« Party Idea of the Week | Main | Here and There »

July 04, 2008

Why I Am Patriotic: A Love Letter to America

Today is the Fourth of July.

Independence Day. I awoke this morning to a country in which I can, if I choose, leave my front door unlocked at night without serious fear that my family or property will be harmed. Not everyone in America is this lucky. Certainly we did not start out this way.

My husband and I worked hard to get where we are today, but the fruit of our labors is protected by the rule of law. Thirty years ago, we had next to nothing. We were two young people with low paying jobs living well below the federal poverty level. At tax time, we didn't pay taxes. The government gave us money.

And we made good use of the opportunity we were given. Now, both we and our two grown sons and their families are prosperous and secure.

I awoke this morning to a country in which women have control over their bodies, their education, their careers, and their personal lives. We need not fear being held down and mutilated simply for the crime of possessing female genitalia. Our daughters attend school with boys. They go on to graduate from college and postgraduate schools at greater rates than do our sons. Women enter and leave marriage freely; childbirth and motherhood need not be the inescapable consequences of biology: science and law have made them voluntary decisions. In the workplace, laws give us redress if we face discrimination. Truly, we are liberated in every sense of the word.

I awoke to a country awash in information.

It comes to my door each morning in the form of two newspapers which land with a reassuring "plop" in my driveway by 5 a.m. If I turn on my TV, over 300 channels await my delectation. Information of every kind is there for the taking: history, investigative journalism, opinion, discussion and debate, perspective on the day's events. There are 6 computers in my home, all of them Internet-capable. No government filters what I see and hear. New York Times reporters release classified documents and jeopardize legitimate anti-terrorism programs without fear of jail. Comedians and musicians bait and insult the President of the United States at social occasions. But instead of being punished or rebuked for their boorish behavior they are celebrated; treated as though they had said something of consequence.

I awoke to a country in which citizens may write whatever they please no matter how critical of the government, the military, or the State, without fear. They will not be arrested, beaten, and condemned to hard labor for six years for the crime of disparaging the military. They need never see the pain and confusion in a little girl's eyes as she wonders whether she will ever see her father again?

I awoke to a country in which young men and women are still unashamedly idealistic, in which they are passionately interested in debate and the free exchange of ideas. But more importantly, I awoke to a country in which our children are not all cynical, spoiled, and apathetic. It is a country where young people possess the courage and integrity to stand up for their beliefs:

These grand, overarching questions cannot obscure, at least for me, the plain fact that Mark Daily felt himself to be morally committed. I discovered this in his life story and in his surviving writings. Again, not to romanticize him overmuch, but this is the boy who would not let others be bullied in school, who stuck up for his younger siblings, who was briefly a vegetarian and Green Party member because he couldn't stand cruelty to animals or to the environment, a student who loudly defended Native American rights and who challenged a MySpace neo-Nazi in an online debate in which the swastika-displaying antagonist finally admitted that he needed to rethink things. If I give the impression of a slight nerd here I do an injustice. Everything that Mark wrote was imbued with a great spirit of humor and tough-mindedness. Here's an excerpt from his "Why I Joined" statement:
Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception (though there are countless like me).… Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.

And here's something from one of his last letters home:

I was having a conversation with a Kurdish man in the city of Dahok (by myself and completely safe) discussing whether or not the insurgents could be viewed as "freedom fighters" or "misguided anti-capitalists." Shaking his head as I attempted to articulate what can only be described as pathetic apologetics, he cut me off and said "the difference between insurgents and American soldiers is that they get paid to take life—to murder, and you get paid to save lives." He looked at me in such a way that made me feel like he was looking through me, into all the moral insecurity that living in a free nation will instill in you. He "oversimplified" the issue, or at least that is what college professors would accuse him of doing.

I have a confession to make. I am truly, madly, deeply in love with America.

I love my country not because she is perfect, but because she wants so badly to be. I even love her faults, even the kind of obsessive navel gazing angst that mistakes fallible humans and imperfect realization of our ideals for evidence of pervasive moral rot and in so doing, makes conscience the scourge that would make moral cowards of us all:

... note how readily Beinart disposes of “liberty, justice, and equality.”

He has stripped patriotism to its vacuous essence: Love your country because it’s yours.

If we stopped that arm from reflexively saluting and concerned ourselves more with “universal ideals” than with parochial ones, we’d be a lot better off.

We wouldn’t be in Iraq, we wouldn’t have besmirched ourselves at Guantanamo, we wouldn’t be acting like some Argentinean junta that wages illegal wars and tortures people and disappears them into secret dungeons.

