law. And I will not decide to hate my country, because others do, and demand the same of me.
In another time, a great Colossus was created that could be seen for miles into the Mediterranean Sea. Its purpose was to inspire awe and fear in all those who beheld it. The Colossus of Rhodes had one purpose. It said to those looking upon it, “Be afraid of us.”
Graven on a tablet at the base of the pedestal holding our Statue of Liberty are these words, penned by Emma Lazarus:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
To that, I say, “Amen”.