Category Archives: America

Thoughts on the Removal of Confederate Monuments

The Confederate monument on the square in downtown Bentonville
The Confederate monument on the square in downtown Bentonville

Once again, removal of Confederate monuments, symbols, and references from the states that were part of the Confederacy is hot in the news, even in the city I work in, Bentonville, Arkansas. Actually, it’s not just the states of the Confederacy that have such monuments. The border states, the ones that were slave-holding but stayed in the Union, also have a fair number of Confederate monuments. And, a few such monuments exist in states that made up the Union side—not many, but a few.

In addition to monuments, you have: schools named for leaders of the Confederacy; military bases named for leaders of the Confederacy; US Navy ships named for leaders of the Confederacy; streets named for…you get the picture. These are everywhere, at the Federal, state, and local level.

It's hard to see, but behind the landscaping recently added, in big, bold letters is "CONFEDERATE"
It’s hard to see, but behind the landscaping recently added, in big, bold letters is “CONFEDERATE”

 

Should they be removed? And, if so, how far should you go? In the city of Lowell, Arkansas, which is in the county where I live and work, a street is named for William Henry Harrison, 9th president of the USA. At two city council meetings I attended in that city, during public comment time, a certain man stood up and demanded that the street be renamed, because Harrison was a slave owner (I got the impression this man did this in every city council meeting). Is that a good idea? If so, you should also rename streets named after George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, etc., who were also slave owners.

How this monument gives praise to a public servant.
How this monument gives praise to a public servant.

But focusing for a moment on the monument issue, should they be removed from public land? Most such monuments are to the leaders of the Confederacy, such as General Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis. But not all of them are. The monument in the square in Bentonville is to a man named James H. Berry. Originally from Alabama, he was raised in Bentonville and eventually became a legislator, governor, and U.S. senator. But, before that, during the Civil War, he enlisted and became a junior officer. Being wounded in one of his first battles, he came home and took no further part in the war. The monument, however, isn’t really about him. The statue is of him, and his name appears, with a plaque that details his years of public service. But elsewhere on the monument is this inscription: “1861-1865 To the Southern soldiers” On the base of the monument, on each of the four sides, the word “Confederate” is prominently displayed. This was erected in 1908, forty-three years after the end of the Civil War. On the base of the statue, on all four sides, “CONFEDERATE” appears in the largest letters on the statue.

A movement is now afoot to remove this monument. Should it be removed? The funny thing about this, there was absolutely no clamor about removing this monument until Sunday, August 13, 2017. In light of what had happened in Charlottesville, Virginia on the two previous days, a group of concerned people got together in Bentonville to make a public statement against hate. They did this in the center of the city, which is the square in front of the courthouse, the square where this monument is. As they got together, they stood on the paved path that encircles monument. They held hands as they sang and prayed for unity, peace, and giving up hate. I was unable to go due to an after-church meeting. From what I can tell based on reports, the “demonstration” was beautiful. The venue, however, was the worst possible place in the city to hold such a gathering. You decry racism and hate while encircling a Confederate monument? The event organizers should have thought that one through a little more. At the end of the “demonstration,” a number of people started chanting “Tear it down!” What else could you expect?

What it says on the monument around the corner. The other reason for it, perhaps the main reason.
What it says on the monument around the corner. The other reason for it, perhaps the main reason.

But I ask again, should this monument be removed? As I said in an earlier post on this blog, I say no: don’t tear down this monument, or any other. I say that as a man of mixed race but who knew nothing of the black component of my heritage until I was 46 years old, who never faced racial prejudice, who was raised in the north but who has spent most of his adult life in the south. This monument wasn’t erected to be a symbol against me or my people. So I can certainly understand that the feelings of others that are contrary to mine are valid, and perhaps more valid than mine.

Again I suggest that we not tear down this monument in Bentonville, or those in other places. Rather, add to them to tell the full history. To this monument in Bentonville, I suggest adding these words. If they won’t fit on the monument itself, find another way to prominently display them so that they will be seen equally with what’s already there.

This man, while honorable and a public servant, fought to preserve slavery. That may or may not have been his intent, but that’s what he did. That’s what all the enlisted soldiers did. They fought to preserve white ownership of blacks for no other reason than skin color. Remember this. Learn from it. Never let such an injustice happen again.

