On America

 

Seeing as this site has just launched, so close to 4th July, and a year after my arrival in the United States, I thought it appropriate, both as a celebration of Independence Day and as  a celebration of my own arrival in Southern California, just a few days over a year to the day, to post something about 'America'.

It's a pivotal time for the world we know.  Shifts in power, the very real problems of terrorism, now a global issue and a part of our daily lives. Whichever, whatever 'side' of this strange war you may find yourself on, it has changed the lay of the land in our hearts and in our minds. Economies have near crumbled, people's livelihoods have been lost, their homes repossessed. Nothing is as 'for sure' as it once was. China, India, Russia and Brazil, now give the United States a run for her money, both economically and sometimes even militarily. The United States is not the supreme world power, lacking any contender for the top job, that it once was.

Now, "Who is this guy?! This all sounds so miserable and down beat! Its his first post, dammit! What a party pooper. Of course the United States is great!!" you may find yourself saying. "Au contraire!" would be my rebuttal to that…except in the last part. I hope, sincerely, that you will allow a foreigner, an Englishman no less, to comment upon this great country of yours.

In this shaking world of uncertainty and new beginnings, a new World Order, shifting levels and positions of power, as such those who now 'have a say' in how we all live our lives, it is 'America' that must, and needs to, stand tall, as the beacon of hope and of freedom that she set out to be when brave men, women and children left the shores of Europe, risking their very lives in even attempting to set foot upon this continent,  to found a country where all people would be equal and be guaranteed to attain the right to self-determination in their lives.

 

As a Frenchman, it may surprise you at just how pro-American Alexis de Tocqueville was. He wrote in the 1830s;

"America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great"

It is for this reason that now, more than ever in her history, perhaps with the one exception, that of America's involvement in WWII, in bringing Nazi Germany to its knees, helping to ensure that tyranny would not be allowed to take a hold in Europe or to prevail anywhere in the world, that America must be GOOD …and therefore remain GREAT.

I have gathered together a few of my favourite quotes and writings on America. There are many more I would have liked to have included but I'd also like to keep you, my readers, following my posts for sometime to come, and not kill you off with boredom at the starting blocks.

They are the penned writings, or recorded spoken words of Americans, Englishmen and even a Frenchman!

We have all recently witnessed the unveiling of truth, in matters concerning the NSA and the 'whistleblower' Edward Snowden, now stuck in a Moscow airport with his options running-out by the day.

It is at times like this that America needs to heed to the 'Good' that de Tocqueville wrote of. The English writer George Orwell wrote:

"The further away a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it"

No one signed-up to to an America that would monitor the private contents of American lives or, for that matter, the lives of others. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of The Allied Forces in Europe during WWII, made one thing very clear, and it is deeply relevant to the situation here in America today:

"The problem with defence is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without"

and

"If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking…is freedom"

America was founded upon a 'philosophy' of hope, fairness, democracy and freedom. As, Esienhower also said:

"Whatever America hopes to bring to bear in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America"

America may not be the sole, supreme world power today, in industry, in military capacity, economically or in terms of wealth, but it is for sure, and should remain so for many years to come I hope, the leader of the free world, setting the tone for what is 'right' with regard to justice, freedom and the way in which we are able to live 'our' individual lives.

Mrs. Thatcher, the 'Iron Lady' of Britain, spoke of this philosophy when she said:

"Europe will never be like America. Europe is a product of history. America is a product of philosophy"

The philosophy surely, undoubtedly, has not changed in the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans but it has on occasion, and particularly over the past decade, been hijacked by the 'silly or dishonest' men of whom President Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

"Patriotism was once defined as "the last refuge of a scoundrel"; and somebody has recently remarked that when Dr. Johnson gave this definition he was ignorant of the infinite possibilities contained in the word "reform". Of course both gibes were quite justifiable, in so far as they were aimed at people who use noble names to cloak base purposes. Equally of course the man shows little wisdom and a low sense of duty who fails to see that love of country is one of the elemental virtues, even though scoundrels play upon it for their own selfish ends; and in as much as abuses continually grow up in civic life as in all other kinds of life, the statesman is indeed a weakling who hesitates to reform these abuses because the word "reform' is often on the lips of men who are silly or dishonest"

Thatcher's remarks on this philosophy is a pointed and deeply relevant one. Philosophies change. They remain pure and unadulterated in the hearts of good men and women. Unlike history, which more often than not carries more baggage, and sometimes more inequity, philosophy can be far too easily hijacked. It is in some ways more fragile. History is, to some greater or lesser extent, a 'fixed' thing, a 'given' that changes, perhaps, only as one looks back at it, each generation trying to alter the course of a 'fixed', pre-ordained, way of living. Philosophy sets out from point zero, to create a new way of looking at life, where others have failed, fallen-short of the mark, to deliver what is believed to be 'a better way'. America set out to create and believe in 'a better way'. More than ever, the principals of this 'better way' need to step up to the mark and be shown to be in practise here in America if we wish to fight and combat the inequities practised and carried out in lands we are not in agreement with. Mere lip-service, anything bordering on hypocrisy, will not allow America and the great American way to prevail, as it should. One wonders how the terror we are fighting, and its proponents, views the refusal to close the detention camps at Guantanamo Bay, or indeed how we can cry freedom when people, whatever they have done, are not allowed access to a fair and open trial.

