Thursday, August 16, 2007

Old Glory Flies For All Of Us

I remember how easy it was to grow up in America. My father's generation had already survived the Great Depression of the 1930s. Many from that same era then crossed the ocean their forefathers had once sailed, but the other way. They sailed to Europe to fight World War II and defeat a global challenge to America's idealism.

And when all the military strength and national rhetoric had run its course, the world was once again at peace. We had fought the great fight. We had rallied around "Old Glory." We had won the "Big One" once again.

I came along as a product of that celebration. There were more of us born in the 10 years following WWII than in any other decade in history. We were the "Baby Boomers," and over the past half-century, we have been the beneficiaries of sustained economic innovation.

We have moved to the suburbs and traded radios for televisions, typewriters for computers, telephones for digital message centers, letters for E-mails. Over the Internet, we transact important business deals with people we never meet. We own every device imaginable, from remote control camera blimps to digital TVs posing as framed pictures. We dance apart, endure music which cannot possibly be harmonic, and consume microwave meals with our diet pills. We drink flavored coffee and imported beer, and we can count on one hand the times each year our entire family sits down together for a real meal, served at the same table, at the same time.
Now, this may not be exactly the America our fathers envisioned when they came home from the Great War. And it most certainly is not the America our forefathers founded. But it is the way we define ourselves today—with things rather than ideals, with self-interest rather than national pride or social unity.

And, to make matters more complicated, we live in a multicultural world, with many different personal sentiments and ethnic interests. It is much harder to have a sense of national unity. It is not easy to know what being patriotic means. Our children have no understanding of military conquests. We no longer rally around the same icons, such as the flag. We no longer have a single public spirit in America. There is no one event which makes us feel a sense of togetherness. We have made being an American a very complicated thing. Indeed, it is alarming to ponder if we still have a national heart.

And yet, amid the rapid movement of technology, the burgeoning influx of people, and our materialistic path to self-reliance, our flag still waves above much of the public architecture across our great land. But, today, rather than being the symbol of national unity, "Old Glory" has increasingly become the icon of public diversity.

To those who are the veterans of long-forgotten military campaigns, it represents the principles we cherish as Americans. To Baby Boomers, it signifies unlimited opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. To many others, it represents freedom to be, to love, to believe. To still others, it symbolizes the right to live in this country and hold to cultural values of another homeland far from our shores.

The challenge today is how we make all this diversity work together in harmony for the good of the whole. To be free means that we are each free to express our cultural differences, attitudes, feelings, and opinions. And to be an American means that we all have the same duty to tolerate the differences in our fellow Americans, and to be careful not to impose, by regulation or any other means, our beliefs on others. The first act of tyranny is to legislate that everyone should feel and think the same way. Such actions of law hinder free will and violate our constitutional rights as citizens of a free country.

And yet, to remain free also requires some personal sacrifice. Every generation has an equal duty to understand that the collective intelligence and wisdom of its people determine the greatness of our nation. National unity is more important than individual, ethnic, religious, or any other pride.

A collective consciousness is the only thing that can hold us together as both a people and nation. Social responsibility is more essential than cultural isolation. Patriotism is the steady dedication of a lifetime of people who realize they are one nation together.

It is true that we cannot legislate or force patriotism any more than we can force another person to attend the same church. Matters of faith and public spirit are matters of individual choice in America. And it must stay that way, or it may no longer be the America we inherited.

The question is how we teach each new generation of Americans that our national consciousness must still be connected to our past. The past must be known to every generation of Americans. The past must meet the present through education and national understanding. The spirit of those who labored to establish the foundation for free government must be felt in the spirit of those who benefit from the opportunity it has given. Every generation is a vital link in keeping America strong and great.

Yes, we have made being an American a very complicated thing! But, above all the rhetoric and progress of our times—regardless of our faith, creed, color, lifestyle, or national origin—each of us still has that same timeless duty to first have a national heart.

When we do, then we can still rally around our national symbol, "Old Glory"—because it flies for the sake of our ancestors, our children, our institutions, our country—and it flies for each of us!

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