The print book is now available.
The print book is now available.

Do that in Bentonville. Do that in Charlottesville. Do that in Richmond. Do that at Stone Mountain, Georgia, along with an image of a white overseer whipping black slaves. Do this, and the full history will be told. Do this, and maybe, just maybe, we will make sure no such injustice happens again. And maybe, just maybe, the hate that these monuments seem to promote will be lessened, or even done away with.

We won’t expunge history, but will tell it fully and openly. We won’t forget it. And learn from it.

Saddened

The e-book has been available for two weeks, but I'm just now working on the print book.
The e-book has been available for two weeks, but I’m just now working on the print book.

My book on the civil war, Documenting America: The Civil War Edition, had much to say about race relations. How could it not, when the war, despite revisionist history to the contrary, was about perpetuating slavery?

I’ve made some posts about the contents of that book (such as this one: On Confederate Civil War Monuments). This weekend, with the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia, but without  time to watch the news enough to take in a full picture of what was happening, I can’t help but be saddened by what I saw and heard about. Clearly, something has gone wrong in this country. Progress we had made has disappeared, and we are back to the 1960s, or even the 1950s, in terms of race relations.

Yet, perhaps that’s an overly negative reaction to what happened, and what is happening. I think the number of people who would take us backwards is relatively small, certainly smaller than it was in those earlier decades. At least, I hope it’s smaller. Nowadays even a small group of nut jobs can get press out of proportion to the strength of their numbers, and certainly to the strength of their cause. So, although some groups are not even close to representative of barely aligned groups, the whackos get all the press.

In my book, one chapter deals with the views of Louis Agassiz on what would happen—what should be done with—the emancipated slaves once the war came to an end. Agassiz was a Harvard professor. He wrote three letters to a colleague who had solicited his views. Agassiz’s reply boils down to this: The blacks should be kept separated from the whites, and the two not be allowed to reproduce together; and those who are already mixed-race (half-breeds as he called them) should be allowed to die out. He said that intermingling of the races was “repugnant to my feelings”.

I found Agassiz’s views repugnant. That was the basis of my chapter. Here is some of what I wrote in terms of the modern lesson to be drawn from those old letters.

What is to be done? How do we change the hearts of mankind to drive racism into the abyss where it belongs? It’s said that, if you change yourself, you can change your family. If you change your family, you can change your neighborhood. If you change your neighborhood you can change your city. If you change your city you can change your county. If you change your county you can change your state—and your nation, and the world. It’s a big task, but it starts with me.

I’m glad my parents raised me without prejudice. Yet, I still need to be careful, less latent racism creep in and, without my realizing it, cause me to alter my behavior. To let that happen would truly be “repugnant to my feelings”, and something I—and we all—must diligently guard against.

Yesterday I posted that to Facebooks, to many likes, and no negative comments. Maybe, just maybe, it will have done some books. Nevertheless, at present, I remain saddened.

 

Almost There With My Newest Book

At the Pea Ridge National Military Park, canon are placed strategically, near where actual fighting took place.
At the Pea Ridge National Military Park, canon are placed strategically, near where actual fighting took place.

Yes, I’m almost there.

On Friday, I went to The Dungeon after supper and worked on formatting Documenting America: Civil War Edition for print. I finished it in an hour and a half. That is, I think I finished it. I still will proofread it. And I haven’t created the PDF file yet. But it’s there, on the computer, ready to go. In less time than I expected.

On Saturday, in the afternoon after a busy day of yard work, house work, and grocery shopping, I again went to The Dungeon, to see if I had enough energy to tackle the two e-book versions. Following the procedures I outlined in my previous blog post, I got started, one step at a time. I stripped out the headers and footers. I already had bookmarks at each chapter, so only had to put hyperlinks in the Table Of Contents. Got that done. Then put a link at the end of each chapter back to the TOC. That’s probably not necessary, but I did it. Then I saved it as both Kindle and Smashwords files, and did the final couple of touches each of these need.

That brought me to about 6:30 p.m. I had a meatloaf on, due to come out, so I left my documents. I think, however, they are done. All except for the covers, and the acknowledgement about who did the covers and took the cover photos.

