Friday, July 4, 2008

Why I Love America: Comments on Life in the United States after more than 27 Years in the Navy

It’s July 4th – and I thought it was worth taking a few moments to reflect on the United States and what this nation means to me and, hopefully to everyone reading this. I spent quite a few years in the Navy, more than two decades of which I spent either on sea duty or stationed overseas. And perhaps it is that perspective, of seeing this country from afar, that has taught me the most. After you have had a chance to see it from someone else’s street level, the US can be seen for what it is: the greatest country that has ever existed. It has achieved more, done more, and done more for others, then any other country has ever dreamed of doing.

In San Diego you can go to a low hill, just east of the town of San Ysidro, and see both parts of Tijuana and parts of San Diego proper. The contrast is striking. But what is more striking is the realization that the difference between the city south of that fence and the one north of it is a simple piece of paper. That piece of paper is the Constitution, and it has made all the difference in the world.

The United States is not like other countries. Despite having some of the most beautiful spots on the planet within our boundaries, we are not a country of places. Rather, more than any other country in history, we are a country of ideas, and ideals. Where others accept their limitations, we do not. Where others accept that ‘it has always been this way,’ we do not. Where others recognize their government as their master, we do not.

Because of what we are, embodied in that document and a few others of equal note, particularly the Bill of Rights, we are a nation that has, like none other, ennobled the ideal of each man and woman being the best they can be. This doesn’t mean riches, though we have created more wealth than any other nation. It doesn’t mean power, though we have that, as well. It means each of us becoming the most and the best that is in us. It means a government that serves the citizens – who are the real government. It means that I can rise based on my true worth, not a worth assigned by someone else, either by birth or by government fiat.

Despite what some may publish about the US, we are still the ‘City on the Hill’ that John Winthrop spoke of, and which President Reagan so eloquently quoted. Many people like to focus on negatives, and can and will tell you all that they think is wrong with the US. In fact, all that is wrong with the US can be summed up with this: we are still a nation made up of human beings, with all their weaknesses and frailties. But, if that is all you see, then you need glasses.

Do we have problems? Certainly. Are their poor in this country? Yes. There are also more people giving to charity, and giving more to charity, in this country than in any other country on earth. We have raised the real standards of living in this country (and that of many others) to such a level that many of the things that we now call necessities were viewed as luxuries in this country just 30 or 40 years ago, and are still viewed as luxuries in many countries around the world

Despite how many people around the world profess to hate us, they still expect more from us than from anyone else, often even their own countrymen. Their own country may fail to act and there is no clamor, but if we fail to act, and act quickly, to some situation or another, we are seen as letting them down. And in that clamor lies a great truth: the recognition that, in fact, the US both can and will do the right thing, even when others won’t. Many people around the world, in a host of different cultures, really don’t expect their own government to act responsibly. But they have come to expect it of the US.

They see what some of our countrymen miss: we have never accepted the status quo. Americans like to make things better. The idea of good enough is not one we are terribly comfortable with. We know we can do better, we can build it higher and stronger and faster. True, we can be cantankerous, and the noise that sometimes surrounds us can be quite something. But, most Americans recognize that beyond the noise will be more honest Americans who will get to work and figure out what the right answer is, and what the right thing is. Not because some government functionary said so, but because we know we can do it, and often that we alone can do it. We are a nation of strenuous over-achievers. A people who believe that we not only don’t need to settle for what we have, but shouldn’t, that we must never settle. This is the legacy bequeathed to us by the Founding Fathers, and is the one thing we must guard above all others. President Theodore Roosevelt famously observed that it the ‘man in the arena’ who counts. The United States has always been the nation in the arena; it is because of who and what we are that we find ourselves there today. It is that which I celebrate today. God Bless You All, and God Bless the United States of America.

I also salute my family and friends: My father spent 25 years in the Navy – from 1942 to 1967 – he loved the Navy and loved this country. Of my six uncles, five served in uniform in World War II, one in the Navy, the other four in the Army. My sixth uncle, John, didn’t serve in uniform because he was making F-4U Corsairs at a plant in Long Island and they wouldn’t let him join. He too served. One aunt also served in the Navy during WWII. My three brothers served, one Army (armored cav), two Navy (Mark is in Al Asad right now – it should be about 120 degrees right now as I write this). Of my cousins, three or four were or are active duty Marines, several in the Air Force, and four or five in the Army, and several in the Navy. Two nephews have also served in the Army, Chris in Kosovo and Patrick in Iraq. My father-in-law served in Korea in the Army and my mother-in-law was an Air Force flight nurse. And, of course, the scores of true friends that I met while in the Navy, some who never came home, a number of whom are deployed as I write this, thank you one and all.


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