I'm relieved that American courts are finally sorting out the mess created when the federal government broke all those treaties with Indian nations in the nineteenth century.
On the other hand, I cannot approve of the way that America acquired Hawaii.
And there is, in my opinion, no excuse for how the Confederate States of America were treated by the Reconstruction's carpetbaggers, following the War Between the States. constitution. The first one, the Articles of Confederation, didn't work. The second constitution is doing a bit better. It's now the oldest written constitution that's still being used.
Even so, the Constitution isn't perfect. Over the centuries, the Constitution has been amended twenty seven times. One amendment, the eighteenth, was repealed by another, the twenty first. The latest one, ratified in 1992, limits congressional pay raises.
I'm pretty sure that, given time, there will be more amendments.
As I said, the Constitution isn't perfect.
Neither is the country whose government the Constitution defines.
Even so, I am proud to be an American.
I know: that sounds corny. Or worse.
A fellow in an online community had the poor judgment to say "be proud, America!" when the Phoenix lander successfully touched down on Mars. He was roundly chastised for singling out the American contribution to this international effort. One of the opening salvos was "Hmmm, 'be proud America', perhaps you should do some more reading and you'll discover this mission is actually a joint venture that includes Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany and Finland."
From a 'sophisticated' point of view, there must be something wrong with me. I'm proud to be an American. I don't avoid mentioning American accomplishments. I don't wring my hands over how awful this country is. I don't complain about how terrible it is that people come here to enjoy its freedom and opportunity.
Which gets me back to the title of this post.
For almost two and a third centuries, America has been in the freedom business.
Yes. I know. America isn't perfect. Our freedom isn't perfect. Never has been. I know that slavery was one aspect of the War Between the States. It's quite true that indentured servants were not always well treated. For that matter, neither were my Irish ancestors.
But America is still a free country. An American citizen can, with remarkably few limits, harangue against officials: elected or otherwise. He or she can publish papers bitterly railing against the American military.
Or, as American citizens, we can make better use of our time (in my opinion), and look for a better job, move to another town or city, or set up our own business. If we're smart, a little 'lucky,' and persistent, the odds are that eventually we'll hit a winning combination.
Success isn't guaranteed, of course, but it's possible. And, allowed.
Freedom has even become an American export. Around the world, since 1776, kings and emperors have, to a great extent, been replaced by presidents. Again, none of these newer democracies are perfect. Some are very far from perfect.
The point is, there is an effort, in many parts of the world, to let the people of a country have a greater say in what that country's government does - and in what they're allowed to do.
Although there were philosophical movements at work in the eighteenth century that helped start this trend, I like to think that the United States of America helped.
For one thing, this country has been proof that a free country can exist, and thrive.
"Figure 105. Iraqi men proudly show their inked-stained fingers after voting in Hayji, Iraq."
Sometimes, America has been more than simply a good example. For good or ill, The United States of America has, from time to time, gotten very directly involved in the affairs of other countries.
Generally, such American actions have had a devastating effect on dictators and tyrants. Whether or not America has any business freeing people in other countries from the likes of Adolph Hitler, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein is still hotly debated.
My opinion is that, for all its faults, American is still a land of opportunity: and that freedom is something that the citizenry of all nations should have.
Update (July 4, 2008)
Freedom of Speech in America: a case in point.
"Protesters Interrupt Bush at Independence Day Ceremony for New Citizens"
FOXNews (July 4, 2008)
"Protesters made it hard to hear President Bush Friday as he welcomed new citizens and marked Independence Day at the home of Thomas Jefferson.
"As is the tradition each Fourth of July, a naturalization ceremony was held at Monticello in Charlottesville, Va. This year, 76 immigrants from 30 different countries came to take the oath of citizenship....
" 'That man is a fascist!' one protester yelled. Another swore at him.
"The protesters later were removed from the ceremony by law enforcement officials.1
" 'To my fellow citizens to be — we believe in free speech in the United States of America,' Bush said when the protesters started shouting.
"To the din of more yelling, Bush discussed Jefferson’s legacy as he introduced the citizens.
" 'We honor Jefferson’s legacy by aiding the rise of liberty in lands that do not know the blessings of freedom, and on this Fourth of July we pay tribute to the brave men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America,' he said...."
Another news service did a more thorough job of detailing the protester's grievances:
"Bush was heckled several times, with some people yelling 'War criminal!' One man shouted, 'This man has brought fascism to our shores!' About nine people were removed from the ceremony.
" 'Impeach Bush. Impeach Bush. Amend the Constitution,' shouted another protester, prompting both cheers and boos from the audience of about 3,000 people...."
("Bush helps swear in citizens as hecklers shout" CNN (July 4, 2008))
I've wondered how many people who yell 'fascist!' at American leaders they don't like know about real fascist leaders.2 Think about it: what would probably have happened to someone who shouted "That man is a Jew!" or "This man has brought Judaism to our shores!" at Chancellor Hitler, at a public gathering?
1That phrase, "removed...by law enforcement officials", doesn't carry the implication of dire consequences that it does in some countries. Those protesters may face legal sanctions for disturbing the peace, and - if they wanted a little more martyrdom, and fussed as they were removed - resisting arrest.
2 The page I linked to, in Best of History Websites, lists a number of pretty good online resources about Hitler, Mussolini, and the mid-twentieth century fascists. It used to have a video showing Adolph Hitler making a speech. The video is gone, replaced with the words, "We're sorry, this video is no longer available."
I understand that someone who had endured the Nazi regime in Germany might not like to watch the Fuhrer, and listen to his words. But I am truly sorry to see that what I trust is a well-meaning censorship has removed evidence that might help people learn what went so horribly wrong.
I was born after the survivors of Dachau and other camps were liberated. But, I've seen and heard speeches of Chancellor Hitler. Remembering the experience is not pleasant, but it taught me to be very cautious about emotion-laden appeals.
Particularly from people who seem to support causes that I like.