It should also be pointed out, as Hanks noted, that the vast majority of those who claim to be “Americans” today, at least in the US, were NOT among the first people to live on the American continents. No, probably ALL of our ancestors immigrated here from other places. It IS true that there were people here long before any European influence arrived, but we are pretty sure that even their ancestors probably crossed over to these lands from Asia. It is also true, of course, that much of what we call “American” culture today is derived from European influence. Certainly, that is true of much of the dominant culture of the US. Of course, most people know little about that, nor do they really care.
However, I believe that it is correct to suggest that the most significant influence on most of what initially became the United States was from England; and was, dominantly influenced by various forms of Protestant Christianity. I am aware that not ALL of the early colonies were divided along religious grounds, but I do think it’s fair to say that differences between these religious groups (which did include some Roman Catholics) were significant and followers of one group were often criticized and otherwise not welcomed by members of other groups. Some of my own ancestors, who settled in the area north of Boston, were (or at least agreed to live according to the rules) of the group who wished to separate themselves from the policies of the Church of England and felt it necessary to leave England in order to do so. The number of those people fleeing the English Church increased after Cromwell’s fall and the Restoration of the monarchy.
That period brought more of my ancestors to these shores, although at least one of them MAY have come to the colonies primarily in an effort to escape the wrath of the restored Charles II, as it is believed that he might have been one of Charles I’s executioners, which would not have made him popular with the English authorities of the time. It IS interesting (at least to me) that this ancestor (Thomas Carrier) was married to Martha Carrier who was hanged during the Salem Witch Trials, and several of their children were questioned regarding witchcraft, but I have not found ANY references to anyone seeking to arrest, question, or even mention Thomas during the Witch Hunt period (1692-3). After the”hunt” ended and his wife was hanged, Thomas moved to Connecticut and continued to live there until 1735. I think it quite suspicious that Thomas is nowhere to be found in the records of the Witch Trials. Does this suggest that there was some sort of agreement that his name should be kept out of the official records for his, and others’, protection? One can’t be sure of course, but it seems an interesting (and plausible) idea.
None of this has a lot to do with my topic of patriotism, but it may suggest that the idea is subtler and more complex than many seem to think. I have been quite annoyed recently by the assertion that only citizens of the US can properly be called “patriots,” and, even more recently, that what is being called “patriotism” must be enthusiastically supported at all times. I’ve actually been upset about this notion for a good while as I came from the “Vietnam” generation and, while I honor those who felt it right to support our government’s policies and chose (or were forced) to serve in that conflict, I also think that we do ourselves a disservice when we write off those who protested against our involvement in what was, largely, a civil war. I find this especially true since we never seemed to have had much of a plan as to what would constitute “winning” that war, or how it could be resolved in a way which would achieve peace in that part of the world. I find it wrong to condemn those protesters as “unpatriotic.” I believe the same is true regarding those who refuse to accept the notion that the US is always “perfect” and MUST always be supported without question.
You see, I like Mark Twain’s statement that: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” I always felt that one could disagree with his/her government over some policy issue (or, perhaps, many) and still be patriotic. I would cite the anti-war movement and the various civil rights movements as examples of how one can be a “patriot” without simply following along with government policy blindly because the government says so. We, “Americans” have, in fact, been discussing the nature of patriotism since some of us started to question what it meant to be an “Englishman” and whether, or not, we were being allowed to be patriotic to the British crown along about 1770-something.
Yes, we tend to refer to our “Founding Fathers” as among the first of our great patriots, but there was a question on some of their parts as to whether, or not, they were being allowed to be patriots (to the English crown), or were being denied that status by England, itself. As it is discussed in Edwards and Stone’s 1776 by the (historically based) characters of John Dickinson and Ben Franklin:
Ben Franklin: If I’m to hear myself called an Englishman, sir, then I assure you I’d prefer I’d remained asleep.
John Dickinson: Oh, now, what's so terrible about being called an Englishman? The English don't seem to mind.
Ben Franklin: Nor would I, were I given the full rights of an Englishman. But to call me one without those rights is like calling an ox a bull. He's thankful for the honor, but he'd much rather have restored what's rightfully his.
