The grilled chicken thighs and fingerling potato salad are just memories now…even the leftovers. Later in the day ribs and chicken wings were served at the Bennett Fourth of July fest along with Carol Ann’s killer potato salad. I’m sure there will be lingering side effects to an evening of eating and drinking what I normally don’t eat or drink. Still, I almost feel sacrilegious not having pulled pork as a side with the ribs. Anti-American? No, just trying to cheat the Grim Reaper a few seconds longer.
Despite the enjoyment of seeing friends, some for the first time since the last Fourth, I would prefer a small gathering with my bride and two blind puppy dogs to be my only concession to the celebration of the Fourth of July. Very sedate until the crazies above us begin to set off M-80s and Cherry Bombs. Not very patriotic by some people’s standards. Typical…or rather than typical, maybe it is simply the new normal for me. I celebrated my own birthday in the same way.
I’m truly not feeling it. Not feeling it but certainly thinking about it…it being my patriotism.
I am patriotic and wish my country a happy birthday. I simply don’t believe everything wrapped in a red, white and blue flag is patriotism. I’m not blindly patriotic…odd perspective for a guy who grew up during the period of “American Exceptionalism” and the indoctrination I now associate with the Cold War Sixties. “My Country Right or Wrong”, “The only good Commie is a dead Commie”, “I’d rather be dead than Red.” I remember my eighth-grade civics class being equal parts academic and propagandistic …maybe more propaganda than substance as I sit pondering.
I watched a recent news program, not fake news if we can still believe the black and white photographs the program featured. I had certainly seen them before. Black and white photographs high lighting certain moments in time…in history…my history. Some were colorized photos but there was something stark and depressing about the ones in black and white. The photos triggered memories of the old black and white film clips I saw featured during the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. “And that’s the way it is…” or was.
John Kennedy standing in front of a map trying to explain where Vietnam was, later his son saluting as his father’s body rolled past. LBJ looking haggard stating he would not run again. A photograph of a naked Vietnamese child, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running from a napalm attack. Major General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner after Tet, bodies laying a ditch outside Mai Lai. Much different photographs from the ones I saw from World War Two. Different and as I look back, projecting the loss of a certain innocence I wish I could find again.
Growing up I always believed we were the stalwart protectors of what was right and just. A courageous country wearing white hats or knights in shiny armor. We were the virtuous and righteous battling the minions of the devil. Shining a light on the cockroaches of evil and sending them scurrying from sight. Vietnam and Watergate took my innocence and not in a good way. Bobbi Jo Bedell did that but I doubt either innocence will be returned to me.
Black and white pictures of Richard Nixon, arms raised with fingers veed in victory…later a finger pointed at the camera, “I am not a crook.” A color shot in front of Marine One, Nixon’s arms raised with fingers veed despite his disgrace. Like an alcoholic wanting to recover, I hoped we had reached rock bottom.
I feel I’ve witnessed our decline firsthand. Like my vision, it has taken place in small increments. My failing eyesight was gradual until sharp lines became fuzzy and my arms became too short to bring the written word in to focus. I’m not sure if we can make lenses strong enough to correct the vision of our nation.
Declines of civilizations are usually slow and all civilizations decline. It is inevitable. Some disappear totally. Most don’t disappear due to a cataclysmic event, but rather, they die rotting from the inside.
A rotting social, economic, political system mated with an ineffective and excessive military brought the Roman and French Empires to an end. It was gradually at first before running downhill like a runaway freight. They collapsed under their own excesses and attempting to maintain the status quo.
I’ve been witnessed our rot for fifty years and I wonder if we have reached the point of no return. I certainly believe our white hats are stained and our armor dented and rusty. We are more concerned about filling our pockets than being the “shining light upon the hill.”
Some reading this will say “We’re still the best country in the world.” Maybe, but what are we doing to keep ourselves on our lofty pedestal? Is it a pedestal that exists only in our minds?
We deny science and accept myth. We politicize religion and use it as a weapon against our fellow man. We choose partisan politics over the good of the many and create a bogey man and call it socialism. We create social outcasts with our hatred and more and more enemies with our bombs. Our greed is more important than the planet we live on. As a country, we are living on other people’s money and giving it to people who don’t need it…or deserve it.
My biggest worry is our hatred and greed which seems to drive everything else. I’m reminded of the old Billy Jack movie from the early Sixties. Not the movie exactly, the theme, “One Tin Soldier Rides Away” by Caste.
As a battle rages over a perceived treasure, the valley people kill the mountain people, who would have given them their treasure had they just asked.
“Now they stood before the treasure
On the mountain dark and red
Turned the stone and looked beneath it
Peace on earth was all it said.”
Others will read this and suggest that maybe I should relocate to another country since I hate America so much. I don’t hate America, I hate what America has become…if it was ever anything else. To quote James Baldwin,
“I love America more than any other country in this world,
and, exactly for this reason,
I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Usually, essays have a closing statement which draws everything together and ties a bright red bow around it. I can’t do that because the story is still being written and the end hasn’t been reached. What that ending is, is up to us. We must find common ground or “There won’t be any trumpets blowing Come the judgment day.”
Featured Image: By The Late Mitchell Warren (Author of “The End of the Magical Kingdom” series) http://subversify.com/2010/10/15/who-is-the-one-tin-soldier/
Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at http://subversify.com/2010/10/15/who-is-the-one-tin-soldier/