As our foes around the world become ever more conservative, more orthodox in their religious believes, so too has the Christian Right adopted a corruption of American philosophy and ideology that, and I believe this is safe to say, is not what the Founding Fathers intended for this country and its people. Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence was firmly anticlerical, going as far as to say:

"In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot…they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind"

In his landmark use of the phrase "separation of Church and State ", Jefferson also wrote:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem"

Th Jefferson - Jan. 1. 1802.

It has since been used by the Supreme Court repeatedly in defence of interference by the Church, or by and of its teachings and practises in the everyday lives, choices and lifestyles of the American people.

The American Constitution deliberately omits the mention of God and, as the Anglo-American writer, Christopher Hitchens, pointed out, the Declaration of Independence was written largely by deists, not theists. Benjamin Franklin was many things in his life, for much of it an atheist and later a deist.

Whatever an individual Senator or Congressman/woman may believe is their right, it will no doubt inform them too as they carry out their work, but to pander to or preach about the religious views of anyone is to miss the point of why we all, in The West, have suffered and fought so hard throughout the centuries to gain freedoms that religious doctrine would otherwise have us forgo in the name of religion. The elected are not their to proselytise and preach to anyone; for that their is a judiciary to discuss 'the law' and what is appropriate for us to live by in a free society.

26th June 2013. Proposition 8 was knocked-down when the Supreme Court directed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate its decision, which lay firmly in agreement with California's state constitutional amendment, passed in November 2008, discriminating against same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court ruling left the district court's 2010 ruling, that Prop 8 was unconstitutional, as the final decision on Prop 8.

At a time when all we could read in the newspapers, and hear on the gamut of American news networks, was the probing by the NSA into the private lives of Americans, and Europeans, the witch-hunt to capture Edward Snowden, the rantings of the religious right and the shameful views of many Republicans on gay people and their right to be treated as 'human', to be given the same rights afforded to everyone else, as if out of nowhere, Proposition 8 was defeated and with it something rose, like a phoenix out of the ashes, to the forefront of our minds. It was a reminder. It was a reminder that in America, the agenda continues. An agenda set down by the Founding Fathers, one that has taken its twists and turns, had its fair share of proud moments and, sometimes, its more shameful ones. The fact remains, the discussion continues and on Wednesday 26th June we awoke in Southern California, as did millions of people across America, to a better world, a more just world, a world made possible by America. Part of our freedom is to accept that all voices have their say. No one must be forced to like what they do not like, neither though should they be allowed to voice their dislike in any way way that hurts or offends those they do not care to agree with. That is freedom and that is what we do to live in a free society. It was not just a good day for gay and lesbian men and women, not that I mean to diminish the magnitude  of that day and its ruling in anyway, for many, many men and women have suffered, fought hard to arrive at that day. It was moreover a great day for all mankind, it was proof to those who oppose freedom and choice across the world that we are all equal and that we all have the right to be free in the way we choose to live our lives. It was a day that only America could have pulled-off, in spite of many years of suffering and bigotry to the contrary. It was a day, 'Made in America'. Perhaps Detroit does not churn out the motor cars it once did, perhaps most household goods now say China somewhere on their being. But…Freedom, Justice, Equality, those are words that should always have 'Made in America' stamped upon their being. The world needs America to ensure this is the case more than ever. If America fails, the free world will fail.

 

I'll end with this.

Anglo-American writer, Christopher Hitchens, was asked during an interview for Q&A on C-Span, "Is America the greatest country in the world?"

His answer, I think, says it all...

"It is something to be proven rather than stated, it is something to be demonstrated rather than affirmed. But yes I would say, that as someone who used to take pride in being called a revolutionary, sometimes for good and sometimes for slightly callow reasons, but anyway I'm not ashamed of it. Where's the Russian Revolution now? Its gone. Where's the Chinese Revolution now? Its mutated into something completely opposite, different to itself. The Cuban Revolution is moribund at the best. The French Revolution, well, it did have a great effect on the Enlightenment but it was, and I wouldn't denigrate it, but its French. The American Revolution, the one that says build your republic on individual rights and not group rights, have a Bill of Rights that inscribes these and makes them available and legible to everybody. Separate the Church from the State, separate the Executive, the Judicial, the Political branch. Do all these things. It doesn't sound like much but its really a very revolutionary idea. There's hardly a country in the world that wouldn't  get benefit from adopting those principals. I think that gives the Unites States a really good claim to be a revolutionary country as well as, of course, paradoxically, its a very conservative one. Certainly makes me very glad, very proud to have become a citizen of it"

There will be many more posts to come in the following days (I promise to keep them both shorter and a little lighter!) but I felt the first should belong to America.

I have had a peculiar, and on occasions a somewhat stressful start to my time in America, as I embarked upon a very involved remodel of a home I bought in Southern California. Rebuilding a house in the desert is an entirely new experience at best and, at times a deeply anxious and frustrating one at worst. Speaking the same language does not mean that one know how and why things are different, it can sometimes make things more complicated than say speaking French whilst building in France…you KNOW you're foreign! I have not always been as gracious, during this ordeal, as I might have preferred. What I can say is this, nearly all the Americans I have dealt with and those that have become my friends and acquaintances have offered me nothing but their good grace. In turn I offer them, and to America, my deepest thanks (perhaps the odd apology too) for being afforded the privilege of being here and made to feel more welcome, more supported than anywhere I have ever lived around the world.

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Stephen M. Collin

This site is dedicated to those many years of travel and movement, of exploration and 'learning in the field'. The journey continues, the passion grows, to see and to learn more. I believe it will do so for the rest of my life... read more

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