As we celebrate our American Patriotism, it’s important to remember that our “patriotic” founders were, from the English point of view, traitors who took up arms against the legally constituted authority of the crown. I really don’t care much for labels such as “patriot” because they can be (and have been) so frequently distorted to suggest the correctness of whatever point of view someone wishes to promote. After all, one could argue that a “patriotic” German in the 1930s, was one who supported Hitler’s Nazism. However, I don’t wish to leave this general topic without touching on my belief that patriotism requires a clear, fair, and honest look at whatever nation one wishes to discuss in terms of whether a citizen feels that his/her nation actually supports (and has supported) the ideas which it claims are its “patriotic” ideals. I am afraid that there are certain persons active in the US political scene today, who seem to have a problem with this sort of thinking. I believe that is not only sad, but dangerous.
This being the time of year when we celebrate our Independence from England, I think it worth suggesting that I note something of a sadness in the document that the colonial Congress felt it necessary to create in order to take the step of seeking to separate themselves from the founding country. The bulk of the document is, after all, an indication of the feeling of these representatives that the people of the colonies they represent are being expected to behave as good, proper citizens of England, while being denied the rights and privileges granted to such citizens in the homeland.
What’s upsetting about this to me, is that I sense something of the same sort of “Imperial” attitude being expressed by some of our current political figures. Consider this idea: Abortion is bad, so it must be stopped under all circumstances, in order to protect the sanctity of human life. This, logically, requires (if one stops to consider it) that human life be defined as starting at conception. So, logically, citizenship starts at that point, too, right? That means that every law which considers birth (or later) as the starting point of life and/or citizenship and must be rewritten to accommodate this idea. Tax laws, voting rights, gun ownership, legal adulthood, etc., ad nauseam; all will require alteration. These are very practical problems, but probably solvable with some effort.
Then, one probably should inquire how the notion of human life being sacred (that is what “sanctity” means) figures into this issue. After all, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Since we have no national religion, the idea of “sanctity of life” is a legal absurdity, especially when the death penalty is allowed for certain crimes and pacifism is not the standard. To me, that suggests that ALL human life isn’t sanctified, just some, under some conditions. There’s also the notion that allowing abortion, even if limited to under certain conditions, such as it being an agreed upon medical procedure being performed under the supervision of trained, qualified medical practitioners with the agreement of the parties directly involved, is NOT the same as requiring such a procedure under ANY circumstances. To put it simply, if you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one! The fact that such a medical procedure is legal does not mandate anyone to have one!
Another point; history, even the history of our great United States, is not always pleasant. We, as a society, have done things which we should, legitimately, be less than proud of, at least by contemporary standards. Homosexuality, as an example, has been around for as long as we can chart civilization and has always been known to exist, just not talked about much, certainly in public, and often considered shameful, sinful, etc. Recently its existence has been more widely acknowledged, tolerated, and it has become more broadly accepted as a part of communal existence. However, it has now become fashionable in some circles to claim that any public recognition of sexual “deviance” is the result of evil people trying to force a “Queer” agenda on the rest of us and this must be resisted at all costs to “protect our children” from be required to become gay, or trans, or some other “horrible fate,” (despite the scientific studies which disprove this. Therefore, anyone who offers “those people” any form of support, or even quiet acceptance is evil “and must be stopped!”
The recognition of the fact that slavery did, in fact, exist and that there are serious(?) questions about the idea that “it wasn’t all that bad,” as some have suggested, could be used to justify further factual studies about the “enslaved experience,” but seems unlikely to lead to any sort of real understanding when our “leaders” choose to imply that a life as “property,” as opposed to being considered a person, would be acceptable, perhaps even desirable, at least to “some” people. Might I suggest that, since it isn’t going to happen to them, why should they actually care, after all, except that they can raise money from it by making the idea controversial? It’s also worth noting that there were, in fact, slaves even in New England, at least in the early days of the colonies, as the first person accused of witchcraft in the Salem Witch Hunt was the colored slave of a (white) Puritan minister.
I won’t even begin to address the treatment of the indigenous people the colonists “discovered” across the entire North American continent, except to say that it was, and is, nothing which we should take any pride in acknowledging.
To head this towards some sort of conclusion, some of our political “leaders” have attacked our schools for attempting to include the truth of too much of our history in formal education curricula, and have even tried to suggest that books and articles which touch on these matters should be abolished from libraries and the public marketplace, for “the protection of our children.” After all, the logic goes, we don’t want little white kids to be embarrassed by the actions which their forbearers took, so the solution is to erase these “unpleasant facts” from the historical record, when as few as one adult (not even necessarily a parent) objects to any book as being something which might lead to “awkward” feelings and/or questions. I suspect that the “awkward” feelings they are really concerned about is their own when their children ask them why so little was done to correct the obvious wrongs being done?
