Sunday, July 04, 2004

In Need of Patriotic Emotion...

It's July 4, 2004 and I had to work this afternoon. It was fairly slow, but there were bursts of busy activity that made me wonder "What causes people to want to go to a bookstore and linger around on a very beautiful day meant to celebrate the birth of our country?" I guess there are people without people to be with. But more than that, I think there is less genuine concern for patriotic ritual here in the city than in other places. (Yes, I called Waco a city. Because it is.)

I would have liked to have joined up with everyone else and go see the fireworks, but I was too worn out. So I went to the store, came home, and sat down to read the Sunday paper. There's an article by Elie Wiesel in this week's "Parade" called "The America I Love." Parts of it brought me to tears. I looked to find a copy of it to cut and paste so you could read it, but it has not been archived yet. So, with the sound of fireworks coming from the direction of downtown, my gift to America will be to type out some excerpts of it for you to read and discuss.
The America I Love by Elie Wiesel

Ever since that encounter (his being liberated by American Soldiers from a concentration camp,) I cannot repress my emotion before the flag and the uniform-- anything that represents American heroism in battle. That is especially true on July Fourth. I reread the Declaration of Independence, a document sanctified by the passion of a nation's thirst for justice and sovereignty, forever admiring both its moral content and majestic intonation. Opposition to oppression in all its forms, defense of all human liberties, celebration of what is right in social intercourse: All this and much more is in that text, which today has special meaning.

Granted, U.S. History has gone through severe trials (he mentions the civil rights struggles of black Americans, and how many prejudices have been overcome and how, although there is still bigots here and there, anti semitism is virtually nonexistent in America, unlike in many European countries.)

As a great power, America has always seemed concerned with other people's welfare, especially in Europe. Twice in the 20th century, it saved the "Old World" from dictatorship and tyranny.

America understands that a nation is great not because its economy is flourishing or its army invincible but because its ideals are loftier. Hence America's desire to help those who have lost their freedom to conquer it again. America's credo might read as follows: For an individual, as for a nation, to be free is an admirable duty-- but to help others become free is even more admirable.

Some skeptics may object: But what about Vietnam? And Cambodia? And the support some administrations gave to corrupt regimes in Africa or the Middle East? And the occupation of Iraq? Did we go wrong-- and if so, where?

And what are we to make of the despicable, abominable "interrogation methods" used on Iraqi prisoners of war by a few soldiers (but even a few are too many) in Iraqi military prisons?

Well, one cold say that no nation is composed of saints alone. None is sheltered from mistakes or misdeeds. All have their Cain and Abel. It takes vision and courage to undergo serious soul-searching and to favor moral conscience over political expediency. And America, in extreme situations, is endowed with both. America is always ready to learn from its mishaps. Self-criticism remains its second nature.

Not surprising, some Europeans do not share such views. In extreme left-wing political and intellectual circles, suspicion and distrust toward America is the order of the day. They deride America's motives for its military interventions, particularly in Iraq. They say: It's just money. As if America went to war only to please the oil-rich capitalists.

They are wrong. America went to war to liberate a population too long subjected to terror and death.

We see in newspapers and magazines and on television screens the mass graves and torture chambers imposed by Saddam Hussein and his accomplices. One cannot but feel grateful to the young Americans who leave their families, come to lose their lives, in order to bring to Iraq the first rays of hope-- without which no people can imagine the happiness of welcoming freedom.

Hope is a key word in the vocabulary of men and women like myself and so many others who discovered in America the strength to overcome cynicism and despair.

Remember the legendary Pandora's box? It is filled with implacable, terrifying curses. But underneath, at the very bottom, there is hope. Now as before, now more than ever, it is waiting for us.


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