Saturday, July 3, 2010
This Fourth of July...
Yesterday as I backed out of the driveway, the local radio station played Kate Smith’s classic “God Bless America”. As always, it brought tears to my eyes, but this year I wept for different reasons. Irving Berlin, born in Russia, an immigrant to this county as a young child, gave America this song written from his heart. It touched the hearts of every American as World War II brought us together as never before. The song, like the country, has endured.
Every country like every person has a past—good, bad, indifferent. America is no exception. No one is proud of the treatment of Native Americans, of slavery, of Japanese internment, of segregation and the terrible things that accompanied it. All of that was wrong, something to be ashamed of, something to make us stand up together and say, “Never Again”. But like individuals who have made mistakes, a country must go forward, too, or remain stagnant and, eventually, die.
I remember a scene from the powerful film “Judgment at Nuremburg”, between the leading American trial judge and the housekeeper employed in the house where he stayed. He tried—kindly, he thought—to ask about what it was like to live under Hitler, how everyday people thought about and reacted to National Socialism. The woman, near tears, said nervously, “We were not political. My husband and I were not political.” She went on to say, speaking of the death camps, “We did not know.”
Until recently, I would have said the same thing: I am not political. Perhaps I still am not political, but I am afraid. Will the country in which my grandchildren are growing up even be recognizable as America when they are adults? Will they have the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’? Will they still enjoy the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights? Or will we, the members of this generation, have allowed all that to slip away, saying, “We were not political. We did not know.”
I’m not going to speak to individual issues here. Everyone has his own opinion to which he is entitled. The question is, can we find common ground? Can we find people who will legislate for the common good—not for their personal agendas? People who believe in America--not themselves? Can we come together as Americans—just Americans—who want their country to endure and grow stronger—especially morally stronger?
The future of America is not a political issue—it is a personal issue. The Constitution of the United States begins, We the people... We must be THE PEOPLE. We must find some way to respect our differences and work together. If we cannot work together, other forces will work for (or against) us.
And years hence, “God Bless America” may be only an old, meaningless song.