Hushing it up ain’t gonna work, folks! The facts are out there and they will become (have already in many cases) known. People of color were (and still are) being discriminated against through “red lining,” school districting, public support for private (segregated, religious, and/or just elitist) schools, “canceling” people and businesses which don’t support only those ideas with which you are in full agreement, etc. Racism is still practiced in the insistence that so-called “white” culture is of the highest value and other cultures and religions have little to offer us. (By the way, I wonder how many people know that during at least part of the Nineteenth Century people of Italian and Irish ancestry (and others) were not considered to be “white” in many places in the US. That has changed some over time, but it does point out the idea that discrimination was not limited to what we now call “people of color.”
Anti-semitism has been a hushed up, but common, feature of our society for much of our existence. Perhaps we should also remember that we corralled American citizens of Japanese ancestry into what were called "Relocation Centers,” but were, essentially, concentration camps during World War II. Personally, I find it wildly ironic that the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which would become the most decorated unit in US military history (including 21 Congressional Medals of Honor) was composed almost completely of soldiers of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were recruited from those camps. (For those who might care, the story of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid where it is suggested that he was one of those MOH winners while his wife and child died in one of the “relocation centers” is NOT just “Hollywood” fiction, but an entirely plausible idea.)
These are only some of the FACTS of US history. There are many which are, perhaps, pleasanter, but we do ourselves no favor by pretending that we have always been the “good guys.” I wish that were true, but I was taught to believe in fact, not some self-serving politician’s notion of what’s going to gain votes (money) for him/her. I think our children deserve the truth! We are not and have not been perfect at all times! We can do better, and we should try to do so!
By the way, it has become quite popular, in some circles during recent years to exclaim as loudly as possible that many of the tensions in our society are the result of actions by “those radical, left-wing, anti-fascist and anti-racist folks who are known as ANTIFA.” This label actually seems to lead one into a morass of (often opinionated) disagreement regarding a movement which seems to be most accurately described as “highly decentralized and which comprises an array of autonomous groups that aim to achieve their objectives through the use of both nonviolent and violent direct action rather than through policy reform.” It is presented by the right as “anti-American.” I am not a supporter of violent action by anyone. The ballot box, which has been proven by the courts to be safe, fair and equitable except when politicians go out of their ways to gerrymander voting districts, limit voting and/or “cook the books” for some sort of partisan advantage, is intended to provide the appropriate place for the appropriate sort of action. I would also like the folks who are so opposed to ANTIFA to explain if they really mean to imply that since what they call an “American” must be against being “anti-fascist” and “anti-racist,” are they really mean to suggest that a “real American” therefore must be PRO-fascist and PRO-racist? I really would like that clarified.
The Founding Fathers understood that cooperation was essential for survival and that compromise was essential to cooperation. I suspect that most of them had to swallow hard once or twice before agreeing to sign various parts of the Declaration of Independence, but they knew that they would, in the end, rise or fall TOGETHER and they needed each other for any hope of success. Politics is NOT a “zero sum” game. It IS possible for you to rise without having to make sure that I fall. Our founders hoped we could all rise together, without falling into the trap of aristocrats and peasants. Yes, some folks might have more money, or more property or greater prestige, but ALL should be equal under the law and at the ballot box. It took us about a hundred years to decide that all MEN should actually have the right to vote, and longer yet to include women, but we did, eventually, get there (at least technically). I believe that we need to build on that idea by at least trying to listen to each other and find ways to look for common ground. It IS possible for there to be more than one good idea.
The politics of hate and division is NOT the “American Way.” Anyone who attempts to gain your political support by pointing out those “other” people who MUST BE STOPPED before they get “THEIR way, which will deny you your rights,” is NOT your friend. Anyone who thinks it okay to deny someone else his/her rights will have no difficulty in using the same tactics on you, if it seems desirable for their purposes. Your rights are NOT enhanced by denying others theirs! Truth is truth! Denying facts may make us feel good for the moment, but the truth is going to bite us in the butt eventually if we try to ignore it. It’s probably better to take our lumps up front and get it over with. After all, all that any of us can do is the best we can with the information we have. Isn’t it better if that information is verifiable, proven and real and not just the wild imaginings of some delusional wannabe “leader?”
See you in a couple of weeks,
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
— Nelson Mandela
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic; capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” ―Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
“Not everything which can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
— from a sign in Albert Einstein’s office