Seventy-five years ago today America was attacked by Japan. Pearl Harbor, like the Alamo and Gettysburg, became a rallying cry for freedom. America rose to the occasion and within four years derailed a Nazi regime and decimated Japan as a world power. For WW2’s G.I. generation, America’s best days were clearly ahead. Suburbia. Interstates. College educations. Middle class jobs. Disneyland. Social Security. Retirement.
Three quarters of a century ago America was a much different place. Her values, her perspectives and her story were different. Life was simple, but still very hard for a nation struggling to emerge from an economic Great Depression. Only half of Americans finished high school. “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” were cultural beliefs but still fifteen years from tattoeing our nation’s money and pledge. The cultural institutions that framed Americans were the Church, Hollywood and baseball. It truly was a wonderful life, even if we were still hunting for Oz.
Less than a year prior to Pearl Harbor, in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union address, he outlined four freedoms for all Americans: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The four freedoms were inspirational but still rang hollow for many USAmericans. After all, racism reigned, especially in the South. If you were black, you couldn’t play major league baseball, vote or expect fair trial, but you could fear a lynching. Jews were vilified, Italians scorned, Indians segregated and Japanese interned. On the home front, men brought home the bacon and women cooked it. Children were marginalized. Gays were institutionalized. Overseas, Europe was under siege by a Nazi tyrant bent on creating the perfect race, while an Italian fascist flamed trouble in the Middle East and northern Africa.
In 1941, Americans had a lot to fear and plenty of want.
Seventy-five years later, fear and want continue to be societal concerns for most Americans, even though we live in one of the safest and richest nations on earth.
What’s truly impoverishing America is our partisan ideology.
America is deeply divided between Right and Left, conservative and liberal, MSNBC and Fox, Huffington and Drudge. Every election seems to polarize us even more and each side blames, labels, castigates and crucifies the other (especially if they’re on the losing end). The 2016 presidential election ended relationships, cancelled dates, defriended peers, divided families and burned cities. Love trumps hate unless Trump wins…and then all gloves are off. The Fourth Estate, a.k.a. the national press, no longer reports the news. Rather, these news hounds manipulate, twist, soften and even censor the facts through clearly biased and prejudicial lens. It’s no surprise that many Americans watch little to no news.
Even more personally, Americans now seem to value stuff over people, entertainment over God, violence over peace. We Americans are often narcissistic, irreligious, hateful, angry, greedy and foolish. Our pets live better than most people in the world. Celebrities guide our lives and guard our loves. We buy what they buy, we eat what they eat, we watch what they watch and try to live like they live. Most American homes have more televisions than Bibles. Fifty years ago John Lennon famously quipped, the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” His point was misconstrued back then, but today it’s tragically clear when more people can quote a Lennon lyric than a Bible verse. Imagine there’s no heaven…(see what I mean?)
We’ve had eight years of a President who promised “hope and change” and now have a President-elect who promises to “make America great again.” And yet, our schools haven’t had a prayer since 1963; the same year Martin Luther King marched on Washington and John F. Kennedy was tragically assassinated. Since the 1990s, church attendance has declined as more Americans marked “none” for religious preference. Our homes are in disrepair, ripe with dysfunction and riddled by abuse, neglect and divorce. Even though the “Great Recession” officially ended in 2009, and unemployment rates have dropped, more and more Americans actually live downsized, under-employed or work multiple part-time jobs to survive. The middle class has collapsed. The rich only get richer while the poor get poorer.
In our communities, race wars still rage from Ferguson to Baltimore to Chicago to Charlotte. Yes, black lives matter, but so do white, red, yellow and brown. Women, gays, and now evangelical Christians are oppressed, harassed, victimized and marginalized. The Right likes to exclude, ignore and de-fund. Exclude the illegal, ignore the transgender, and de-fund social services. The Left likes to demonize, label and create fear. If you disagree with homosexuality, you’re a homophobe. If you think Islamic fanatics promote terror, you’re an Islamophobe. If you believe in a Divine Creation or question global warming, you’re ignorant, narrow-minded and anti-science.
It’s no wonder we hope for change, but I must ask you, honestly, when was America ever all that “great?” Certainly not in 1750. Nor 1850. Nor 1900. Nor 1950. Nor 1970. Nor even 1985 or 1995 or 2005. At every demarcation in American history there was trouble, trial, prejudice, political demagoguery, economic struggle and institutional decay.
Most of America’s greatness is legend and myth, wistfulness and patriotism, ironic and oxymoronic. America has NEVER been great and America has ALWAYS been great. It all depends on the America you want, liked or voted for. It’s understandable to want what we had or criticize what is lost.
So much has changed in seventy-five years…and yet, in many ways, nothing has changed.
Nevertheless, I still believe America’s best days are ahead. The most potent American maxim is and always will be “we the people.” We the UNITED states of America. We, in a desire to create a more perfect UNION, can change, improve, enlighten and lead America forward. We always have and we always will.
Maybe that’s why tragedy brings us all together.
Like it did on December 7,1941…or November 22, 1963…or September 11, 2001. When America mourns, we let down the guard, forget our differences and open our doors. We choose our goodness over selfishness, unity over divisiveness and hope over fear.
Now I’m not praying for another Pearl Harbor or presidential assassination or terrorist attack, so please don’t misunderstand…but I do hope that “we the people” (of every age, gender, race and creed) will start building bridges rather than walls, finding solutions rather than creating problems, learning to live together rather than working to keep everyone apart. Too many teachers, pastors, politicians, journalists, commentators, bloggers, tweeters and Facebook posters today prefer hate over love, division over unity and fear over peace.
Enough is enough, my friends.
Our kids need a free, stable, healthy and beautiful America.
We need a free, stable, healthy and beautiful America.
We don’t need a revolution or a reformation or even a restoration. What we need is for every American to humbly forgive, respectfully embrace and gently trust.
We each need to be the CHANGE. We all need to be the HOPE. Every American needs to be what truly “makes America great.” Just be an American. One people. Under God. Indivisible. With LIBERTY and JUSTICE for all. It’s okay if we agree to disagree on the solutions, argue the nuances, even protest peacefully, but let’s give people and their ideas, a chance, even if we don’t like them or want them. Let’s let our Constitution lead and our values work.
That’s what is truly AMERICAN.
And, yes, may God still bless the U.S.A. because He has in the past and He will in the future, if we simply ask for the blessing.