Friday, January 25, 2019

Was the USA ever truly great?

Was the USA ever truly great?
Recently someone I like and respect said to me that from a certain point of view, this country was never great. Initially I was taken aback, but then I thought about it, and of course he was correct. And that's something that has to be recognized as a solid fact.
From the day Columbus landed, from the day the first British colonists landed, it was never "great" for everyone, in the sense of perfect equality for all, perfect justice for all. First off, it wasn't so great for the colonists who starved and froze to death while still trying to adapt to actual life here. And once colonization really got started, shipload after shipload of the petty criminals and others sentenced to be indentured servants arrived, whose status was only a couple of steps higher than a slave's. Life wasn't great for them, nor in fact for many of the people in the lower classes, and certainly not for the slaves who started to arrive as well. It was not great then for all women, or gays, or Jews, or a wide variety of minor groups, including Catholics. It sure as hell wasn't great for the innocent people accused of being witches, who were murdered by the craziness of that time.
Later on as more people immigrated in, it wasn't always great for all of them, in fact pretty much everyone faced discrimination at various levels, from the Germans to the Irish and later the Italians, on through group after group, the Japanese, the Poles, etc. Italians were actually also the victims of racially motivated lynchings in Louisiana, but of course fewer than lynchings of Blacks.
The list of injustices goes on nonstop for every day, month, year of our history, and in fact continues today, as we see in the news every time we tune in.
But if the only way a nation is "great" is if it achieves perfect
equality for all, perfect justice for all, then there is no great nation today and there never was one. Nor do I believe there will ever be one.
However, I submit that to not be "great" in that sense does not mean the nation is not good, overall, and in life, most of us learn fast that demanding perfection is just silly, but looking for and finding good is what makes life worthwhile. And this is, in my estimation and experience, a good nation, one worthy of respect, affection, even love and devotion. (OK, OK, I'm guilty as charged, one of those damned patriots!)
Personally, I do think the USA is a great nation, for starters, prior to 1776 no society had ever started out with a ideal that all people are created equal, with God-given rights. Yes, it's an ideal that wasn't lived up to perfectly then, or since, but it was and is the American ideal, that we have made progress towards, slowly in fits and starts, ever since. Our history has myriad examples of bad things, starting of course with slavery, exploitation, breaking Indian treaties, and so many more. It is not an excuse at all to note that many of these actions were not remotely special in their time. Slavery existed all over the globe for millennia, and even if we narrow down to Western nations, the USA was still neither the first to have it nor the last to abandon it. The huge bulk of human societies have been patriarchal, and the great majority
were homophobic.
I look not so much at how bad we were, but at how far we've come. Often through tremendous effort and sacrifice by both the oppressed and also others who belonged to the upper parts of society. We instituted various social programs to help people earlier than some other nations, e.g., our legislation to help disabled people was the first of its kind in the world. EPA and OSHA were also first set up here. We give more aid to the rest of the world both as a nation and in private charities than all the rest of the world combined.
We still have very substantial problems that need to be worked on. For me, both rejoicing in how good we have become while still committed to further progress is a reasonable and positive way to be. My heroes are the Black Union soldiers, paid less, with White officers, inferior equipment, and guaranteed to be executed if ever taken prisoner, who volunteered anyhow to defend the nation where they were defined as second class citizens. Because they believed in the long term good. Just like the 442nd Regimental Combat team of WW2, make up entirely of Nisei men, half of whose families were in interment camps in the USA. They also fought and laid down their lives for the good of the future.
And that is what really makes America great. The men and women who will struggle, suffer, sacrifice for the long term good of their nation. We have been blessed with enough of them in the past, and must pray we always have enough. God Bless America.--Del

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