Friday, February 18, 2005

American Idealism: The Lone Idealist

On my last letter to the world Growing Up American, I had some interesting comments.

Brian, whom I respect greatly, was commenting on my paragraph in the letter in which I state that we learn in America, if one of us is hurt (ie, attacked by the enemy) that we would band together, stand together as a nation. I guess I was saying that in the national context of "one" or in the way of 9/11. Brian believes that my analysis is not true, that I may be projecting my own ideas onto people around me just because we share some general societal make up, like live in the same neighborhood or even if the person next to me comes over and helps me cut my lawn, it doesn't mean tomorrow, if we were attacked, the neighbor wouldn't be willing to sell me down the river or willing do something that would purposefully undermine the country, sell it to the enemy. May be out of pure hatred or their own ideology?

Maybe he's right? Of course, I don't agree. I mean, there are obviously and have always been those working from within to undermine America. Benedict Arnold is one of the most famous. There were spies in the north who spied for the confederacy. There were people of German heritage that spied and sabotaged things for the Kaiser in WWI. Of course, we know there were the "America First" crowd that was headed up by Charles Lindbergh (ineteresting he has an international airport in San Diego, California named after him) who actively favored isolationist policies, demanded the US stay out of "another European war" and actually favored some nationalistic ideas that Hitler and the Nazi government had put forth. There were the infiltrators who were German, the Japanese spy network (which precipitated the internment of Japanese Americans). We had Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs, not to mention several other high profile cases regarding the selling of information to Russia and China.

Let's not forget the pro-anarchist marches of the 1960's and the anti-nuke marches of the 70's and 80's. Even during Desert Storm I we had protesters. And Somalia, Bosnia-Herzagovania. Well, we've always had the loud bunch who directly and actively opposes the government that gets lots of attention.

So, I suppose in this case, Brian might be right. Maybe I expect too much of Americans and am exercising naivete in believing that there is still some larger strain of nationalistic idealism that draws us together? Maybe, if we were attacked, I'd find my neighbors more apt to hide in their basements than come out fighting with me. Maybe that one guy around the corner that doesn't have a flag outside his house like the other ten people on his block would be happy to hand over the coordinates of every house on the block with a flag to some enemy of the US. Maybe he would believe he is doing the right thing and never blink an eye?

Maybe. Maybe.

Maybe, like everything about us, we come in all different sizes, all different capabilities, all different ideologies and all different identifiers. Maybe we have become the land of hyphenated identifiers so much that we don't even recognize our one common identifier as the main one? Maybe we are all Irish-American, Asian-American, African-American, Arab-American and not just "American" anymore? Or maybe we are Democrats, Republicans, Socialist, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist or somethng else first and American second?

Maybe the last few decades have been more partisan than ever before and we recognize that partisanship above our citizenship, our responsibility as Americans?

I just don't believe that. I think what we've seen is that, as globalization and interconnectivity through instantaneous information and communications has become ever more prevalent and we recognize that we are members of a world community, we have, purposefully let the idealism of America take a back seat. Not that it has completely died or been trampled out, it's just not our main focus anymore. We spend a lot of time talking about and worrying about our place in the world, our effect on the world and learning about and accepting other cultures. It's a natural bi-product of the new interconnectivity. As we look into other cultures and are exposed to them everyday, we tend to look into our own culture and society and see what it is that we're doing and if something someone else has tried makes sense.

Does it mean that our American idea is no longer THE idea? Is it so changed through all of our interconnectivity that we have gone far away from what once made us a nation, indivisible under a flag and a constitution that made us who we are?

There are always questions about what and who we are. There have always been questions about who and what we are. With every flood of new immigrants and waves of new cultural phenomenom into the country, people worried about what it might do to "America". They worried that these new people would change America and that America would no longer be the America that the founding fathers had invisioned. And, in every generation, during every new wave, the anti-immigration folks joined groups, had rallies, did political lobbying to try and stop these waves of people and the "damage" they were inflicting on the American ideal. They sounded a lot like the anti-immigration people sound today actually.

Yet it seemed, with every wave of immigrants, instead of the ideal of America being damaged and lost forever, it was embraced even more so by the immigrants that came after even as the jaded seemed to lose interest or become so protectionist that they couldn't see what a great bounty it was to have new blood infusing the system continuously.

It was these that we thought would destroy American idealism that pushed it forward and kept it strong. It was during things like the Civil War or World War II when these same immigrants, flush with their new idealism of America, joined the military voluntarily to fight for their country. I think I see that even today. I've read many articles about immigrants who were not born here yet they go into the military to serve this country and everyone that I read insisted that they owed the country a debt and were proud t serve.

