Friday, July 3, 2009
Be Proud on the Fourth of July
We take so much for granted in America. That we can move anywhere we like, that we can vote, that we can start a business and fail and start again and succeed beyond our wildest dreams. That our government--though imperfect--can actually get things done. That we can vote the rascals out when we choose. People still die for simple things like this across the globe.
We're so rich, we can afford to make our environment a priority. I'm often reminded, when I hear people whining about carbon footprints, that San Francisco Bay is cleaner now than when I was a child, though the Bay Area population is eight times what it was then. We've cleaned up the Cayahoga River in Ohio, ("Burn on, Big River, Burn On" songwriter Randy Newman once wrote), cleaned up the mighty Columbia, and have preserved millions of acres all over the U.S. from development by making them national preserves and parks. I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil once and even though that country has the ninth largest economy in the world, the river adjacent to the airport road was a sewer--filled with chemical pollution, human waste, and old refrigerators. Not a priority there.
We so often shy away from patriotism in America, at least it seems we have in the half century since we won the second World War. It is almost as if our riches embarrass us and we hesitate to show the flag. Europeans--whom we spent most of the 20th century propping up during their endless wars, dictatorships, and slaughters--have so often told us we're arrogant, uncouth and unsophisticated that we seem to have come to believe them. We duck our heads so they won't notice have far above them we have flown.
Everyone wants to live here. In the 1980s, and 1990s nearly a million legal immigrants each year came to America. We absorb them and see them everywhere. They are Americans now.
Once in my life I have seen an amazing show of the flag in my country and that was in the days after September 11, 2001. Suddenly, spontaneously, American flags popped up everywhere. On houses, on businesses, in windows, on automobiles. The flag stores in Orlando, where I was living at the time, were sold out and had to start taking orders. Though the intelligentsia later decried this, it was somehow so comforting. It was as if one's neighbors were saying: "We're in this together." And the country, as a whole, seemed to stop what it was doing and turn and say to the bad guys: "You got us once you bastards. Now try it again."
It is such a beautiful flag. It represents an experiment created by men and women who pondered such things in the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment. They gambled together their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to make that flag ripple in the breeze of history.
We ought to thank them on this Fourth and show the Stars and Stripes that so many have fought and died for since that first Fourth of July in 1776. The land of the free and the home of the brave: we need the brave today as much as we ever have. When you have something good, there is always some knucklehead who wants to take it from you.
Show the flag for our soldiers, for our founders, for our grandfathers and for our children. For the new Americans around us and the old Americans too. We are so privileged, we are so rich, we are so lucky. We're America.
Many of the postcards here were loaned to me by Russell Hughes, an Orlando postcard collector. Hughes was a teenage soldier when he was captured in December of 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, and put into a German prison camp where he very nearly starved to death. One day, in April of 1945, he and his fellow prisoners awoke to find their guards had deserted. He and a friend appropriated some linens from the home of the camp's commandant and sewed together small American flags that they pinned on their ragged clothes. Thus adorned, they began to walk toward the Allied lines. When they encountered some Russian troops, the Russians recognized the emblems on their torn uniforms and pointed to the American lines. They headed there on foot and were eventually rescued. To Hughes and men like him, the U.S. flag is more than a symbol. Perhaps it is no wonder he collects these beautiful cards.