The Elkhorn Tavern was a strategic objective during the two day battle, which involved close to 30,000 combatants.
The Elkhorn Tavern was a strategic objective during the two day battle, which involved close to 30,000 combatants.

Sunday afternoon, my wife and I took a drive to the Pea Ridge National Military Park, about 25 miles from us. We’ve driven by it many times over the years as we head to Ozark destinations east of us, but haven’t actually been in the park since around 1995. I won’t go into a lot of detail on the park, or on the battle. I don’t cover this battle in my book, but this is the closest Civil War site to us, and, based on my vague memory of past visits there, knew I would have places to take photos.

We spent an hour or so there, in the visitors center, then driving the loop through the park. I got a lot of photos, the best of which, and the ones I’ll likely use on the cover, are here in this post. I will likely begin working on the covers tonight: the e-book cover for sure, and the print book cover once that’s done. One problem I have is I may not have an editable file of the original print cover. I’ll have to look around on my old computer. My son did the e-book cover for me, and a woman at our church, who does graphic design, took that and made the print cover from it. If I find it, it will either be a PDF or, possibly, a Photoshop file. If the first, I might be able to load it into G.I.M.P. and do the necessary edits. If the latter, I’m not sure G.I.M. P. can use it.

The Elkhorn Tavern has been restored to the condition it was in in 1862. The inside can't be accessed at present.
The Elkhorn Tavern has been restored to the condition it was in in 1862. The inside can’t be accessed at present.

And, of course, I’m not even sure I have the necessary skills to get this done. I’m going to try, but we’ll see. I may need outside help on the print cover. So, it’s down to the covers, and the acknowledgement of the cover on the copyright page. Get those done, and uploaded to the three sites, and it’s published. Oh, yeah, still have back cover copy to write, along with the description to put on the websites. So, a couple of days, most likely, to first publication.

Meanwhile, I promised to post about the awakening of the gray cells. That will have to wait till Friday.

The Gray Cells Are Activating

Mathew Brady did such a good job of capturing the Civil War in photos.
Mathew Brady did such a good job of capturing the Civil War in photos.

I’m in a bit of a slow period right now. Documenting America: Civil War Edition, is done. That is, the writing and editing of the master document are done. Today at noon, I went through my last mark-up of the manuscript, to see if I missed anything. I hadn’t. I thought I made a couple of notations where I wanted to add a couple of sentences, or perhaps paragraphs, but nothing showed on the manuscript. Apparently, such things were on my mind when I last read it, but I didn’t mark them on paper. Now, to re-read the entire work to find them seems too daunting to me. No, it will go to publication just as it is.

So what’s left? I need to create, from the master file, three separate files: one for Kindle, one for Smashwords, and one for CreateSpace (the print edition). I believe I will start to do that tonight. I could have done that anytime in the last week, but I wanted to wait for that one last flip through the marked-up manuscript. That now done, I’m ready to go on.

But, I’m really not ready. For some reason, the shift from writing to publishing tasks always seems to be a roadblock to me. I’d love to be able to turn this over to someone, pay them to do it. Alas, I don’t make enough on sales to afford that, so I won’t.

Cover - Corrected 2011-06What’s involved with publishing, you ask, that’s so daunting? To each of the three publishing files, I have to add a Table Of Contents. I don’t need to do this for fiction, but for a non-fiction work such as this I do. For the print version, that means inserting bookmarks in the text and cross-references to the bookmarks in the TOC. It’s not hard; just feels like busywork. For the e-book files, I have to add hyperlinks in the TOC to the beginning of each chapter, having first inserted bookmarks there, and then add hyperlinks at the end of each chapter back to the TOC, after first having inserted a bookmark there. Again, it’s not all that hard, but feels like busy work.

Next is putting information on the copyright page. It varies slightly for the three different versions. Next is adding a list of my published works to each version. For the print book, this goes in front, on the back of the half-title page (something you don’t use in an e-book). For the e-books it goes in back. And, for each version, it’s different since the list is really links to sales pages: Kindle links for the Kindle version, Smashwords links for that version. I have master files of these links on my computer at home, and can just insert them into the publication files. Normally I have to do a minor update to each file to add whatever my most previous publication was.

