Somewhere in the further reaches of my childhood, I remember curling up on the floor next to the family bookshelf and poring through book after book by an old American author who took the name Oliver Optic. From all those tales of adventure, conniving business schemes, lakes, steamboats, and locomotives, one brief exchange between two characters has always stuck with me.
“I don’t like this making reservations,” Faxon said. “I go for the whole figure. My country, right or wrong – that’s what I go for.”
“So do I,” Wolf said. “My country, right or wrong; if wrong, to set her right.”
“There you spoil all the poetry of the thing,” Faxon replied. “If you had stopped before you put the last sentence on, it would have been just the thing.”
• • •
All too often, I see Americans divide into two camps when the Fourth of July rolls around. On one side is the proud, unthinking ‘Merican with all the beer, guns, and high explosives you can find. On the other, there’s the ashamedly American sophisticate who, disillusioned by the tumultuous times he finds himself in, has decided to check out of civil society to the best of his ability.
Neither are patriots. One has said, bursting with passion and exuberance, “my country, right or wrong,” while the other has seen her too often in the wrong and will have no more to do with her. Neither of them are the just inheritors of her bounty; neither can rightly be called her citizens.
The patriot, rather, stands with both feet on the soil of his homeland, sees his nation for her virtues and her vices, and resolves to love her anyways. The patriot stands at his particular moment in history and realizes that it has been shaped by countless moments before it.
For the American patriot is the inheritor of a long series of American cultural moments. He is shaped by the sailing of the Mayflower, the republicanism of the founders, the fervent equality of Jacksonian democracy, the manifest destiny of the pioneers, the blood of the blue and the grey spilt from Kansas to Virginia, the Great Depression, and two World Wars. We’ve seen a tea party in Boston, Washington crossing the Delaware, the Alien and Sedition Acts, an Emancipation Proclamation, Reconstruction, McCarthyism, and countless 9/11 vigils. Through good and ill times, our forebears have been shaping this land into a place we can love – a place we can proudly call home.
I was raised amidst amber waves of grain, with the full fury of a Kansas thunderstorm overhead. I’ve tasted the elegant hospitality of a Southern family in Georgia and the rugged welcome of a Midwestern family in Nebraska. I’ve hiked the Rockies and the Smokies, the Adirondacks, Ozarks, and Sierra Nevadas. I’ve strummed a guitar in Colorado, California, and Virginia, and seen folks lowered into the dirt in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and North Carolina. I’ve worshiped in a Pentecostal and a Presbyterian church; potlucked with Baptists and Methodists; taken communion with Anglicans and Lutherans; and discussed theology with Catholics and non-denominationals. This country is beautiful and her people are kind.
So today, on this Independence Day, I do not celebrate America because she is perfect, but because she is home. I do not love her for her virtues, nor loathe her for her vices. But I will strive to defend, uphold, and aright her, and I will love her because she is mine.
Happy Independence Day.
Posted by Nick Barden