I grew up on farm in central Missouri. It was (and would be still) a great life for a young boy. I attended school in a small town of just over two thousand souls some 8-miles to our south. There’s another town equidistant to the north and indeed some of my friends attended there, but our farm was just south of the “Oriole/Panther” demarcation. Coincidentally, the two high schools shared colors which could cause a bit of confusion to the uniniated whenever our sports teams played one another, but nevertheless I was a proud “Panther” instead of some flighty, wimpy bird.
A defining characteristic of my little hometown is that it’s located just outside of Whiteman Air Force Base. While that doesn’t necessarily make it any more special, it does mean that I was exposed to and raised by men who, by and large, were veterans. It was these men who impressed the tenets of “duty, honor, country” on a young boy. I understood that the blessing I’m afforded as an American is a franchise for which I might at some point to be asked to pay a price … whatever my personal feelings about the matter in question might be. I heard no “war stories,” nothing to color the horror of battle with any illusion of glory. My (step)Dad spoke sparingly about his experiences, so little in fact I only learned of his enlistment in the Army Air Corps on December 8th, 1941 when I was researching my family history. Oh, I knew that he was still in the Air Force when he and my Mom met one another 20-years later, but other than one time, he said very little.
That time was when I was allowed to enter the one bar our small town boasted. My Dad wasn’t ever “a drinker,” just the occasional cold beer on a hot day, so I remember how surprised I was when he explained where we were stopping and was admonished to “behave yourself.” He met another man there, one with whom he worked with on-base. Sitting with him at the far end of the bar, Dad ordered a beer and then let it sit while the other man drank, talked and cried. At one point Dad reached out and took the other’s hand and just held it, so tightly that I could see the whitened knuckles of his companion. I was so shocked to see that … men never held hands! After his friend had calmed, Dad said some more quiet words, clapped him on the shoulder and we left. In the truck on our way home, my curiosity finally got the better of me and I asked Dad about what had just happened. He replied that his friend had some bad memories from “the War” that had surfaced and he needed to talk to someone. His friend had called last night and asked Dad if he could meet with him and talk. Of course my next question was the clichéd, “what did you do during the War, Dad?”. He glanced at me, and slowed the truck to a stop on the side of the road. For the next hour or so, he talked … not so much in answer to my question as more about what “being an American” meant. I learned more from him in that hour about the ideal that is America than I had from all of my teachers at school.
His parents had immigrated from Germany in the late 19th Century. They settled in a part of North Dakota which was largely populated with others of German stock. While German was often spoken between the elders, the language and heritage of “the Old Country” was withheld from the youth. The children were constantly reminded they were in America and as Americans they were to “speak American.” His father, as were others, was not allowed to serve in World War I because they were “Huns” and suspected of disloyalty. That associated guilt of not being allowed to fight for his beloved adopted country burdened him for the remainder of his life. My Dad was taught that the next time his Country called, he was to step forward with neither question nor hesitation. He said that with his enlistment in 1941, in some way his father was able to put aside a large portion of the guilt and hurt from 20+ years previously.
Dad never watched any of the military shows so prevalent on TV as I was growing up … Combat!, 12 O’Clock High, etc.. Wrapped up in the fiction of glorious war presented by Hollywood, I was as spellbound as only an 8-year old boy could be. John Wayne never died, Audie Murphy always got the girl and I cheered at the absurd violence of left-over, wartime Popeye cartoons. But after that conversation with Dad, I began to see those movies and cartoons in a different light.
I remember that talk … but have never spoken of it until now.
So why now?
Simply … I’m frightened; absolutely scared witless at what I see happening to my Country.
As Americans, we‘ve so far failed the memories and lessons learned at the collective knee of “The Greatest Generation.” We‘ve forsaken the duty passed on to us by those who have paid the ultimate price in pursuit of the American ideal.
We sit numbly by as the current Administration has systematically worked to “fundamentally transform America.” We The People are allowing our elected officials … those same individuals who are placed in office to reflect Our will … to strip us of the very liberties and freedoms they have taken an Oath to defend and protect.
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
– Congressional Oath of Office (emphasis added)
The recent atrocity in Orlando was perpetrated by an individual determined to commit an act of evil. Fact: Evil exists … there is no law that will protect you or your loved ones from it. That reality slides from the collective back of our elected officials as they rush to take political advantage of an evil act, regardless of the fact that until the first victim was injured, no existing law had been broken. The consequence of the rush to enact additional controls is that law-abiding individuals will have their right of self-protection stripped away.
The average police response time is 10-minutes in an urban setting, with up to an hour or more if one lives rurally.
Think about that … our elected officials are working to place us at the mercy of those who would seek to do us harm. The mere existence of a law does not stop an individual; it only provides guidelines for the treatment and punishment of those who would break it. A gun is only a tool … a means to an end.
The question to be more rightly asked is: “Wherein lies the fault – with our tools, or Our national character?”
Indeed, the character of our elected officials means little. Acts or omissions that would cause the average American to face stiff fines and/or imprisonment, are largely ignored when the perpetrator either holds an elective office or is a prominent political figure. Consider the contemporary parallels of two individuals, both accused of improperly handling classified information – the average citizen is forced into exile while the other remains free to seek and attain high office.
Somewhere along our journey, We’ve lost touch of who We were meant to be. Moral ambiguity is more often the norm than the exception; the end always justifies the means. Our youth has learned that it’s more acceptable to blame others rather than to accept responsibility. We have lost our sense of humor, instead allowing ourselves to be offended by mere words or ideas. When triggered, We instead scramble to a designated “safe” place where soft music, coloring books and cookies await.
Our Constitutionally mandated electors hold the People in such contempt that they file lawsuits requesting they be released from their oath to vote for the candidate their constituency had bound them to. Other delegates announce they will not attend their party’s convention, marginalizing the wishes of the very people s/he purports to represent.
While the United States is indeed comprised of immigrants, We allow those who rule over us to freely import those whose beliefs require the deaths of those who do not adhere to the same faith. We allow the “option” of key clauses in their Oath of Allegiance. We have engaged in wars for the better part of two decades against those very same enemies, while at no time ever seeking definitive victory.
Because of our fears, We have relinquished the right to travel without restriction, to assemble without permission, to freely speak regardless of offence to others, to freely protect ourselves and our loved ones.
We have allowed our blessed Republic, purchased with, and secured by, precious blood and treasure to instead transform into a mob-ruled democracy … are We still even worthy of the accolade “Americans?”