Happy Fourth of July

Let me start what may be a somewhat derisive blog entry with some foundation, as those who agree and those who don’t, both need to better know the person writing these words. I offer this as information, as I do not seek or need validation of my ego or accomplishments.

 I am a decorated Marine combat veteran. I served my country proudly from the steps of the White House to sharing blood and mud in conflicts around the world. I love my country and always will. We are a great nation set upon ideals and liberties that provide for democracy, freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and basic human rights. But we, as a nation, are as imperfect as any other. And, it is no easier to own our failures as a nation than it is to own our personal failures with honesty and truth.

We are flawed. We are today and always have been. Does that make us less than what we think of ourselves as a nation? Not directly. But if the vision of ourselves does not include our imperfections and failures, then the perspective we have of who we are is less than it needs to be. We must see ourselves in completeness, flaws and all. Not the polished, pragmatic version the textbooks that our indoctrinated education has provided; not the scrubbed version of our history we so readily shout in eager patriotism; but the real truths of who we are and how we arrived at where we are today.

 The ‘winners write the history’ is not a new idea. And that is true in a generalized sense. It’s the history taught in primary school. Until recently, secondary education was the only place to find a more in-depth, critical, and honest look at our past. African American Studies, as an example, were not offered as curriculum in universities and colleges until 1969, and only after a five-month strike at San Francisco State brought it to the forefront of conversation and action. So, prior to that we learned about slavery in the context of the U.S. Civil War. We hung our pride on the abolition of slavery, accomplished at great cost in life, limb, and unity. What a proud progressive nation we had become. We are less likely to know or espouse the fact that, even though the State of Vermont, an independent Republic after the American Revolution, was the first sovereign state to abolish slavery in 1777, it took another eighty-five years for us to reach the Emancipation Proclamation that abolished it for the country.

But this is just one such example, and I am barely scratching the surface of the information not shared in the education of our future generations or discussed openly in the same way we tout our successes. I do not have the space to discuss the fact that it took more than one hundred more years after emancipation for us to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, respectively. Much less the glossing over of Jim Crowe laws, which continued to oppress the minorities in our country for too many years following.

 We gleefully expound on our humanitarian efforts around the world. Yet we won’t own the fact that we cannot care for all our own citizens. We celebrate Columbus Day and the discovery of America (can’t even start to list the inaccuracies and falsehoods of that history, as they are so varied and numerous as to be laughable), yet we do not teach or talk about the annihilation, corralling, indenturing, and languishing of the Native Americans who prospered here long before anyone ever set a foot on Plymouth Rock. We remember Pearl Harbor with solemn respect but forego discussion of the Japanese internment camps erected by our own ethnic bias or being the only country to ever use a nuclear device to decimate an entire city, twice. I will not argue the tens of thousands of lives that action likely saved, I just want us to accept the fact that we are the only nation who ever decided they were no longer just a deterrent, but also a suitable tool. And the list goes on.

We are a young country in the scheme of things. Soon, we will celebrate our 243 years of independence from the tyrannical oppression of our mother England. We have grown as a country through that near quarter millennia. But there are countries around the world whose history reaches back millennia before our own. They don’t suffer from our short-term memory loss. We were devastated when Muslim radicals flew planes into the World Trade Towers of a fair and just country but are less likely to have learned of the massacres and religious hatred that flowed from the Christian powers of Europe during the Crusades. Is it hard to believe that they would still remember and teach their children about the atrocities inflicted on their countries and beliefs by the more powerful and developed Christian world? As the shining star of democracy, religious freedom, and a first-world nation, are we not the nail to their hammer? Have we not been a part of every major conflict in their region? Even now, we struggle to separate the fanatical act of a few, from the overwhelming majority of a peace abiding nation with citizens as precious and important as our own. We actively police the world in an effort to insure basic human rights for all peoples, yet we fail to provide those same rights to our own citizens, legal or otherwise. It seems to be a bit ‘glass house’ to me.

 Would our Fourth of July celebrations be as festive if the bunting bore the stains of our own failures and shortcomings? Probably not. We to easily see our red, white, and blue as distinctive and untarnished as black is to white. But we are shaded and smudged. At times our colors have flown brightly, in ways that represent the great ideals and hopes this country was founded on. And at times they have been slogged through the mud of nationalism, pride, and inequality.

 Celebrate the Fourth. We are a proud nation with many great accomplishments. The democracy we fight to hold onto today, is still the great political scheme that best serves the people governed. Our success and the sharing of our wealth with those who have less is still a vital need for us and the rest of the world. Stand tall with pride and thankfulness to live in the country you do.

 But do not forget our flaws. And we cannot afford to forget that the nations we see through our limited scope of world history, also have two sides to their coins. When we readily look upon other nations with disdain, we forget that their history is longer and just as varied as ours. Their failures are often balanced by their successes. And their culture, though different, is just as important and protected as our own.

 I am a proud American by birth and by blood. But I am also an earthling. Just one person on a fragile planet inhabited by other people, who though different, are just as important. I live in a great country, but that does not devalue others. It is my hope that as a nation we can learn to stand beside other nations, not on top of them. Maybe knowing and owning our own failures as a country, we can avoid taking that step that makes us think we are above anyone else.

One Response to “Happy Fourth of July”
  1. “It is my hope that as a nation we can learn to stand beside other nations, not on top of them.” This is a provocative, powerful and true message, and that line, that single line, should be the hope of each and every one of us!

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