Hmm . . . I feel a need to respond to the posting of the words on the bulletin board of San Juan School.
The lyrics posted are "And I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me" .
The song was written by Lee Greenwood, he says, "as an attempt to bring us together", which is a wonderful motivation. The song was sung at the Republican National Convention in 1984, was revived during the Gulf War in 1990, and again after the attacks on September 11, 2001. I have not experienced it as a tool to "bring us together", but more often to draw a division between those who are "Proud to be an American" and those who feel that perhaps, we might, at times be uncomfortable about being an American. I believe the song has been titled “God Bless the USA”. Mr. Greenwood also wrote “God Bless Canada”. I think he still has a ways to go before he has completed his mission of getting God to bless us all.
Being "proud to be an American" has been a delicate dance in my life. I am aware of the struggles of the people from whom I am descended; slaves from Africa, Catholics from France, and native people whose lives, lands and ways of life were obliterated in the creation of "America".
During World War II, on July 17, 1944, the largest stateside casualties came from the Port Chicago disaster, which killed 320 and injured 390 other sailors, mostly African-Americans who loaded the ships with munitions. This spawned the Port Chicago Mutiny when sailors refused an order to march to load a waiting ship with munitions, because they felt the conditions were still unsafe and did not trust those commanding them to work. Fifty of these men were tried and convicted of mutiny and sentenced to prison. This event was one that led to the eventual desegregation of the Armed Services in 1946. Am I proud, yet?
The internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans in camps, disrupting their lives and often causing the loss of their homes and livelihoods. The exclusion from owning property and citizenship of the Japanese-born residents remains a stain on the United States Constitution. Am I proud?
When I was a boy, the President of the United States was assassinated and some 50 years later, the majority of people in the country, somewhere around 70-80%, do not believe the government's account of the incident, the Warren Report. What does that say about us? About our relationship with our government? Are we proud of that?
I was put in the position, as a 17 year old to choose whether to go to Vietnam to "fight for my country". I was lucky enough not to have to go, but many of my brothers and sisters did go to serve their country and many are still suffering for their service with physical and psychological damages. Some 58,000 of them lost their lives and 300,000 were wounded in action to prevent what is happening in Vietnam today. What is happening in Vietnam today? It is of little enough importance that our ignorance and concern for that region has returned to it's pre-war levels. Sometimes being an American makes me uncomfortable.
In our country we have the given support to the freedom of belief, though that is something that we must constantly push back against those who would take that away from us . . . and we must also be aware of how we might be limiting those we don't agree with. Our rights of Free Speech, Free Assembly, are rights which are like muscles which must be exercised to be of any strength. I fear that ours have atrophied to an alarming point.
Observing my country's response to the financial crises of the past couple of decades, I am deeply concerned that we have lost the capacity for outrage. If the behavior of the financial institutions and the loss of the savings for retirement, as well as the loss of millions of homes to foreclosure due to predatory lending practices, did not move us to outrage, I am disheartened at the prospects for my country's ability to respond to any dire situation.
It is important that we recognize that we, as citizens, have the power and responsibility to identify and address the faults and shortcomings of our system. That is what fuels democracy.
Proud to be an American? Hmmm . . . Being a responsible citizen in this complicated world is not simple. Listening to those who passionately disagree with us, is not easy. Respecting one another despite our differences is one of our challenges. We must remember that simply because we do not share someone's beliefs doesn't mean that they are any less deserving of our respect.
The Rights of Free Speech and Free Assembly have been under attack in our country and we have not been energetic in their defense.
Fran Leibowitz has said, "In the Soviet Union, Capitalism triumphed over Communism. In this country, Capitalism triumphed over Democracy."
President Jimmy Carter has recently said that he does not believe that we have a functioning Democracy.
I think it best to honor the memories of those who died in the service of their country by making sure that the country we live in has the kind of healthy expression of ideas and beliefs that are necessary for a Democratic Society to function properly. There is no need to limit Freedom of Speech if there is no Freedom of Thought.
Let us add our voices and thoughts and ideas to the improvement of our community and nation and not let cynicism hold us back. What kind of world are we making for our children and their children?
In San Juan . . . we wave!