Saturday, June 17, 2006

What is America?

WARNING!

This post may be long; it may ramble a bit. If you can't abide that, move on. Nothing to see here.

For the rest of you, have patience. I've been on the road a lot in the last 2 weeks; I'm more than a little tired.

But, I've been reading blogs for the last few hours, and a few things have begun to crystallize (nice science reference, isn't it? Amazing how many of the concepts have crept into common thought).

I was reading Right Wing Nut House's homage to the US flag. A classic, BTW - you should read it, if you haven't. A long excerpt (read the full post, please):
What is it about the flag that brings to the surface such overpowering emotion and devotion? Grown men weep at its passing. And thank God there are still men and women willing to die protecting what it represents. But as a symbol, why does it take up such a large corner of our hearts?

There are so few things that actually unite Americans in a traditional sense that make us a nation. Other countries have hundreds even thousands of years of cultural touchstones and myth that are almost hard wired into their brains to make them a “nation.” The United States on the other hand, is too young for myth making. Instant legends like Davey Crockett or George Custer exist alongside their more unattractive and definitely human historical selves, taking the luster off some of their accomplishments. And other symbols of nationhood found elsewhere like castles or palaces or ancient battlefields are absent here.

For Americans, it is in the flag that we infuse all of our feelings of love and respect for country, for home, for each other. Each of us are reminded of something different as the flag passes. This is what makes it a personal icon, a talisman to be touched and stroked so that the longing in our hearts to belong to something greater than ourselves is fulfilled. The flag is home. And no matter where home might be, we, the most mobile of modern societies, carrying that feeling of home with us in our travels, see the flag as an anchor, a permanent standard representing all the good and decent things in ourselves and our country.
Yeah, that's how I feel. Think about it - what is it that makes us Americans?

We originate from different continents, different cultural, social, educational, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Many of us never master the common language well enough to communicate above the most basic level with our fellow residents.

So what melds us together?

Choice.

We choose to be Americans. Oh, I can hear the protests now - what about the native-born who get the free pass?

What about them? Generations of parents knew what their children had been granted by the sheerest luck of birthplace, and worked very hard to teach them about their precious heritage. About their rights and responsibilities. About the men and women who sacrificed everything - as the Declaration says in the last sentence, "for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Many of the signers did, in fact, lose everything. But they gained a nation.

Schools used to teach Civics. I remember it as a largely boring class, filled with factoids to memorize. But, I also remember one special day.

Our teacher read something. It was short, which surprised me. I expected it to be as long and tedious as the Constitution we'd been picking about and analyzing.
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia:
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
Regular guys wrote that. True, they were a fairly influential bunch, but not a hereditary noble or ruler in the group.

They said, We get to direct our destiny. We get to decide our future. We get to make the rules.

Ideally, everybody gets a say. The group who can persuade the greatest number of the rightness of his view wins. The losing side has to suck it up, and abide by that decision. No IEDs in the road. No beheadings. No blowing things up 'cause you're mad you lost.

Does it work like that always? No. But, even if you suspect sneaky dealings, as an American, you're expected to shake hands, smile like you mean it, and walk away. It's OK if you carp over beers later, and spend the time until the next election plotting to take all the marbles. Hey, at worst, there's another election down the road in another 2-6 years. The winning team can find themselves on the outside next time - it happens all the time.

Not so in other countries. Once in power, they start torturing, jailing, and killing their opponents. Dictators can linger on for years (it has to be incredibly good for longetivity - some of these guys are in power for half a century or more).

What makes us Americans is that we chose to play by the rules set up under the Constitution. Those rules, symbolized by the flag, guarantee us a CHANCE at the brass ring. It's not a guarantee that we'll win - it's a guarantee that we can try. Without fear of being tossed in jail.

As Americans, we honor that way of passing the torch. Heck, we even enshrine it in cheesy shows like Survivor and American Idol. When the contestants lose, they don't direct their supporters to rush in with guns. They (generally) smile graciously and walk away. Some of them even end up being bigger successes than the winners.

It's the American Way. And it's symbolized by a flag that got shot the hell out of. A flag that was flown by men who wouldn't give up. A flag that represents the best of us. A flag that deserves NOT to be burned.

You know, it's ultimately dangerous to allow protestors to burn the flag. It's a gesture that is misunderstood by virtually all the rest of the world, who takes our protection of "free expression" as weakness. It makes terrorists think that if they just blow up a few more buildings (and people), make mocking videos of beheadings, and rant hysterically for the MSM, they will win.

Not a chance, mind you. Millions of Americans would use their 2nd Amendment rights to blow them away before they'd let them take away our freedoms.

But it makes his job much tougher.



And hers.



Well, I warned you I was going to ramble. But, if you read this far, think about being an American. It's a wonderful thing.

Now, think about being an Iraqi. They didn't have it so good. Thanks in part to us, they have a chance now for a better future. There's no guarantee, mind. And if we don't help them weed out the folks that want to use armed force to prevent democracy from blossoming, they may never know the sweetness of freedom. It's not a paradise on Earth in Iraq. It's hot, down at the heels, and, often dangerous. But the Iraqi armed forces are getting better. Many of them are relative rookies. Hey, the really experienced police and soldiers were Hussein's homeys - I can't say I want them walking around with guns.

So, I think they've earned the right to try to build a nation. One that isn't run by the few, for the few. They sure stepped up to the plate in January 2005.



Wouldn't it be great if the idea of self-determination spreads around the world? If we were no longer the only game in town? It's hard-wired into us, I think. I'm thinking about little kids - probably the first sentence they utter is "me do, me do". They like being in charge of their environment. So, too, will the rest of the humans on the planet.

Let's give them a chance.

Tags = Culture

1 comment:

Akaky said...

great post, Linda