That gets me up to the cover. Sometimes I have another person help me with it, or even do the cover for me. This time, however, I’m determined to do make the cover myself. The cover of Documenting America: Lessons From the United States’ Historical Documents, established a series theme, a theme I like. I suppose it could be called a series brand. I’m going to use that theme, changing the text just a little, and superimposing a Civil War era photo over the old document text, leaving some of the text showing around the outside. This, I think, is something I can do, both for the e-books and the print book.

Print book covers are harder, because you have to have dimensions matched to the print size of the book. So, before I do the print cover, I’ll have to re-format the print publication file to the right size page, adjust the margins to a proper size for the smaller page, and check to make sure headers/footers are correct, and there’s no stray blank pages I don’t want. I then will know the thickness of the print book, and can finalize the cover.

Oh, yeah, at this point I also need to strip the headers/footers out of the e-book files. Running headers/footers have no meaning on an e-book, which has free-flowing text.

This isn't the cover—just a temporary mock-up graphic for this post. the final may be close to this, or somewhat different.
This isn’t the cover—just a temporary mock-up graphic for this post. the final may be close to this, or somewhat different.

A final step for the print book cover is to write some back cover copy. I don’t know that I do a very good job on this. How do you condense your 70,000 word book into a couple of paragraphs? Or, rather than condensing, what do you write that will make people take notice and want to read the book? Once I figure that out, I might get more sales.

Then, and only then, do I get to upload the three files to their respective sites. Actually, the e-book steps will most likely come together quicker, and I’ll have them done about a week before I have the print book done. I struggle with graphic arts software so much, that could actually take longer than a week.

But this post was supposed to be about gray cells starting to be activated. By that, I meant that ideas for specifics in the next book are starting to flow. However, since publishing tasks took me so many words to describe, I’ll have to save more on the gray cells for another time.

Book Review: The Greatest Generation

I'm glad I finally pulled this from my reading pile and read it. Time well spent
I’m glad I finally pulled this from my reading pile and read it. Time well spent

Back in 2012, when I was writing The Candy Store Generation, I went looking for books about generational identity. Of course I was familiar with Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation. As I did my study, I found that just about everyone had adopted Brokaw’s appellation to that bunch of Americans born between 1900 and 1924. Some extend it all the way to 1939 or so, but Brokaw is clearly talking about those who experienced the Great Depression and led the effort in World War 2, or who fought in it. Yes, many born after 1924 also fought in it, as teenagers. I wouldn’t argue against including them.

As I was studying, I picked up a used copy of TGC, read enough of it to be able to pull some information from it, then set it aside and went back to higher priority stuff on my reading pile. After finishing A Generation of Sociopaths, I decided the more opportune time had come. I found TGC in my reading pile, and went through it in a little more than two weeks.

It’s an excellent book, and its place in the history of America’s story won’t be enhanced or diminished because I review it. The reading is easy, and Brokaw does a good job of weaving short bios of men and women who served in the war into the war story itself. He doesn’t stop there. He tells us something of their lives before and after the war. In some cases  the post-war story was much longer than the description of the war service.

I do have a few criticisms, however. Almost everyone described in the book was an officer. A few began as enlisted men, then were promoted in the ranks. I would have liked to have learned something more about the experiences of the dogfaces in the battle line. Then, the field of journalism is over-represented among the stories. In the part about famous people who served in the war, such as politicians and CEOs, he pulls almost half of them from the ranks of famous journalists. I suppose that’s understandable, given that Brokaw is a journalist. He would of course have more contacts in his own field, and would have an easier time getting those stories, and a greater interest in them. Still, knowing more about a few policemen, construction workers, bus drivers, and factory workers would have been nice.

One the other hand, Brokaw does a nice job of covering issues of racial prejudice, in the country and the military, as well as the limited opportunities for women to serve. He does this in a non-critical way, yet makes it clear he wishes it had been otherwise, and is glad that progress has been made in both areas. I thought this part of the book was very, very well done.

Thinking again about the officers vs enlisted men, or the famous vs the obscure, I offer up my dad as an example. He started out the war as a dogfaced private. Shipped first to England then to North Africa, he wasn’t in the first wave. He was scheduled to be in the invasion of Italy, but was pulled off the LSI in Tunis at the last minute to go work the Stars and Stripes, setting type for them—his pre-war occupation. His service the rest of the war was for his fellow soldiers, getting the news to them, helping them to keep up morale.