Love of country is a form of idolatry.

It is a dangerous moral equivalence which is so afraid of sinning that it would not kill a rabid wolf, lest it starve the flea on its back.

America is not a destination but a journey and in loving her, we must not become so firmly fixed upon the goal that we lose heart when we stumble a time or two upon the road. For stumble we will. After all, we are but human; all too imperfect clay with which to form the more perfect union our founding fathers envisioned.

I love this country because she was born in turmoil; baptized by fire and lighting; conceived from the highest aspirations of Enlightenment thinkers: words that ring as true today as they did over two hundred years ago:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

What are those words worth, today? Not much, apparently. Do we still believe them? Are they still engraved on our hearts? Do we still believe that ALL men are created equal? I keep hearing that the Arabs are "not ready for democracy". I consider that an appallingly condescending statement.

I submit that in 1776, those words were not worth the parchment they were scribbled on. Utter and absolute rubbish.

They did not become real until long years of bloody, miserable warfare breathed life into them. They were purchased, truly, at the cost of incalculable human suffering.

Bloodshed. Starvation. Sickness. Injustice. Abuse. Ugliness. Imperfection of every sort imaginable. And as Ignatieff mentions at the beginning of his piece, they did not apply equally to every American for a long, long time. Not to the Irish, nor to women, nor to Jews, nor Catholics, nor blacks, nor non-landowners. But this experiment we call America truly did 'light a fire in the minds of men'. And that fire was seen from a great distance.

It became a beacon to others, even with all its imperfections, because it was better than what had come before. This glorious dream: this democracy. It remains an imperfectly-realized ideal, because humans are still flawed and we bring all our sins and weaknesses with us on this journey. But we are vastly improved for having reached beyond our baser selves, for having dared to dream. We are still improving. And so will the rest of the world, if we can find the courage and the resolve to help them. We are on a road to the stars, but we progress one faltering step at a time.

Who are we to think that Freedom is ours to spread, Ignatieff asks?

We were the First. We are the guardians of the flame. Not perfect beings, but in all the world the only ones, it seems, still naive enough, still brave enough, still daring enough to put our money where our mouths are. We are the only ones who are still willing to defend the dream with our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.

Not all the time. Not in every single instance, because that is impossible. And honest liberals will admit that: in a universe with limited resources, choices must be made. But where we can, where it aligns with our interests and with the interests of the rest of the world: yes.

Our own Revolution was not without blemish. Innocent men were tarred and feathered. Families torn asunder. People bled, and suffered and starved. There was even [shudder] terrorism. But it lit a flame that has burned brightly for over 200 years. There are signs that this is happening in the MiddleEast: Arabs are looking at election day in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanding democratic reforms in Egypt and Lebanon and Kuwait. The fire in men's (and women's) hearts is spreading.

We would like certainty. We would like painless progress. We would like closure. We will not get any of those things.

On July 4th we must ask ourselves, what do we believe? Our military - brand new immigrants who enlist before the ink is dry on their visas - believe in those words so strongly that they will lay down their lives to spread the fire of democracy. They also believe (as I do) that their purpose is to serve American foreign policy aims, no matter how abstract and long-term they may seem. No matter how difficult to explain to the American people. No matter how frustrating in the short term.

What kind of world will we bequeath to our grandchildren? It may be that long before we know. But our actions today will have an incalculable effect on that far-off tomorrow. And if our policy is not firmly grounded in the spread of those long-ago words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...

...then I wonder if we shall not be the first Americans who fail to pass the blessings of liberty on to the next generation?

“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph. is for good men to do nothing.” - Edmund Burke.

Happy Birthday, America. May you always be great. May you remain a nation of thinkers, of dreamers, of believers, of doers; striving always towards our ideals without despising the imperfect means we use to achieve them.

But most importantly, may you never give in to cynicism and despair. In life as in sports, ninety nine percent of success lies in simply showing up.

Posted by Cassandra at July 4, 2008 05:53 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Out. Of. The. BALLPARK!!!!

Excellent, Cass - truly marvelous! Thanks so much for helping me start this day out with the proper viewpoint!

May you have a happy, safe, and blessed Fourth, my friend.

Posted by: Kat at July 4, 2008 09:15 AM

Happy 4th, Kat :)

Posted by: Cassandra at July 4, 2008 09:35 AM

Nice post, Cass. I especially like the part about the D of I having to be earned.

