My Country: Right or Wrong?

Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell (Photo credit: KariRippetoe)

“I’ve never been loyal to anything sir, except the dream.”

Those words, spoken by Marvel Comics character Captain America best sum up my feelings about my country. Every year on July 4 we celebrate Independence Day with little, if any reflection on what we gained independence from. Oh, we know the textbook answer: the colonies’ independence from a “tyrannical” crown. Dig a little deeper and it is a myth, or Founding Fathers, great and intelligent men all, were divided and deeply flawed as well. We had many more grievances with King George than the obviously noble ones we all learn in grade school. Few teachers have the courage to inform their students that the Fathers’ biggest beef with the Fatherland was its insistence we keep our agreements with “savages.”

Look to close and the myth of America fails. Ask many women, almost any person of color,  a majority of the LGBT community, most Muslims, and other religious minorities in this country and we can tell you: America is only so free, and often oppressive. It took us almost a century to realize that it was wrong to own another human being. It took almost a century more before we realized that women deserved the right, and responsibility, to vote. We still struggle with these issues. Too many of us believe that thanks to the bold efforts of leaders and everyday people in the Sixties that somehow those fights have been one. I challenge you walk a college campus in a dress, or down the streets of East Buffalo before you come to that conclusion. Better yet, ask a First Nations citizen, left in legal and sovereign limbo in their ancestors’ land, what they think.

Which is not to say the myth is worthless. America has done some remarkable things in her 237 years (still a young ‘un on the world stage, really.) It takes us a long time, but we do hear the voices of the oppressed, eventually. We hear them when they have the courage to speak up for themselves (no mean feat when the master’s whip and jailer’s chains wait for you.) We hear them when men and women of compassion and vision stand up for those incapable of standing up for themselves. We hear them when we finally stop drowning them out with the anthems of mindless nationalism and unfounded pride. We hear them when we stop filling our own ears with the mantra: my country, right or wrong.

By accident or design our country has burned itself on the pages of history. At this point we have guaranteed that a thousand years from now historians and other scholars will be discussing our time in the sun. The question we have to ask ourselves is what do we want them to say of us? Do we want to be remembered as people remember the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany? Nations of frightened people unwilling to question the voice of authority, unwilling to question the “wisdom” of their betters? Do we want to be remembered as a people who bickered and blustered our way to the polls, convinced the greatness of our country insulates us from the worst of its mistakes? Or do we want to be remembered as a people willing to take a long hard look at ourselves? Do we want to be remembered as people who had the humility to realize there is always room for improvement? I know how I want my footnote in history to look, and I hope you have the will, and the wits, to reflect on your own. Happy Birthday to all my fellow Americans, may the next 237 years be better than the last!


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