A wartime portrait, probably 1944. HIs "Stars & Stripes" insignia shows.
A wartime portrait, probably 1944. HIs “Stars & Stripes” insignia shows.

Dad was closely associates with Bill Mauldin, the cartoonist. For a good amount of time they were in the same S&S office, I think in Italy, but for sure in southern France, and at the end of the war. Mauldin is famous for his Willie & Sam cartoons, of two common privates who found humor in war situations. It’s said that General Patton didn’t like those cartoons, for they showed soldiers who were not our best. Yet, the S&S brass must have realized the soldiers loved them, for the cartoons continued.

My dad played a part in this, as Mauldin often had Dad pose for him. Most likely another soldier was involved as well. I can’t look at a Willie & Sam cartoon and help but wonder, “Did Dad pose for that one? Is that a drawing of Dad?” Dad spoke of Bill often, yet I don’t believe they had contact after the war. After Dad died in 1997, I thought of trying to find Mauldin to let him know, but never did. He died in 2003, the same age as Dad.

I’ve rather gotten off the track here, haven’t I? This is supposed to be about TGC, not my dad. I thought of it because, in the last chapter, Brokaw touches on Mauldin’s work at S&S during the war. That made me think of Dad, and since I was already thinking Brokaw had somewhat shortchanged the enlisted man, made me further think it would have been nice to have had Dad’s story in that, or one of the other 8 million like him.

If you haven’t read TGC, I recommend you do so. It will give you a greater appreciation for those who came before us, and in some cases were our parents. I’m starting to reduce my library, and am being more selective about the books I keep. This one I’m keeping, however. Hopefully Lynda will want to read it. I don’t expect I’ll read it again, but you never know.

On Confederate Civil War Monuments

After I published "Documenting America: Lessons From the United States' Historical Documents", I also published a home school edition of it.
After I published “Documenting America: Lessons From the United States’ Historical Documents”, I also published a home school edition of it.

The book I’m currently writing, Documenting America: Civil War Edition, is currently sitting on a chair in our kitchen, waiting for me to get back to it. I finished it about ten days ago, and I’m letting it sit a while, giving me space and perspective, before I start the editing process. I anticipate the editing will take two or three weeks. Then publishing tasks can begin.

Meanwhile, the Civil War is back in the news. Several Civil War monuments are being removed in the City of New Orleans. These are monuments to Confederate leaders, such as Robert E. Lee, Confederate General. This follows several other places where similar monuments have been removed.

I have mixed feelings about this. Since the reason the states that formed the CSA withdrew (i.e. seceded) from the USA was because they wanted to preserve slavery, those monuments are in essence to those who wanted to preserve slavery. Those descended from slaves naturally are appalled that, in the 21st Century, we are still honoring those who enslaved their ancestors. Those who weren’t descended from slaves, but who align with those who brought pressure for abolition, are also appalled. I think I understand their concerns.

On the other hand, some say those monuments don’t mean the same today as they did when they were first erected. Now, they are simply recognition of those who loved their country, even if their views of what that country did were misguided. They say: Would you also removed monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slave owners from the south? They have a good point. Washington and Jefferson didn’t take part in rebellion. Oh, wait, they did: rebellion against England. But, that was a good rebellion, working for a government that would protect the natural rights of man, a.k.a. God-given rights. So that’s different.

It won't belong before I start work on the cover for this next "Documenting America" book. I hope to get a good photo from a nearby Civil War battle field.
It won’t belong before I start work on the cover for this next “Documenting America” book. I hope to get a good photo from a nearby Civil War battle field.

I have a different view of it. Those monuments have become history books in their own right. By destroying the monuments, we are destroying history books, and trying to expunge history. Is this a good thing?

At one time I thought, “History is history. It is what it is: just a bunch of facts, and dates, and actions by people that happened, and are passed down to those who didn’t experience them.” Then I started writing about history. And I read much by others, both history books and how-to-write-history books. And I learned that how a historical event is treated in a book depends on how the writer does his research and puts the book together. Facts are facts, but you can ignore some and over emphasize others. You can twist some into your opinion mold and make them say something different than what another writer will say about the same fact.