Posted by: TigerHawk at July 4, 2008 09:54 AM

Yes'um that's out of the ballpark alright.

"...then I wonder if we shall not be the first Americans who fail to pass the blessings of liberty on to the next generation?"
Not without a fight...

Blessing upon you, yours, and all those who serve this great nation. The best of the best.

Have a great 4th all.

Posted by: bthun at July 4, 2008 10:24 AM

Wonderful, Cass. Just wonderful. Thank you!

Posted by: Beth Donovan at July 4, 2008 10:25 AM

Allegies, its just allergies, got a tissue?

Posted by: Jane at July 4, 2008 10:48 AM

Happy Birthday America.

Well said, as usual. The flag is displayed, the brats are on the barbecue, family is gathering, and we look forward to fireworks tonight celebrating a work in progress.

Hopefully, those among us who take for granted the potential of this great celebration of democracy will consider favorably this beacon of freedom to the oppressed.

Posted by: vet66 at July 4, 2008 10:49 AM

Wonderfully written, Cass. I love it!

Posted by: Nicki at July 4, 2008 10:49 AM

I love my country not because she is perfect, but because she wants so badly to be.

Amen, Cass. Amen.

Posted by: Some Soldier's Mom at July 4, 2008 11:57 AM

Outstanding, my friend. Simply outstanding.

Posted by: DL Sly at July 4, 2008 12:01 PM

Thanks, TH. I always feel a bit weird about quoting my old posts but that is probably my absolute favorite.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 4, 2008 12:02 PM

To friends, Sly.

*clink* :)

Posted by: Cassandra at July 4, 2008 12:02 PM

Hey! Be careful with those fireworks -- somebody might get hurt!

Posted by: BillT at July 4, 2008 12:14 PM

Well said.
Have a great 4th.

Posted by: Russ at July 4, 2008 01:03 PM

thanks so very much had to read it twice its a great read thanks happy 4th to each and every one

Posted by: scott stumpf at July 4, 2008 01:08 PM

Happy Birthday America!

Posted by: Dr. Harden Stuhl at July 4, 2008 02:37 PM

Beautiful said, Cassandra!

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at July 4, 2008 02:59 PM

thank you cassandra for putting into words what so many of us feel. happy 4th of july to you and your family too.

ps i linked this, it's so beautiful.

Posted by: zoey at July 4, 2008 03:37 PM

Another July, a long time ago.

Lest we forget.


Happy Fourth of July. I just hope it stops raining here. Thanks again, Cass.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at July 4, 2008 03:44 PM

Don't go around thinking that all of this praise means we're flattering you, because that's not the intent. It's real praise for an exceptionally well written post. Thank you.

Posted by: htom at July 4, 2008 05:22 PM

If America may not always in the future be great, she will certainly pass the torch of independence to some other nation down the line. Just as it was passed to us from Greece, Rome, and Briton.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 4, 2008 07:36 PM

eloquent--hope we have the brains and hearts to remain true to the words and goal of our founding fathers

Posted by: lee at July 4, 2008 08:41 PM

Well-said, ma'am, and thank you from the father of two Marines.

Posted by: lwj2 at July 4, 2008 09:39 PM

Excellent work, Cassandra. Thank you.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at July 4, 2008 11:05 PM

You have hit the nail on the head with a blow so powerful it has driven it clean through the board.

I salute you.


Posted by: Joanne Dow at July 5, 2008 04:20 AM

Thank You Madam for putting to word the thoughts, dreams, and hopes many of us have, but, have difficulty expressing in word the emotions and desires involved. I hope you enjoyed the holiday, and, enjoy the weekend following.

Posted by: Edward Lunny at July 5, 2008 09:11 AM

Beautiful read, Cassandra! Thanks for sharing your love of country.

Posted by: wordsmith at July 5, 2008 11:04 AM

Yeah, what *she* said. You took the words out of my mouth (and made them a lot prettier). Incredible.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at July 5, 2008 12:50 PM

Nice, Cass.

I've got the whole world.

Posted by: spd rdr at July 5, 2008 01:15 PM

the humidity gets you every time.

*rummages for tissues*

Posted by: Cricket at July 5, 2008 01:36 PM

We were the First. We are the guardians of the flame. Not perfect beings, but in all the world the only ones, it seems, still naive enough, still brave enough, still daring enough to put our money where our mouths are. We are the only ones who are still willing to defend the dream with our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.

And as bthun said, not without a fight ... but instead with tenacious perseverance, continue to maintain this lighthouse in the face of adversity.

