Monday, July 04, 2005

Reflection on America

Every year around the Fourth of July, I try to read a book on American History. This year I read To America by Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose is a favorite American Historian of mine and this book represents his thoughts on a wide range of historical issues from Thomas Jefferson's slave holdings to the politics of the Vietnam War. Really a fascinating read as he often recounts the evolution of thought and understanding about different political events and even his personal changes in understandings of different people and situations. Two things really struck me as I read this book: 1. I really am proud to be an American. It seems to me that in many places (except the Republican Party) it is not chic to be patriotic, that we should be skeptical, aloof and critical. Don't get me wrong -- I don't like everything that we've done and represented as a country. I think the fact that slavery and racism was tolerated for so long in a country based upon the equality of all human beings will be a mark against American hundreds of years from now. And I really hate the current polarization of current political thought, where shouting down someone else and impugning their motives when they disagree with you is considered good debate. (check this out for a hilarious clip of John Stewart taking on CNN's Crossfire). But overall, despite its flaws, there's no other place I'd rather live. One of the things that Ambrose said, that I love is that despite all it's flaws, America is a place where we're willing to look at our flaws and work to get better (think racism, sexism, etc.). In general, I think that's true. 2. In a fallen world, democracy really does work and it really is the best system. Ambrose tells the story of an American GI who was assigned to guard a public building in Japan after WWII. One day the soldier was very bored and started throwing a ball against a wall, fielding it with his baseball glove and throwing it back. Pretty soon Japanese kids started showing up and playing catch with the GI, until there were enough people that they started playing a daily game of baseball. Ambrose point? You'd never see a scene like this in a country occupied by the Russians or Germans -- that there is something about the American way of life that honors the dignity of all people and is infectious throughout the world. 3. Finally -- I was thinking about Vietnam and how it has impacted a culture. Vietnam ended 13 months before I was born, but I'm 90% sure, that if I would have been alive I would have been a "dove." In fact, looking back, with hindsight being what it is, I can't understand how anyone could not be a dove. In order to support our policies in regards to Vietnam you have to buy into Eisenhower's "domino theory," which was proved to be wrong after we withdrew from Vietnam...don't know why I had to insert this thought, but I did. Anyway...chic or not, my American flag hangs outside my house this holiday weekend, and I'm grateful to God that I live here!

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