My responses to an email sent out to a mailing list. Here's the full text of the original email, which will open in a new window for you. On this page, the original email comments that I chose to reply to are indented and framed by the carets.
Amusingly, I later discovered the original email was so full of innacuracies that it turned up on the Snopes.com Urban Myths Reference website as well. Enjoy!
Copyright © 2001 B. "Collie" Collier
As an American citizen who's spent several years living in a foreign country, I'm proud to be American. When I was a child my father taught me that in many of the places I traveled, I might well be the only American those people ever met. Thus it was incumbent upon me to be someone I and my country could be proud of. I've tried hard to do that through all my life, and I know what it's like to be the minority, and a guest in a foreign land.
I've also tried hard to be a clear-headed voice of reason in issues of crisis. I'm not stupid enough to think my country is always flawless, but I am a firm believer in the entirety of Carl Schurz' quote, "My country right or wrong; when right, to keep her right; when wrong, to put her right."
As such I find earnest but misinformed tirades like the following extremely disturbing. In the examples of 'wrong' behavior is the following:
I believe firmly in the separation of church and state. I'm not christian, nor do I like that religion at all. I don't consider behavior like that listed above to be wrong -- I consider it, in fact, one of the strengths of our country that we don't have to run crying to some fictional Big Daddy when we get a booboo.
In the case of the Berkeley incident, the smallest of research would have turned up the fact that the "top department brass" ordered those flags removed for what I thought was a most patriotic reason -- the fire trucks would be going out into the student community, and the flags were attached in a rather makeshift fashion. Someone in the fire department brass, wise in the peculiar ways of students, suspected there'd be a pitched battle over the flags as the students attempted to remove and deface them, and the firemen attempted to defend them. The fire department was, as noted in the article, looking for less makeshift ways to attach the flags to the trucks. Furthermore, the president of the firefighters' union agreed with the action, for the reasons stated.
Please note, I think the media actions noted in the email I am addressing were on a par with the usual insipid, brainless pabulum ordinarily spouted by those witless corporate shills. However, tell me why it's a bad thing for the fire department leadership to both preserve the symbol of our country, prevent a riot in the streets, maintain the fire-fighting-only goals of the department, and keep the peace? Tell me why an emergency seems to mean that we should abandon some of our most cherished national institutions, like separation of church and state, and freedom of expression?
I found myself thinking, in effect, "if this writer is so inaccurate with their examples of 'wrong' behavior, what else will they spout as 'fact'?" Sure enough, there was more peculiar re-writing of history...
Not our responsibility... true. However, courtesy and honor compel rational, fearless adults to have some consideration for those around them. Secondly, as a student of anthropology, the above inaccuracies about the "American Way" just make me wince. We ARE multi-cultural, like it or not. We are a seething mass of varying subcultures, based on age, class, gender, geographic location... you name it, there's probably a subculture for it.
However, this is not a detriment to us! We are the United States of America -- it is precisely because of this wonderful ferment that we are as strong as we are. It is because we do not NEED to quash variety in all its wonderful forms that we are the great, wonderful, terrifying, confusing, contradictory, beloved country we are. I find it inspiring, not frightening, that people are willing to fight and die for this strength.
Let us not fool ourselves -- we do not need to hide behind religious oppression and a stifling cultural uniformity, like the Taliban. We are big enough and bold enough and strong enough to embrace change, not fear it.
True. This I agree with. However, I also think as Americans we'd do well to learn a language or two besides English. What better way to learn what is best in other cultures, bring it into our own, and continue to grow in strength and wisdom? An educated populace does not fear learning.
*sigh* I'm so tired of this sort of 're-writing of history' crap. DO THE RESEARCH. The first permanent white settlement here were the Puritans, who fled religious repression to live freely here and, shamefully, almost immediately instituted religious repression to benefit their version of god. That is the 'glorious' basis for all the harping on the christian deity here. Our country was founded by men of wisdom and forethought, the vast majority of which were NOT christian, who deliberately enshrined separation of church and state.
Furthermore, that motto was taken from our national anthem -- which was written on a slave ship. Do I think we should stop singing our national anthem, due to the unfortunate circumstances of its writing? Emphatically NO. But I DO think, as educated and rational citizens, that we should be aware of the irony -- if only to remind ourselves to never let something like slavery occur in our great country again.
Furthermore, the motto was certainly not part of our country's original creation. The phrase first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864 (NOT 1776), and became obligatory on all U.S. currency in 1955. It wasn't until 1956 that this 'national motto' was forced upon us all. I DON'T think it's appropriate to use it -- it's a clear mixing of church and state. (For those interested in more research, try Google. Putting in "national motto" gave me this right off the bat, as well as many more options.)
Okay, now we have faulty logic here... worship of (the christian) god is being conflated with the right to freedom of expression, a salute to those that fought to defend our rights, and pride in heritage... plus there's the charming addition that you should piss off if you don't agree. What happened to reasoned debate and freedom of expression?
No desire to change? Emphatically not true. It is our willingness to change and grow that makes us great. It is our willingness to listen, learn, and adapt what we hear about "how you did things where you came from" that makes the 'whole' of the United States of America into something far greater than its individual components. What the American culture fortunately is NOT is a fearful cowering away from any change, secure in the stagnant belief of a fictional, mythical 'Golden Age.'
I could just as correctly suggest this advice to the author. They are whining, complaining, and griping about things not being as nice and simple and pristine as they'd like. Well, kiddo, welcome to the real world, where the adults live. Either face the fact that life is more complex than your desired simplistic, childish binaries of 'good us' and 'evil them' -- or leave for someplace where the nice fundamentalist reverends or mullahs or senators or dictators will tell you what to think, and you won't have to make any difficult decisions about tolerance any more.
Ah, a nice slap in the face as a closer -- an implied 'if you don't agree you're not an American.' This is, quite frankly, insulting. I may think what (generalized) you have to say is moronic... but it IS YOUR RIGHT, here in America, to say it. I shall continue to defend that right, and speak out against those who, due to fear disguised as pseudo-patriotism, wish to infringe upon that wonderful, American right.
I'm an American, too, dammit. I don't expect everyone to be just like me. I'm not afraid of change or difference in my fellow citizens. And if you agree, please forward to ALL your friends... because to me, true Americans aren't afraid -- either to have friends that aren't American, or to learn and grow, or to be tolerant.
"Those who are willing to trade freedom for security deserve
neither freedom nor security."
Last Updated: Thu Oct 18 2001