I'm often accused of "oversimplifying" the world situation, by insisting that the watershed between nations we can trust, and nations we cannot, is simply whether or not they "hold these truths to be self-evident".

But fostering sustainable peace between nations is Just. That. Simple.

Excellent post, Cassandra.

Posted by: Rich Casebolt at July 5, 2008 04:05 PM

This is the only country in the world that you can be born into, or come to, in desperate poverty, and work to become a success. History is replete with stories of self made men, and women, making in America. They share one value, the desire to work hard, and maintain values that are essential to a success. I would suggest to Liberals that wish government to steal this gift from the people, that you are born into the greatest country in the world. The only thing that can stop you is laziness or apathy. Government never made anyone a success, and the diatribe i hear from the left that government needs to help the poor is ludicrous. The poorest person in America has running water, and most likely a tv, if not more. There are those that choose to remain poor, but the opportunity is there, they need merely work, do what is necessary to succeed. I do believe the law matters, and if you are illegal, you should not have those rights. I clearly do not agree with habeus corpus rights for detainees that are not citizens. Education is key, and far too many choose to ignore education, then want support. Support comes from family, and religion, not government. If I was smart enough, I would debate anyone that supported government over family, but I sadly am not that smart, and never will be, another key to knowledge, knowing your limitations. God bless America, and those that do not, are free to leave. Please do so. You are not helpful to this great country, nor it's people. Thank God for those that serve this country so well, without them, we would not be free, nor deserve to be. I think the people that demand our troops come home before we win, or at least finish this job, do not understand these hero's voluteer, they are doing nothing helpful for our troops, they are clearly the only hope the enemy has, to sway the public to quit. I am quite sure the enemy would give up immediately if every american supported the mission. They can not beat us without our help. Anyway, thanks cassandra, and thank all you know, I could rant on, and probably already have, for too long. Far too many say what I believe and know to be true, better than I can.

Posted by: Rik at July 5, 2008 05:46 PM

I hope it stopped raining for you, Don :)

We had rain here, too.

Hope everyone had a wonderful 4th.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 6, 2008 10:04 AM

"childbirth and motherhood need not be the inescapable consequences of biology: science and law have made them voluntary decisions."

This is hardly one of America's virtues. It is one of its tragedies. That you laud this is appalling.

Posted by: Sisyphus at July 6, 2008 11:49 AM

That is easy for you to say. I assume you are male, and therefore have never had to worry about becoming pregnant.

Perhaps you need to read more carefully (or perhaps just think before commenting). Don't assume I just meant abortion. Birth control used to be illegal in this country. I take it that you would like to make all forms of contraception illegal for married couples?

Good luck with convincing your fellow citizens on that one ...though I suppose our Berobed Overlords seem to have made both your and my opinion irrelevant on that subject :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 6, 2008 11:53 AM

Also, Sisyphus, did it ever occur to you that in a pluralistic, democratic society, citizens will inevitably be allowed some freedoms of which you and I may not approve?

Of course, if you were king, everything would be exactly to your liking. But then America would not be a democratic Republic, would it? The point of this post (which you seem not to have taken on board) is that free will implies having the freedom to make mistakes, too. Perhaps if you thought a bit more, it might have occurred to you that I didn't approve of absolutely everything cited in the opening paragraphs: that the flow of information has both positive and negative consequences (as a Marine wife I can hardly approve of the NYTimes releasing classified info, can I?).

This is a rebuttal to two op-eds which implied that we have betrayed the ideals of our Founding Fathers - that the Bush administration has rolled back our civil rights to the point where we have no cause to celebrate Independence Day anymore. The examples cited are (I believe) among the plentiful examples of just how free a society we are - with both positive and negative results.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 6, 2008 12:08 PM

And since I'm feeling a little seasoned quite, and reflective as this 4th weekend winds down, I hit upon this at MM's.

Darned if Ray can't throw down a beautiful rendition for coasting on through a Sunday evening and ending this special weekend.

May God continue to bless America.

Posted by: bthun at July 6, 2008 09:05 PM

Cass, i am late to the party in regards to your outstanding post. I was at a family reunion where we spoke of those who have served and are serving and learned of those who served. I was particularly impressed as were all of us at the reunion to learn that of those who bear our name, the Dodge family had the most family members and at least 3 generations worth who fought in the American Revolution.

We are Patriots all in our family. However, it was so humbling to learn of how many in the Dodge lineage contributed to the making of our great Republic by sacrificing during the American Revolution. I believe the count is at 60+. Our direct line had 11.

