As the old theme to the sitcom The Facts of Life used to state, You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life. So, I suppose I shouldn’t be so shocked by a recurring theme I’ve been hearing since the election of Barack Obama on Tuesday, but there are certain times, like this one, when the bad seems to be no nonsensical that it’s almost beyond comprehension.
The thing I’ve been hearing that I’ve found so distressing is the sentiment amongst many younger Americans that this, meaning Obama’s election, is the first time in their lives that they have ever felt proud as Americans.
To put it into a jargon that audience will understand: *facepalm*
I just can’t adequately express my profound disappointment in the idea that someone could possibly have been born and raised under the umbrella of freedom in which we live and not feel some kind of pride in those who fought for that freedom. It was such a common sentiment and so frequently repeated over the past couple days that I’ve really spent a lot of time thinking about it. I came to realize that someone who is 18 today, was 10 when George W. Bush took office. Someone who is 24 now was only 16 at that time.
The point there is that one of the more egregious eras in American politics has been the focal point of the just budding political lives of this generation. Even so, I find it hard to believe that those who are just now feeling pride in our nation, failed to do so during the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks on the country. Only seven years ago, the twin towers fell and walls of the Pentagon were breached and it just completely astonishes me that regardless of what a person’s age may have been at that time, they not have been influenced by the wave of patriotism that followed.
I came into my own political awareness in the era when the Cold War ended, when the Berlin Wall crumpled, when the Soviet Union failed, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and we were compelled to help liberate the Kuwaiti people. I am the son of a Viet Nam veteran and the grandson of two World War II veterans.
It is with that background that I matured to an age where politics became important to me and I took an active part in our political system. Maybe it gave me a more solid background and allowed me to connect more closely to the major events of that time. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’ve always felt a tremendous sense of pride in being American. One of my vivid memories from childhood was a cute thing I used to say: “I’m a little bit Polish, a little bit Irish, a little bit German, but I’m ALL American!” And that’s how my generation grew up, we were proud of where we came from, but more proud of where we were.
I look around today and watch as people celebrate the various Independence days from their countries of origin, waving foreign flags, plastering them on the hoods of their cars and flying them from their windows. I don’t see those same people flying the American flag on July 4th, our own Independence Day. It astounds me. They come from all over the world, leaving those countries for the greater opportunity our country offers, but instead of celebrating that opportunity, earned through the blood, sweat and tears of our forbearers, they celebrate the places they left behind.
I watch as with each generation we seemingly take less pride in the freedoms we have as Americans. I watch as those freedoms are taken for granted. I hear opinions about how certain speech should not be allowed, about how certain rights that our ancestors fought for should be given up freely. I notice that not only do many people not appreciate the sacrifice of those who fought for and earned us those freedoms, but they don’t even understand the importance of them.
The apathy with which many regard the freedoms they enjoy in our country is astonishing. These people who are feeling pride in our country for the first time because of the election of a black man, ignore the many triumphs of those who came before him. Do these people not take pride in Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus? Do they not understand the weight of the Emancipation Proclamation? Do these people not acknowledge the dream of Martin Luther King that laid the foundation for this election?
How can you fully appreciate the weight of what has happened if you don’t appreciate the history of it? And if you know the history of it, how can you fail to have taken pride in the journey? How can you not be proud of the participation of our country in WWII, where we helped defeat Hitler who was exterminating Jews because he thought they were inferior? How can you not take pride in a country that expanded the world of science and put a man on the moon? How can you fail to take pride in 13 fledgling colonies, who demanded a voice in the government that taxed them and who, when they were refused, decided to declare their independence and create a nation based on freedom and democracy?
These past few days I’ve heard this sad refrain again and again. This is the first time I’ve ever been proud to be an American. Meanwhile, in China, a 12 year old girl wakes up before dawn and goes to work in a factory. She works hard all day long using a machine that is very dangerous. There are no safety catches on this machine, those catches are expensive, it is much cheaper to replace her should she lose a finger or a hand.
She works 16 hours straight with only a quick couple breaks for bathroom use and perhaps one for eating a small portion of rice. The factory in which she works wasn’t the one she chose to work in. It was the one she was commanded to report to. The ventilation is poor and her lungs get blacker by the day. She makes mere pennies a day, while the products she makes earn vast amounts of money for the country in which she lives.
She lives in poverty, with her family, who have all been brought up under the same oppressive rule. She is a machine. She is a number. Her opinions do not matter and she is not allowed to express them. No one cares what she thinks. She has no opportunity in life. She will not grow up to be the thing she dreams of at night. She will grow up and continue working in that same cold factory because that’s what her government demands. Her life is monotony and obedience.
And if she traded places with those of you who are only feeling pride in America for the first time because of the election of a black man as our President, it would not take her very long at all to take pride in our country and the freedom it would provide for her. She would understand why our country is so great immediately. She would not take freedom for granted.
We are not perfect here in America, but we have a say. We have the freedom to speak up when we feel things are not as they should be. We have choices. We have the power to bring on change. This freedom, our right to speak out, our choices, our power to change, these things were not free. They were earned. Lives have been sacrificed so that we could grow up in a place like this. Those lives lost and those ones that were devoted to earning the freedom you take for granted demand your respect and if you can’t take pride in their struggles and hardships, then you don’t deserve America.