Next Saturday will mark another July 4th. When I was a kid, everyone called it the “Fourth of July.” Now people call it “Independence Day—at least most of the ones I know call it that.
We’ll witness the usual array of parades, picnics, local remembrances, and of course, the biggie that takes place in our nation’s capital on the Mall. As it should, patriotism will rule.
Being a combat veteran, I consider myself a patriot with a sometimes-irrepressible urge to wave the American flag.
But, even though many now use the terms patriot and nationalist interchangeably, in my mind there is still a stark difference between the two terms.
Nationalists tend to be boisterous chest thumpers, waving the flag in the faces of other nations out of sheer disdain for them. The rallying call always seems to be “Our country right or wrong and if other nations don’t like it, TOUGH!”
Patriotism, on the other hand, is unyielding love for country, but including an absolute right to criticize it when necessary. In other words, it’s our country, right or wrong. But, when it’s wrong, we’ll call the foul.
So, I’m a PROUD patriot. I don’t hand out business cards or anything like that, nor do I criticize this country when I’m in foreign lands. But, I DO tend to kick butt when I get back.
Recently, someone reminded me of something that happened 40-years ago: the My Lai (pronounced ME LIE) massacre. The posting provided a link describing what had happened.
In addition, he listed a number of other references with links to myriad atrocities America has committed along the way. Essentially, his theme seemed to be that we’re all phony scum in this country and we should be ashamed of ourselves.
I took exception to all of it… in a patriotic way, of course. We ARE ashamed for some of the stupid, thoughtless actions our leaders have taken. We’ve punished many of the perpetrators.
I don’t have to READ accounts of what happened in the hamlets of My Lai 1, 2, 3, and 4 because I was actually there. I wasn’t part of Charlie Company, but part of the counter insurgent intelligence team immediately following.
But, this isn’t about My Lai. It’s about addressing blanket, erroneous, and out of context condemnation of this country by clueless dweebs who isolate incidents without regard to proper perspective.
By way of an analogy based on a true story, several years ago, a young woman graduated from a local high school here in New Castle County, Delaware.
During her four years there, she garnered a reputation for being a sweet, caring person who was drug-free, not on any police watch-lists, and one who would do anything to help her classmates and/or teachers.
Unfortunately, she always failed to cultivate any meaningful relationship with her academics. Her parents hoped against reasonable hope that she’d somehow make it.
She did, of course. She brushed sufficiently close enough to that magic 2.0 cum average to receive her diploma. Her parents were elated!
Though, to this day, they are both convinced that in small part it was the result of one kindly, well-intentioned teacher’s “mistake” in either addition or division in calculating one of her grades.
Regardless of the circumstances, that phase of her life ended in her favor, however razor-thin the margin. She even promised her dad that she’d try Delaware Tech (Delaware’s ONLY community college) the following fall.
As she followed through on her promise, the first week of the semester she came face-to-face with a “teacher” at the Stanton Campus. (Delaware Tech calls them instructors). No matter, though, that chance meeting changed her academic attitude forever.
That evening, she told her father about the most fantastic teacher she’d ever met: Jill Biden. And, being about as politically astute as a celery stalk, she had NO idea that Jill Biden was THE Mrs. Joe Biden. But, it didn’t matter; she wouldn’t have cared ANYWAY.
In her mind, she will always appreciate, respect, and fondly remember Jill Biden, Mrs. Vice President of the United States notwithstanding.
But, this ISN’T about Jill Biden OR Joe Biden. It’s about much more critical things. It’s about life. It’s about facts, some of them pleasant, others not so pleasant.
It’s about how caring, well-qualified teachers can change human lives in ways they may never know about. It’s about five “A’s and a “B” and the critical role that proper perspective plays in ALL matters, including those of a nation and the way its citizens see themselves.
About three days following the end of that semester, the mail arrived, bearing that ever-familiar computerized college transcript envelope. When she opened it, later that day after work, her smile beamed from ear to ear.
“The Dean’s List,” she exclaimed. “I got 5-A’s and a B!” She said it with a degree of pride that justifiably befits all hard-fought accomplishments. It was, without a doubt, one of the proudest moments of her young life.
Her parents were equally proud, her dad to the point of tears. But, unfortunately, her mother, ever unsuccessful in having that nasty, irritating burr of self-imposed perfection removed from her butt, simply could not overcome the urge to dampen the moment.
“Honey, I’m so proud! But, I’ll bet that, with just a tad more effort, WE can make it 6-A’s next time.” All her father could do was glare and hiss through his clenched teeth; “You did notice those 5-A’s, didn’t you?”
Perspective, it’s not just a word. We have to consider it in every value judgment we make. It’s especially important when we look in the nation’s aggregate mirror and decide whether we’re comfortable with what stares back at us.
This July 4th, we’ll be, OFFICIALLY, 233-years old. We were born of a dream on the part of a relative handful of patriots who wanted a free nation, one that could, and did, become the solitary beacon of hope for the world.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was president when I was born. I’ve lived through many subsequent presidential administrations: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, Clinton, G. W. Bush, and to date, Obama.
I cried over the assassination of one of them and was horrified over the attempted assassination of another one. I watched in disgust as another one resigned in disgrace.
As a nation, we watched with noted embarrassment as ALL of them committed their personal foibles, some more blatantly stupid than others. And, yes, at various points, we called them every derogatory name in the book.
Try as I may, though, I cannot recall ANY of them ever intentionally, with due malice aforethought, advocating the murder, rape, torture, or destruction of innocent people ANYWHERE in the world.
And, as well, to my knowledge, neither has ANY aggregate sitting United States Congress.
As a nation, we sometimes blundered horribly, making choices resulting in terrible consequences in terms of human suffering. If only we could revisit them. But, we can’t, and besides, like the rest of the world, we perpetually ignore history’s lessons.
But proper PERSPECTIVE is therapeutic. We’ve also committed our best and brightest to the protection of many nations across the world. We’ve rebuilt every nation we’ve ever fought against. And, all we’ve ever asked in return is for a place to bury our dead.
During MY lifetime, alone, we’ve provided more humanitarian aid (food, clothing, medicine, clean water, not to mention ARMADAS full of money) than all other able nations combined.
And, while there is a list of second-placers, the closest one is light years behind the country in FIRST place: the United States of America.
It’s our nation’s transcript of sorts and it carries a lot more than five “A’s and a “B.” Again, just throughout my lifetime, the “A’s” total in the hundreds of thousands. The “B’s” in the tens of thousands.
Yes, we have some “C’s,” a number of “D’s,” and a few of those devastating “F’s.”
Yes, we need to work harder to avoid the “D’s” and “F’s.” But, overall, I’m not ashamed of that aggregate image staring back at me as I gaze into that aggregate mirror I mentioned earlier.
But, we DO face a seriously growing problem that only WE citizens can solve. And, we’d better do it soon.
If we do not get the Left AND Right EXTREMES in this country under control, we’ll lose everything we’ve ever held near and dear to our collective hearts. To my knowledge, America forever has never been a guarantee.
Regardless, happy Independence Day! Or, if you’re an old fart like me, Happy Fourth of July.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.