Sunday, January 24, 2016

Heritage and Patriotism: Start the Conversation

Review by Bill Doughty

What do these people have in common: John McCain, Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy, Betty Frieden, Langston Hughes, Henry David Thoreau, Sojourner Truth, Mark Twain, Joni Mitchell and the Grateful Dead? Patriots all, according to Caroline Kennedy, editor of "A Patriot's Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love" (Hyperion 2003).

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy is the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. At the time this book was written she was vice chair of the Fund for Public Schools in New York City and president of of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. 

"The best part of putting it together..."
"Ultimately, this is a personal selection, but one that I hope will encourage others to create similar collections of their own. The best part of putting it together was researching the myriad possibilities; the difficult part was deciding what to leave out. I read new works, as well as old favorites ... focused on the ideal of America ... In the process I rediscovered how many gifts we are given as Americans. Among the most precious are the freedoms we cherish yet sometimes take for granted, the diversity of heritage and experience that strengthens us, a society that celebrates tolerance and community, and a belief in the power of words to change the world. This country was founded on ideas – freedom, equality, the pursuit of happiness – and the fact that we have the oldest written Constitution in the world is proof of the enduring power of these principles. Those words and ideas have drawn millions to this country in search of the American dream. In order for our democracy to thrive, each of us must give something back. We must make a commitment not just to vote, but to be engaged, to understand the sources of our rights and freedoms and the struggles of those who fought and died to preserve them. Our nation celebrates the individual, and just as it provides for us, so it expects of us. America has given us her best. Now it is our turn."
Kennedy presents McCain with Profile in Courage Award.
One of the first essays is by Sen. John McCain. He tells the story of the importance of Old Glory and what the flag meant for a Prisoner of War during Vietnam in "The Mike Christian Story" from McCain's "Flags of Our Fathers." McCain concludes: "Duty, Honor, Country. We must never forget those thousands of Americans who, with their courage, with their sacrifice, and with their lives, made those words live for all of us."

In another excerpt, "On the Rainy River," from the masterful "The Things They Carried," Tim O'Brien shows an individual at war with himself over how to respond to a draft notice in the summer of 1968. Was Vietnam a righteous war? What constitutes courage? "The only certainty that summer was moral confusion."

President Richard M. Nixon, who initially escalated then ended the Vietnam War, will likely be best known in history for rapprochement with China in early 1972. Returning from the People's Republic of China and reporting on the agreements reached, including opening of trade, Nixon said, "peace means more than the mere absence of war."
"Most important, we have agreed on some rules of international conduct which will reduce the risk of confrontation and war in Asia and the Pacific. We agreed that we are opposed to domination of the Pacific area by any one power. We agreed that international disputes should be settled without the use of the threat of force and we agreed that we are prepared to apply this principle to our mutual relations."
Kennedy's compilation is filled with song lyrics, poems, photos, snippets from novels, essays, court decisions and speeches.

She reprints Judge Learned Hand's address "The Spirit of Liberty," delivered at "I Am an American" Day in Central Park, New York during World War II, May 21, 1944. Judge Hand expressing the devotion of a nation of immigrants: "We sought liberty; freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves."

President Harry S. Truman addressed the nation on April 11, 1951 about U.S. and UN involvement in South Korea and an effort to repel North Korean invaders without starting another world war with communist nations at the peak of the Cold War.
"If history has taught us anything, it is that aggression anywhere in the world is a threat to the peace everywhere in the world. When that aggression is supported by the cruel and selfish rulers of a powerful nation who are bent on conquest, it becomes a clear and present danger to the security and independence of every free nation. This is a lesson that most people in this country have learned thoroughly. This is the basic reason why we have joined in creating the United Nations. And, since the end of World War II, we have been putting that lesson into practice."
On September 20, 2001, President George H. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress to condemn al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on American soil, reminding Americans of the terrorist network's attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa and the bombing of USS Cole.
"The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them ... They hate our freedoms ... These terrorists kill not merely to end lives but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us because we stand in their way."
Diverse voices in this nearly 700-page book include James Baldwin, Cesar Chavez, Amy Tan, Harper Lee, Huang Zunxian, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan.

From 1887 comes this simple but beautiful Navajo verse from the "Twelfth Song of the Thunder," part of the ancient Navajo Mountain Chant:

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice above,
The voice of the thunder
Within the dark cloud
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice below,
The voice of the grasshopper
Among the plants
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

Writing styles range from the poetic to the pedantic. In 1971 a "pioneering women's rights attorney," Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who would become the second female Supreme Court justice in 1993), wrote a decision upholding a claim of gender discrimination in Frontiero v. Richardson, on behalf of Air Force Lt. Sharon Frontiero, awarding spousal support benefits to married women serving in the military. Ginsburg wrote:
"...we can only conclude that classifications based upon sex, like classifications based upon race, alienage, or national origin, are inherently suspect, and must therefore be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny. Applying the analysis mandated by that stricter standard of review, it is clear that the statutory scheme now before us is constitutionally invalid."
Plenty of conversation starters. Here's a nugget from Thomas Alva Edison, written in 1921:
"Grouches are nearly always pinheads, small men who have never made any effort to improve their mental capacity. The brain can be developed just the same as the muscles can be developed, if one will only take the pains to train the mind to think ... The man who doesn't make up his mind to cultivate the habit of thinking misses the greatest pleasure in life. He not only misses the greatest pleasure, but he cannot make the most of himself. All progress, all success, springs from thinking."
The book closes with Katharine Lee Bates's "America the Beautiful" (1893) and Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" (1940). Caroline Kennedy's compilation encourages readers to consider the patchwork quilt of America and contemplate the meaning of patriotism.

" a nation, there is more that unites than divides us."
"Understanding and renewing our commitment to our fundamental civic values is a process of turning and returning to the words that defined the challenges of the past, inspired generations before us, and offer renewed insight for our own time. The words and images in this book are for sharing, as a conversation helps make the ideals our own. As I researched the selections, I was struck by the fact that we often talk with friends about movies, sports, or TV, but less often about patriotism, although being an American is one of the most profound experiences that we share. I hope that making these documents more accessible will make it easier for these conversations to occur. Of course, there are many varied realities within our society, but as a nation, there is more that unites than divides us. One of the ways we come to understand something is to compose our own narrative. Each person's story may be different, but in the process of assembling it, we can discover themes that connect us. As this books is intended for families, I have tried to include selections for all ages, songs and poems that appeal to children, speeches that helped turn the tide of history, judicial opinions that transformed our society, images that capture American's sense of self at a particular time, and expressions of personal yet universal truths.
Today, Caroline Kennedy serves as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

150611-N-EC644-103 MISAWA, Japan (June 11, 2015) U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy speaks with Sailors during a tour of one of the Navy's newest maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, attached to the Pelicans of Patrol Squadron (VP) 45. Kennedy spoke with U.S. military members and their families and took tours of U.S. Navy aircraft while visiting Misawa Air Base. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ryan C. Delcore/Released)

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