Soon the season of patriotism will be upon us. Memorial Day will be followed shortly by Flag Day and the Fourth of July. Songs of civic glory will cause chests to swell. My children will cringe as always when I burst spontaneously into “America the Beautiful”.
However, you may cringe when I say I am not proud to be American. No, not the liberal “I’m ashamed of all the bad things my country has done” hogwash. But honestly, how can I take pride in an accident (or Providence) of birth? For the record, I’m not proud to be British either. There is no great accomplishment in living in a place long enough to be allowed to pay the government a substantial amount of money for the right to live there whenever I choose and vote.
Most national pride is an attempt to take some measure of credit for someone else’s meritorious actions. I recently heard an American mention to a Brit, “If it wasn’t for us, you’d be speaking German.” It was as if he had led a platoon onto the beaches of Normandy. We all want to be along for the ride. That would be the ride in the ticket-tape parade, not the the ride in amphibious landing craft or the armored personnel carrier.
There is a big difference between pride we assume for ourselves and the pride we have in others. The biblical example of the latter is voice of the Father at the baptism of Jesus saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The biblical examples of, and admonitions against, the former are manifold. It was, after all, the first sin.
I am not proud to be an American, but I’m proud of lot of Americans. I’m thankful for my ancestors who fought in various conflicts to defend their country. Some fought to stop unjust taxation without representation by Parliament and helped to form this nation. Some had to fight their own countrymen who misunderstood the voluntary compact of the US Constitution by the several sovereign states. They fought for a freedom still misunderstood and mischaracterised.
I’m not proud “we” beat the forces of Nazi Germany. I was not there. I am proud of my uncles and others who did, and I’m not ashamed to shed tears standing amongst the graves at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. Lately I’ve been watching The Pacific mini-series and I’m proud of a lot of men who went through a lot of hardship and experienced dreadful things for a just cause.
I’m proud of men today like Capt. Jared Carter. I’ve known him since he was born and pray for him every day. He and the soldiers for whom he is responsbile do their duty and serve their country wherever they are sent into harm’s way. My pride in them is not diminished by whether I agree with the policy decisions made by the administration of a Commander-in-Chief who often does not seem to look out for the best interests of the nation and of whom I am frequently less than proud.
During patriotism season we often focus on those in uniform, but I’m proud of a lot of other Americans who may not have assisted others in defending freedom, but have contributed in so many ways to make the United States a better place to live. They are farmers and factory workers, entrepreneurs and executives, and others in doubtless countless aliterative couplets of vocations who have made America great. There have even been those who arrived from elsewhere and were unwelcomed by those already here because they were from Ireland or Italy, Manchuria or some other place.
Because I have not achieved being an American though any heroics of my own, I am loathe to put stumbling blocks in front of those who have suffered hardship to also enjoy the American way of life. I am proud of those who have taken risks to bring their families to a place where there is greater opportunity for prosperity, even when the risk is being imprisoned and sent away by those who received those opportunities by accident or Providence. (I’m not sure if the greater shame is on those who believe in random chance or those who don’t.)
On the other hand, I’m not proud of those who have passed legislation to place greater (and often insurmountable) demands on those who would share in a prosperity and freedom not of the legislators’ own making. Yet their legislation is backed by the righteous indignation and incredulity of those who can’t understand why some people would rather live in the shadows and margins of America than in the place where, again by chance or Providence, they were born.
While I will try hard not to be proud, I am very thankful that I was born an American. I have been blessed to live most of my life in a place and under a government, that while far from perfect, is pretty good compared to the regimes under which most of the world’s population live. I’m very thankful to have been born American because otherwise it is more than likely I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be one.