By Mike Layne
I consider myself a patriot. Always have! I love my country. I love its vibrant and tumultuous past. I love its stories, its art, its mythology. The fabric of our nation was not weaved from black and white thread. It is an astounding tapestry of shades and colors, imagery and experiences. Some will tell you we have a great need to cultivate diversity. I say we've always had diversity. Our story spans 238 years and our accomplishments far outpace our years; our successes outpace our failures. I am, and always will be an American.
I've always had a special affinity for the great inspirational quotes from American history. Nathan Hale’s last words “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country”, Lincoln’s “Four score and seven years ago” delivered at Gettysburg, and my personal favorite, Patrick Henry’s 1775 “give me liberty or give me death” address to the Virginia Convention. All three quotes were delivered by men with an unshakable commitment to the concept and continuation of our country, at times when that continuation was not guaranteed -- far from it. Henry and Hale had few reasons to be confident that a break from Britain would be successful and the Civil War was far from won when Lincoln spoke. Today the battle of Gettysburg is accepted as a turning point in the war. In November of 1863 that conclusion was still 16 months and a half a million casualties away. These men inspire me because they believed despite the odds. Their love of country was not skin deep. It defined them as men, and as human beings.
Fast forward now, past gold rushes and wagon trains, cowboys, Indians and the page of a century turned, past T.R.’s rough riders, prohibition and two World Wars, "nothing to fear but fear itself, “ask not what your country can do for you”, the cold war, Vietnam, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”, two towers, a five sided building and a lonely field in Pennsylvania. Since Mr. Lincoln spoke in another Pennsylvania field 151 years ago our country has moved from restless adolescence into a mature and powerful nation. Loved by some and hated by others, we've known biter failure and tremendous success.
I've heard it said lately that we are no longer the greatest country on earth. Really? I’ve watched videos online and heard disturbing statistics that place us behind other countries in math, science and literacy and ahead of most in obesity and adult incarceration. I’ve read long lists of comments bemoaning the state of the nation. There is a rising tide of people who believe our best days are behind us. Are they right, or are we still the greatest country in the world?
We do have problems. We give money to those who don’t deserve it and sometimes fail to help those who do. Health care costs too much. Our politicians lie to us, our education system is undoubtedly broken and obesity is out of control. The list is long. Indeed, we have our share of dumb dumbs, bad politicians, moochers and round-waisted people. If you are one, I make no apologies. Read a book, take a class, put down the Ho Hos and run a mile. This country was built on the ability of the common person to better their situation. Better yours! America offers opportunity and assistance in spades. If you fail in life, that’s on you.
Do you think George Washington ran the numbers before he crossed the Delaware? Did MacArthur weigh the odds before he said “I came through and I shall return”? This country was not built on statistics, but in spite of them. We’ve been the underdog and we’ve been the hometown favorite and we have always prevailed. Not because we checked the polls, but because we came together and we believed; in God, in family, in freedom, in a moral code and a way of life that set us apart from the rest of the world. We are a shinning city on a hill. Let me say unequivocally that I will never stop believing in these things, never! Because to stop believing is to give in to the darkness and surrender. And to surrender is to utterly desecrate the memory of the men and women who have died to ensure our way of life survives. We must never let that happen. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and yes, by the way, we are still the greatest country on earth.
“It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
- Abraham Lincoln, November 1863