Being American – A Guest Post by Eamon
Our gracious host asked me to write a guest post expanding on a comment I made on America Aeterna so I’ve put my shoulder to it, and scrabbled at the hard ground, and here it is:
It’s 9/11/2013 as I write this. It’s become a complex anniversary, one that does not pass easily. Nor should it. It should burn in our blood and resonate in our bones. There’s an unquenched anger compounded by recent frustrations underlying this day. And there’s a pain, when we turn long enough from our daily concerns to see, a compelling pain that won’t leave us. A pull toward the sound of American cries.
But I want to talk about hope, here. There is hope. A dark hope, to be sure. Stained with more than a little smoke, and tears without number, but hope it remains. Walk with me now, the next bit is a little bleak, but I see a glow over the ridge before us. Fix your eyes ahead.
There is a strain in American thought these days which regrets the violence visited upon our culture and our people, but are helpless before it. A belief that it’s horrible and wrenching and hard, but we can’t act in the face of it. This strain is spreading, insidious and cunning in its maneuvers.
Many individuals adamantly defend their right to self-defense and go on to explain how they’ll only exercise that right for them and theirs. Faced with violence, pain and horror they’ll turn away because it’s none of their concern. There are police who say that their number one priority each day is going home safe each night. Confronted with a threat to the innocent, they’ll hesitate and delay. Some in the military have sought to avoid deployments, because it’s not their fight. Faced with an attack against their country and their brothers and sisters, they step aside saying they didn’t want this war.
This corrupted thought is being abetted by many who seek power. They deny American exceptionalism, decry our cultural foundations, and seek to destroy our national soul. Some do this because they seek a ‘higher’ purpose, an ill-conceived greater good. Some because they’ve been taught to hate the very things that brought them to life and prominence. Still others are hollow and cold inside and believe everyone else must be as well.
These misguided ‘leaders’ seek to promote this helplessness in the face of attack, and encourage this turning from the suffering of our fellows. They want this crippled narcissism to continue and spread. Perhaps because it leaves them free to accrue more power. Or they plan to break the American spirit and bend it to their ideology. Maybe they feel broken and hopeless and strike out to render all else the same. Many, no doubt, act on the sincere belief that this is the right path. That reconciliation with the world and our better nature requires us to set aside these ‘arrogances.’ That it is penitence to suffer these incidents and when we’ve suffered sufficiently we’ll be welcomed into the enlightened community.
The dangerous strain in American thought is abetted by others, who hold to the deadly philosophy of low expectations. “This anniversary is supposed to be significant?,” they ask. This has happened before, and worse, and will again. Others before us have mis-stepped and others after will again. Outrage now is pointless because history is long and you cannot rise above our collective past. This and more they say.
These seek to undermine our anger, and pain. And most of all they seek to undermine that pull.
But there’s that glow, beyond the ridge.
There’s another strain in American thought. One I think runs deep in our blood and curls about our soul. One which regrets the violence visited upon our culture and our people, and is angry before it. One which believes it’s horrible and wrenching and hard, and we are equal to its challenge.
This strain is in the foundations of our American culture.
To reprise my comment on America Aeterna:
There is a deep, in the bone, tradition in the American military. It is an informal pact. It underlies why, and how, sane and rational people walk into horror of their own free will. We will come for you. We will send many to save few. I may die, but I will walk into that hell to pull you out. And the man beside me will drag us both home. It can be tempered, by the mission, by the needs of our nation, by our deference to civilian authority, but it must be tempered. The urge to act is innate.
…The in the bone tradition was not born in the military. It comes from a strain in our culture, from the heart of being American. Firefighters and Police and Citizens rushed to the Towers. College students walked into the recruitment office during Vietnam. Teachers and mechanics and bakers stormed the beaches of Normandy. Farmers faced down the mightiest empire in the world.
It is this strain that runs through the heart of educators who run to the sound of guns to stand and die between violence and their children. It is in the blood of the people who rush the madman before he can take another life. In the bones of the police officers who flock to the call of distress to interpose their bodies between violent disorder and civilization. In the souls of the military when they shove down their doubts and fears and shoulder the sword and shield of our nation.
I believe it is this strain that prompted Sarah Hoyt to say:
When an American is cut, everyone who is an American at heart bleeds.
And why she felt pain watching the Iran hostage crisis and the failed rescue, even as she sat in Portugal.
It’s not a geographical thing, nor a matter of birth or genetics. It is a deeply American philosophy that calls out to those around the world who would be of us. Those who are American in their bones and blood and soul. Who, despite rabid individuality, feel the call to face violent horror visited upon their fellows with resolve and to step toward that horror in response. Not in retribution, but to stand beside those fellows and do what must be done.
Those who follow this strain of thought feel that pull toward the sound of American cries. That pull comes not because we are invested in nationalism, but because we are invested in individualism. Our founding, our Constitution and our culture are replete with the fundamental understanding that the individual is the unit of value in our society. It is this understanding that shines forth around the world and draws people to our shores. It is this belief that each of us, in ourselves, is worth fighting to defend that gives the desolate hope. It is this truth that threatens the foundations of tyranny.
Seeing this, many nations give service to the idea of individual value, but their actions reveal a different truth. Many play upon our reverence to manipulate us; many co-opt our values to lessen us. They show the truth of their character by attacking the innocent and spilling the blood of their own people. Then they call on us to abide by our reverence. And we do. They take combat to the non-combatants with brutality and without regard, and then dare us to fracture our own foundations by responding in kind. And we do not.
Through all of this we hold to that truth. And through all of this, that light shines and nascent Americans around the globe feel the pull, and they know the promise.
Those who follow this strain of thought believe the promise that should have been made in Benghazi was this: You stand. We’ll have fighters overhead soonest. Behind them our bombers prepare. Behind them we have birds in the air bringing special operations personnel your way. Behind them the Airborne and the Marines. Behind them the light mech, and the heavy mech and the infantry. Behind them the American divisions muster, starting now. Pushing toward you, as we speak, churning the water to froth, the American carrier groups. Behind them, running deep, our submarines. Behind them the Coast Guard secures your home. You stand, we will come for you. And know this while you stand: if you should fall before we reach you, before your blood dries on that fallen soil we will stand in your stead in that very dust. We will own the hallowed ground where you lay, even if in the doing we must lay down beside you. And we will bring you home.
Some will call it jingoism. And perhaps they’re right, if you see this as a reverence of the state, of nationalism. Perhaps they’re right if you believe this pull we feel is because our national pride has been hurt. Or our leadership has been embarrassed. But, if you understand this pull…if you understand from where inside you it comes and toward whom it pulls you… then they are wrong. And it is not too late to hold to our promises.
We will come for you.