So history isn’t really history. All history is interpretation of what happened in the past. Sometimes it comes with an agenda. Sometimes it comes with a preconceived notion that the historian has been able to make sure you see in the work, causing you to think “Oh, sure, it’s obvious that’s how it was.” However, if you read a book by Historian A instead of Historian B, you would get a completely different picture. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish history was history. But, alas, it’s not.

Back to the Confederate monuments. They represent a dark time in our history, a time when a few white people thought they had the right to enslave a bunch of black people, and to go fetch more black people through an illegal trade. The monuments were meant to honor that dark time. Now we know better. Why not use that to our advantage, keep the distasteful monuments, and use them for a different purpose?

Imagine this, with the monuments still standing. You’re in New Orleans, with your young children or grandchildren. You come across the monument of Robert E. Lee. Your child asks, “Who’s that man up on that horse?” What a great teaching moment that is. “He’s a man who thought it was okay to enslave people simply because they were of a different race. He might have been a good man at heart, but his actions were to perpetuate a way of life that had one race the masters and one race the slaves. This monument was once put up to honor him, but now we know it’s here to help us to never forget just how evil that practice was.”

Now THAT would be a great moment. That would be a great monument. Turn its purpose on its head and make it mean the exact opposite of what it was intended for 140 years ago, or whenever it was erected. How much better that would be than removing it.

The old cliché goes, those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it. Well, those who expunge history won’t learn from it. As a result, we may not learn the evils of slavery as we should. Slavery won’t return, I don’t think, but what other evil practice may happen as a result of us not having that history before us, right in our face, forcing us to confront that dark past?

It’s something to think about.

Patriotism vs Nationalism

I’m going to write and post this, but it will be far from complete, and I’ll have to follow-up with supplemental posts in due course. I write this during the wave of very vocal public opinion after San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game a week or two ago. Public opinion seems to be against what Kaepernick did, but you can hear voices on the opposite side, ranging from “no big deal” to “he did the right thing.”

For a while now I’ve thought about this. By that I mean long, long before Kaepernick decided to exercise his First Amendment rights with apparent disregard for what impression it would make and effects it could have. Or perhaps he did think them through, though some of his comments since then make me think he didn’t. I’m thinking back to the flap when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama didn’t wear a U.S. flag lapel pin. There was some outrage at the time, but it all blew over; most people won’t remember it without prompting.

My thoughts at the time were that I wasn’t particularly concerned with outward gestures that people define as patriotism. I’m concerned with actual acts of patriotism. I’m concerned with people living their lives as a patriots, not mindlessly participating in rote ceremonies that have become mostly without meaning.

Don’t get me wrong: I always respect our flag, and think about what it stands for every time I’m involved in a ceremony. Heck, I remember a time at URI, gotta be 44 years ago at least, because I  was living on campus. It was a very cold winter day. I was dressed in my surplus U.S. Navy bridge coat, the one I had my brother get when Cranston High School East declared them surplus, having bought true warm-up jackets for the football team. It was a heavy, heavy coat, but it sure kept me warm. It was late in the day and I was heading across the quadrangle, in the direction away from the dorms (so maybe I was going to an evening class or exam). Wherever the flag pole was on the quad (seems like maybe it was a flagpole close to Bliss Hall), they were striking the colors for the evening. I don’t remember who was doing it; I don’t think it was a formal ceremony, just someone taking the flag down. I stopped, took off my red and black hunter’s hat, and stood at attention with my hand over my heart, until the flag was down and folded and being carried away to overnight storage. I doubt too many people ever did that in the URI quad.

So the flag is important to me, and that wasn’t a meaningless gesture on my part. But, I have to say, that respect for the flag is not patriotism. It’s nationalism. What’s the difference, you wonder? My desk dictionary has a slight variation in the definition of the two. Patriotism is listed as a synonym for nationalism, but not the other way around. Nationalism includes this alternate definition: excessive, narrow, or jingoistic patriotism. Oh, that’s not nice. The definition it give for patriotism is: love and loyal or zealous support of one’s own country. Yeah, I like that.