Were they serving Republicans, Democrats, Christians and Atheist? Were they serving Anglo-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans? In a way, yes, but not those groups identified separately. They were serving the greater identity, the ideal that represents the people. They were serving America.

There has also been many thoughts written about the "Greatest Generation". This was the generation of my Grandparents who mobilized to fight against fascist Germany and imperial Japan. We have a romantic ideal of this generation. It's why we call them the "Greatest Generation". They suffered and they sacrificed much to overcome that tyranny, that threat to America. I wonder if we, having read the great exploits of the days, the sheer ingenuity and mobilization of a whole people, if we have forgotten that they were like us? Maybe we have been so inculcated with the romance of that generation through movies, posters and writings, that we have projected that romanticism on to an entire generation and made them into untouchables? People that we could never be?

Maybe they were just like us. They were everyday people who, for the most part, were busy working, making a living and raising their families. They were Republicans and Democrats who argued about the New Deal, equality, economic and social reforms. They were Irish-American, German-American, African-American, Japanese-Americanetc. They were Christian, Jew and Atheist if not a few other religions thrown in. They were us and they rose to the challenge of their generation, sacrificing much for something. They each have had their own ideas, but when it came down to it, what they most feared was the loss of America because that loss meant their own loss as well.

We are forever comparing ourselves to that generation. We question whether we could or if we even would stand up like that. Maybe we are too internationalist and globalist these days. Maybe we are too lazy. Maybe we are too selfish.

Maybe we don't know because we've never been asked to do it since then?

Sixty four years is a long time to not be asked to do that, to put away whatever it is that we normally fight about amongst ourselves and to give more than we get. Or, maybe it's not that long after all. Between the Civil War and the first world war it was almost 63 years before we had giant wars that asked for huge contributions form the population, but even that was only one year of actual combat. That war had their anti-war protesters, but it didn't stop the main group of circling around the flag and believing in the ideal of freedom, not just for America, but for Europe. It was another 23 years before we were asked again, but even more so.

We look back and see that there were drives for aluminum, rubber, war bonds, there were patriotic rallies and patriotic movies and patriotic posters.

Maybe because we haven't done that now we think we would never do it again?

I know that I have talked to those we would place on the "left" of many issues. I have heard them express concerns, nearly undending, about their fear of a growing nationalism in the United States. They fear it because to them it reminds them of fascist Germany and Italy. Yet, they forget, that nationalism was the flavor of the Greatest Generation. It was just different than these other nationalist movements because they were guided on different principles.

They fear this nationalism so much because they fear a country with nuclear weapons and a nationalist identity because they think that all nationalist movements historically have always ended in tragedy. They forget it was our own nationalist movement that trumped the German and Japanese. I wonder if anyone from the left of the aisle will ever stand up and say that nationalist movement was some how evil? Probably not because, even 60 odd years later, as that great generation passes on, we still look at them as the milestone, the epitome of American idealism and it would be tantamount to suicide to proclaim it other wise.

I think that my friend Brian believes (and he can correct me if I'm wrong) that, that idealism is gone, the idealism that drove the Greatest Generation and that we would most likely suffer more fools and destructionist than we did back then.

Maybe we do have more in terms of quantity.

But, I submit to you that I believe that, as a percentage, we would have more answering the call to arms, the call to sacrifice, if asked, if necessary, then we would have those that would actively seek to undermine it. Not that they wouldn't exist, just that they would be as marginalized as they were back then.

I don't think we've been called on to take up that challenge yet.

Then again, maybe I'm the lone idealist.

Maybe I'm far off base here and Brian sees it as, not so much as the change in our physical make up, but because the great liberal revolution of the 60's is still echoing in our demographics. Maybe our campuses and our great public discourse has rendered that American idealism moot and impotent with the flooding of liberal and anti-American idealism into the mainstream. Maybe he is thinking of the great cold war debates and the ultra left wing parts of our society that labored ceaselessly to get us to back down, to give up, to enter into some "realist" idea where we could or should co-exist with such a terrible entity.

I think that those things have happened, but I don't think that it has infected our body politic so much that American idealism has been squashed. I think it's out there, just below the surface. We don't see it or hear it because, in all honesty, we haven't felt the need to bring it out and hammer it into the shape of the anvil on which we beat out our future. I believe it is out there in a quiet way, in the "silent majority" that everyone always whispers about. I believe it's out there because I can drive around my neighborhood today and see every other house with an American flag hanging outside. If they don't have a flag, they have red, white and blue stickers saying "I support the USA" and yellow stickers that say "I support the troops".

