Another Memorial Day, and with it the requisite cookouts, flags and all things red, white and blue.
Not to rain on the parade, but why is it that so few (especially younger generations) have even the slightest clue as to what they should be celebrating? It’s gotten to the point where “Memorial Day” is just about partying. So here’s a refresher: Memorial Day is the special observance honoring those who fought to achieve, and preserve, the unique freedoms that have made America the envy of the world for 250 years. And it’s not just those in uniform who should be honored, but the families, businesses and communities who supported them during their time in the armed services.
In that regard, perhaps we could find a little time this Memorial Day to contemplate what being an “American” truly means to us, as both individuals and fellow countrymen.
For my part:
• I am proud to be an American because of our nation’s legacy of rising to the challenge whenever tyrants reared their heads. I am proud that my nation turned the tide of two world wars, and in doing so ensured freedom, through the blood of countless Americans, for billions by stopping the gravest of threats.
In particular, I’m proud that we resolutely stood by Winston Churchill when the darkest hour was descending upon his people, and when the threat of global Nazi domination was terrifyingly real. I am proud that the United States fought staunchly against Soviet tyranny, and indescribably proud of leaders such as Presidents Kennedy and Reagan who, despite the threat of nuclear war, reassured free peoples and inspired those trapped behind walls. Their unwavering commitment to liberty was the catalyst that eventually led to those walls being torn down, which freed more people from authoritarian rule than at any point in world history.
I am proud that we still stand by our allies even though, truth be told, those nations offer little security value to the United States. Without getting “political,” I am proud that, after decades of being taken for granted by our so-called “friends,” we finally have a leader who is demanding that our allies fulfill their defense commitments, rather than letting America do all the heavy lifting. And while I am proud that my nation’s Greatest Generation saved the world from unspeakable tyranny – without asking for anything in return – I remain abjectly disappointed that nations saved from obliteration now seemingly forget America’s monumental sacrifice on their behalf. They can, and should, do better.
• I am proud to be an American because of our unparalleled generosity in opening our doors. As leader of the free world, America admits more than one million legal immigrants annually. Yes, one million, which is more than those admitted by every other country in the world combined. But it’s nothing new, as we’ve been rolling out the welcome mat since our country’s inception.
When the Irish suffered during the potato famine, they didn’t head east to much-closer Europe, but to America’s distant shores. After the Vietnam War, countless Southeast Asians, including some who fought against us, sought refuge in America. Millions who flee persecution from tyrants, including Middle Eastern refugees, risk life and limb to make America their home. And why? Because America offers even the most downtrodden the opportunity to carve out not just an existence, but a standard of living that most would never dare dream.
We are a nation that respects the rule of law, and emigrating here must be done legally. So while reforming the immigration system is a topic for another day, let’s strive to recognize America’s magnanimity as the world’s foremost beacon for immigrants.
• I am proud to be an American because we are unique in making amends for mistakes. From internment camps to slavery; supporting brutal dictators to denying women the right to vote; and from mistreating Native Americans to wiping out buffalo and redwoods, we clearly did not always do the right thing. But through it all, America has shown a most remarkable resilience to conquer its demons, exorcising them to rectify our failings, and to make things better for future generations.
Now, as one of the most environmentally conscious nations on Earth, we continue our commitment to a healthy environment by cleaning up waste sites and cracking down on polluters. And since clean air and water don’t abide by political boundaries, what we do helps our neighbors abroad. We still have a lot of work to do, but America continues to progress in the right direction for achieving a cleaner world.
• I love being an American because we are the world’s most benevolent nation.
Upon Japan’s surrender in World War II, many Japanese soldiers feared what their American captors might do to them. And the Americans did plenty. They accorded the same medical treatment to the Japanese as to their own. They openly shared cigarettes with their prisoners – something that Japan prohibited when the tables had been turned. They fed the Japanese the same food that the Americans received. In short, despite many wartime atrocities committed by the Japanese, America treated its vanquished foe with unprecedented restraint. Most telling, during the surrender ceremony on the battleship Missouri, the Japanese officers were absolutely mystified as to how much dignity the Americans allowed them to maintain.
It is that altruism – doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, with no strings attached – that still carries the day and earns the admiration of the world.
Throughout most of history, victors enslaved their conquered peoples and laid waste to their lands. Yet America has always done the opposite, pouring billions into Japan, Germany, Italy, and later, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Unlike most countries, America, for the most part, has left the nations with which it warred better off than when it found them.
• I am proud to be an American because when famines and disasters strike, my country always leads the way. While we’re still waiting for other nations to send aid for Katrina, Sandy and every other natural disaster we’ve experienced, the United States has sent people, supplies and billions to help fellow humans in need: Haiti after its earthquake; Thailand after the tsunami; and Japan after its tidal wave and nuclear disaster, to name just a few.
Compare the reactions of the world’s two largest economies after an immensely powerful typhoon smashed the Philippines just a few years ago, leaving thousands dead and millions homeless. America immediately sent millions in aid and manpower, opened airports, rebuilt roads, and sent an aircraft carrier to coordinate rescue and reconstruction operations.
And China? It initially sent only $100,000, placing it behind even IKEA. Enough said. -I am proud to be an American because we’ve evolved to the point where a black American was able to become president — and deliver the eulogy for a former KKK member (former Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd). Race relations still have a long way to go, but if we can achieve that feat less than 50 years after the Civil Rights movement, we can achieve anything.
• I am proud to be an American because of how much our ingenuity has advanced the world. From the Wright brothers’ first flight to walking on the moon just a few decades later, our ability to shoot for the stars has never diminished and, God willing, never will. It is that creativeness that has helped make our world the safest in all of human history, as we continue to conquer hunger, disease, poverty and conflict.
• Perhaps most of all, I am proud that no matter how much we dislike the election winner, we always have a peaceful transition of power. We accept the results (though, sadly, that is changing), and work with those elected to make things better. Contrast that to most other nations, where the outcomes of “elections” are already determined before the first vote is cast.
America has always been a beacon of hope for those who crave independence, tolerance and a fresh start. This Memorial Day, let’s salute those who fought with uncommon valor to give us this oasis of freedom. And may the colors of liberty never run.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at CF@FFZMedia. com.