What a privilege to learn how truly we are part of this wonderful on-going process called America. What an awesome responsibility we have to live up to our Founding Fathers, those who fought for the ideals they were able to put on paper, for those who yearn to be free today, and for those who are the Tip of the Spear.

Cass, what a great post. Thank you for your words


Posted by: Nina at July 6, 2008 11:04 PM

I couldn't have said it better myself. Nor would I even want to try when you've done such a beautiful job.

Thank you!

Posted by: Da Goddess at July 7, 2008 08:02 AM

I like the analogy of America as being a journey.

It seems to me that the right focuses on that journey; that it looks back on the changes that have reduced the inequities of American life, sees the progress being made, and looks towards for their further reduction and elimination as it moves forward.

But the left focuses on the existing inequities and the ones of the past and proclaims that these mean that the American system is broken - that it cannot work and must be ended or completely changed. The wrongs that occurred during it's founding means that it is basically corrupt and cannot be fixed. What they call "progressive" I see as destructive. And a number of them are quite upfront that this is exactly their aim; to destroy America, at least as the American way of life exists today.

Posted by: RonF at July 7, 2008 10:56 AM

Happy Birthday America!

Without you, my life would be much different, and far less blessed.

Posted by: Kevin L at July 7, 2008 12:22 PM

Quite true RonF.

And if one were to apply the same reasoning the progressives use on the history of the USofA to any of the models of governance that the progressive contingent promotes, one would clearly see the absurdity of their reasoning. And this illumination would come from requiring a person to participate in only the most topical of reviews of the history of the progressive movement's ideals in action.

Posted by: bthun at July 7, 2008 12:53 PM

Cassandra, I'm also late to the party here but wanted to say how very beautiful this post is.

The line SSM quotes has something to do with a mother's love, and there is no love quite as tender.

Posted by: MaryAnn at July 7, 2008 05:37 PM

Thanks, MaryAnn (and everyone else :)

Your kind words are very much appreciated. Not sure I deserve them, but you all have always been nothing if not gentle with me. Given how dumb I feel about half the time after I hit Post, that's probably a good thing :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 7, 2008 06:25 PM

"Given how dumb I feel..."

I should be so *dumb*...please?

*rolling eyes*


Posted by: DL Sly at July 8, 2008 12:42 AM

Geez, Doc-Lady Sly, if you're gonna cross-stitch threads, at least link to the Intellectuals post...

Posted by: BillT at July 8, 2008 02:53 AM

If I put a link into the cross-stitched threads, Bill, you won't be able to put the thong on...

Posted by: DL Sly at July 8, 2008 01:52 PM

You know, between you and Cassie, I'm beginning to ponder the wisdom of ever having written that post.


But you two sure seem determined to get me into one of those things. Or thongs.

A thong-thing.

As opposed to thing-thong, which is how Thzechuanethe thpeak...

Posted by: BillT at July 8, 2008 02:42 PM

I just happened upon your blog address today via the "People Against Obama" myspace page. And then I read this post. And I have to say, what a wonderful WONDERFUL letter you have written! How clearly you articulate what all Americans SHOULD be feeling...but aren't. Kudos to you for your patriotism!!! Thank you!

former army SPC Dee Dee

Posted by: Dee Dee at June 16, 2009 02:22 PM

Cass, I read this every year (at least), and I forward the link to my friends hoping that some will read and understand with an experiment and adventure we are a part of. As with both of the aforementioned, there will be faults and errors. That is how we learn. And without picking on the current administration too severely, we MUST be learning some painful lessons - a la Egypt.

We may not depose our "leader", as that is not how we do business. But if we were anywhere else (almost), he would be out the door and on the street post haste. Along with Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid among others who have given us this find mess.

The read never gets old. You are still one of the finest scribes Ms. C., and you have my sincere admiration this day and every other day.

But this day, July 4th, is special because not only is it my nations birthday, but it is the anniversary of my wedding to my one and only bride for life. July 4, 1975 in Triangle,(almost Quantico) VA.


Posted by: Kbob_in_Katy at July 3, 2013 08:13 PM

Thank you, Kbob. And happy, happy anniversary. May you and the Mrs. celebrate many more returns of the day.

Blogging is such a funny thing. I've been very discouraged of late, and your kind words could not have come at a better time. I see so much that is wonderful in this country, and it grieves me to think we've lost the sense of just how lucky we are and how much we have.

Posted by: Cass at July 5, 2013 10:06 AM