Yeah, we have some spoilers around, but I don't even discount those with the opposing party's stickers on their bumpers as "spoilers". Just because they were going to vote for someone else and may not support the Iraq war fully as I do, doesn't mean that they would be happy just to lie down and be run over. We just haven't asked them to stand up yet.

Of course, Brian could always be right and I could be projecting, wishful thinking.

Maybe I am the lone idealist?

5 comments:

Brian H said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian H said...

Well, idealism has many degrees, forms, and objects or content. Idealists are prone to sacrificing untold numbers of the unenlightened to attain the utopian ideal state (which never quite arrives). And ideals are easy to mouth, easy to use as handles to manipulate the believing ones. So strong idealism has no inherent, overriding, value, though its utter absence is a recipe for crudity and cynical bossism.

So assuming someone who looks normal thinks like you is an error, and so is assuming that someone who recites the approved ideals and formulas actually is motivated by them.

I'm just urging caution and a tight rein on stereotyping -- including positive stereotyping, the assumption that everyone nominally on your side or in your tribe shares much more than is actually the case if you get right down to it.

As an exercise try picking 10 people, (truly) at random, and asking them to tell you what the word "American" means to them. Don't interrupt or make faces. Take notes. Later, compare with your own ideas. You might be surprised.

MichaelH121 said...

Hey Kat. You are both kind of correct. Tom Brokaw wrote the "Greatest Generation" and they were.

But to me that needs to be stolen from them. They won't mind no disrespect intended.

During WWII we had 16 million men under arms. There were small towns in which all young men signed up to fight. One was medically unable and then committed suicide. Didn't want to be labeled a coward. That was a bit extreme. But that was the feelings then, not now.

The gretest generation is the kids today who serve and are STILL signing their names and raising their right hands. Because if there was a world war we would never get 16 million men even though we have more than 2 times the population.

The best account is the Navy. A destoyer was having a cookout in Germany on the docks with a sister German destoyer. The American ship after the Attacks put to sea. No idea where they were going was just ordered on alert and went. A while later the German detroyer ask permission to come along side. As it did ALL the German sailors were in dress uniform and on deck in Salute. Pics were awesome.

It was not a country, it was not a government, it was just sailors, man to man in honor.

A LT who lost a foot is on his way back to active duty in Iraq. First time in our history a soldier so severly wounded is being returned at his request and the Military fulfilling that request.

There are those who Hate America but they also hate themselves.

It is an old quote, "The problem with true liberals is that they feel guilty they do not feel guilty enough"

Their "idealism" is self defeating. The are the Vichy French. They sleep with the enemy and turn over the Jews, then are suprised when the Nazis start killing them.

The enemy will sleep in your bed and say sweet things but check under their pillow for the knife that is destined for your back.

The problem with the Michael Moores and the Prof. Churchills of the world is not only are they willing to climb into bed, but they supply the knife.

MichaelH121 said...

Hey Kat. You are both kind of correct. Tom Brokaw wrote the "Greatest Generation" and they were.

But to me that needs to be stolen from them. They won't mind no disrespect intended.

During WWII we had 16 million men under arms. There were small towns in which all young men signed up to fight. One was medically unable and then committed suicide. Didn't want to be labeled a coward. That was a bit extreme. But that was the feelings then, not now.

The gretest generation is the kids today who serve and are STILL signing their names and raising their right hands. Because if there was a world war we would never get 16 million men even though we have more than 2 times the population.

The best account is the Navy. A destoyer was having a cookout in Germany on the docks with a sister German destoyer. The American ship after the Attacks put to sea. No idea where they were going was just ordered on alert and went. A while later the German detroyer ask permission to come along side. As it did ALL the German sailors were in dress uniform and on deck in Salute. Pics were awesome.

It was not a country, it was not a government, it was just sailors, man to man in honor.

A LT who lost a foot is on his way back to active duty in Iraq. First time in our history a soldier so severly wounded is being returned at his request and the Military fulfilling that request.

There are those who Hate America but they also hate themselves.

It is an old quote, "The problem with true liberals is that they feel guilty they do not feel guilty enough"

Their "idealism" is self defeating. The are the Vichy French. They sleep with the enemy and turn over the Jews, then are suprised when the Nazis start killing them.

The enemy will sleep in your bed and say sweet things but check under their pillow for the knife that is destined for your back.

The problem with the Michael Moores and the Prof. Churchills of the world is not only are they willing to climb into bed, but they supply the knife.

Tom said...

Well I'm certainly an American Idealist, but you already knew that.

As Ronand Reagan said, our best days are ahead of us. We've lost nothing.