America, You're Beautiful
By Alice Demetrius Stock
Alice Demetrius Stock
America, You're Beautiful
June 30, 2001
In 1953 I stood on the Brookline Elementary School stage with my eighth-grade class chanting: "Listen to me, Communist, Fascist; and listen well. I am an American and I speak for Democracy."
I've forgotten the rest of the speech, but not those lines.
We need to teach our children the story of this nation that Lincoln called, "the last, best hope of Earth."
We need to teach them to be Americans who speak for Democracy. Patriots are made, not born.
* * *
While at college, my son called to say he'd had a disturbing conversation with some newfound friends:
"The guy from India insisted the American government was just as phony and corrupt as all others and could reinterpret rights away for expediency or popularity.
"I told him American courts couldn't remove inalienable rights; only expand them."
"What did the others say?"
"The guy from Korea was mildly supportive, but said he hadn't really thought about the issues, so he couldn't say much.
"The Jewish guy said maybe you had to believe in a Creator to be able to understand rights that were inalienable.
"But the Indian guy said millions of immigrants were overrunning America and would change the government because they didn't care about our Bill of Rights."
"No need to fear immigrants," I told him. "There's no American who isn't an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. Even the American Indians didn't grow out of the ground with the corn."
"The Indian guy didn't believe me when I told him social privileges can be subject to the whim of the majority, but our actual 'rights' are protections from government and true Americans would stand up, fight and die for their freedoms, if necessary."
"He hasn't been here long enough to have met Patrick Henry or Nathan Hale."
"I quoted Jefferson: that from time to time, the Tree of Liberty must be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants ... but I doubt he was convinced."
Days later, I got another call.
"Mom, the Indian guy's roommate just told me, 'Bob, you really got to Raj. He can't study. He's been pacing the floor wondering out loud, could I die for my country, and where do rights come from?' "
"You opened a crack in his mind, Son. Now, light is streaming in."
* * *
War for independence was inevitable because Britain had given the colonists no alternatives to the "Intolerable Acts," but winning lasting independence was so improbable; so impossible, that it's hard not to see the hand of God in the stirring of it.
Even before the unanimous Declaration of the 13 United States of America (the term used there for the first time) was formally signed Aug. 2, 1776, Pennsylvania newspapers announced that, on July 2, the Continental Congress had declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States ... and that such status had been officially accepted by the people.
Earlier, many towns and counties had written their own local resolutions on independence. The Declaration itself was merely, as Jefferson put it, "an expression of the American mind," a document that only gave to that expression "the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion."
In 1,458 words (including the 56 signatures) the Declaration formally ended the old and established the groundwork for the new and future government.
My Danish friend, Hanne, asked me where her daughter should go to see the "real America." But the "real" America is not so much a place as an idea; a creed; a revolutionary principle promulgated here for the first time in history: That all are created equal and endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights and that government exists to secure those rights.
Americans don't pledge allegiance to a doctrine or a person or a particular ethnicity but to a flag -- and to the Republic for which it stands; to its Declaration of principles proclaiming God-given rights and freedom from tyranny; one nation indivisible.
I would send my friend's daughter to the National Archives to read the vital documents preserved there and to the National Museum of American History to see the original Star-Spangled Banner and the original Old Glory.
* * *
My favorite holiday is the Fourth of July. It's not a day for being sophisticated, critical or politically correct. It's a day for nationwide, old-fashioned, exuberant flag-waving; for patriotic zeal -- for a birthday extravaganza of the kind John Adams envisioned.
Adams wrote: The "Great Anniversary Festival" should be "celebrated by succeeding generations" with "pomp and parade, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other from this time forward, forever more."
I want all that and I want bicycle wheels threaded with red, white and blue crepe paper and crepe paper streamers on the handle-bars.
On that day, I want faces to smile, hearts to swell and chests to heave when the stars and stripes goes by.
I want my mom's fried chicken and potato salad, birthday cake, ice-cold watermelon and cherry Popsicles and those old, red cap sticks that blew their feathered tops off when I slammed them on the pavement.
I want millions of happy sparklers lighting up the dark and swirling to the rhythms of every American's heart lifted in song. I want the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" for courage and the "Negro National Anthem" for hope:
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the Harmonies of Liberty . . .
May we forever stand
True to our God,
True to our native land.
Happy Birthday, America.
In Good we trust.
Copyright 2001 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Reprinted with permission.