So is standing for and singing the national anthem, with your hand over your heart—or if you can’t sing just being quiet and respectful—an act of patriotism, or of nationalism? If it’s done for show, or because you’re supposed to do it, or merely because people are expecting you to do it, then it’s at best nationalism, and at worse mindlessness. The best you can say about it is it can be an example to others, and perhaps encourage others to learn to respect and love their country.

So what is patriotism? In a previous post I mentioned that my dad was a patriot, and I gave reasons why I thought he was. However, I’m going to hold off on completing these thoughts. I want to take time to properly develop them. Perhaps it will be my next post, or even one or two after that.

The Flattery Continues

Well, that short piece (real short piece, had to be under 50 words) I wrote back in 2004 for American Profile magazine continues to have legs. I wrote about this before. Yesterday, on a whim I decided to check for it again, so I searched for the phrases “ethics before law” and “law before gain”.

On the former I got over 4,500 Google hits. However, these reduced to just three pages upon clicking through them. The latter had 567 hits, which reduced to seven unique ones upon clicking through. A good number of these were to my quote, or rather to my quote unattributed.

One of those is a discussion on a Yahoo message board (second reply, discussed more several posts down, and the bad language is not my fault). Interesting that this was quoted in a discussion on Islam and whether Moslems can be good citizens.

So the flattery continues, sort of. I seem to have crafted a good phrase. I thought it was good at the time of writing; the legs prove it is.

Now, to be a successful, published writer, I just have to duplicate the quality of this a few tens of thousands of times. Piece of cake.

Musing on America

Seventeen years ago I was on my last overseas trip (the ones to Mexico in 1996 and Canada in 1997 not counting as overseas). I spent about 30 hours in the Bahrain airport, writing for my visa into post-war Kuwait to come through. It finally did, and I arrived in Kuwait July 4, 1991, where I joined my wife. She had been there about six weeks as a Red Cross nurse, and was about to leave for home. We overlapped three days, I think.

At that time I had spent five of the previous nine years living out of the country: from 1981-83 in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and then from 1988 to 1990 in Kuwait. I remember my first flight back into America, in September 1981, when I came to fetch the family and bring them to Saudi for our life there. Charles was 2 years 8 months old, and Sara a mere 5 months. I flew on Pan Am, which to me was a symbol of America. Upon touch down at JFK airport, many on the plane broke out in cheers and clapping. Home again, to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Several times since then Lynda and I have commented on how reckless and foolish we were, as young parents, to take our children to the Persian Gulf region while the Iran-Iraq war was on. We saw few effects of it while in Saudi, but it was still on when we began expatriate life in Kuwait years later. Several times we saw smoking ships being brought to land somewhere to the south, close enough to see what it was but far enough away to not know what type of ship, or if they were putting into a Kuwaiti or Saudi port. I suspect the Saudi ports were over the horizon, and that they must have been foreign vessels–probably Iraqi–putting into Kuwait ports for repairs. My first month in Kuwait four terrorist bombs were set off, though always in a place that seemed to be to damage a business, not kill people.

In those five years, I had six homecomings to America, plus the one in the trip after the war, so seven overall. I’ve been to Canada twice, and Mexico once, so in all I have returned to America ten times in my life. Each time was an exhilarating feeling. Home again, to a nation where peace prevails and sanity rules. Home again, to where economic opportunity is bounded only by the effort you put in and the amount the government takes out. Home again, to safety and security. Usually to cheers, always to relief.

The world has changed in those years since the long trips for oversees residency, not for business or tourism. I had the opportunity to be in about twenty-five or thirty other countries. I love this country most of all. Yet, as I’ve said in an editorial, I see the United States as a fragile experiment, a mere 232 years after declaring independence, 217 after finding a workable form of government. We have outlasted some nations, but many others through history lasted longer. The experiment is still fragile. Forces foreign and domestic want to change us from being the nation we were formed to be. I won’t list the changes, and not all readers would agree with the specifics.

Has America passed its zenith? Are we now on the decline? This would take many posts to write about, which I won’t do at this time–too much writing to do otherwise. If we have passed our zenith, I hope it is momentary, and that another score of years will find us on the ascendancy again. As I said in the closing line of a tribute poem to Ronald Reagan, “Long live your shining city on a hill.”