Friday, July 4, 2008

America the Beautiful

Since today is America's Independence Day, I wanted to take a moment to say how grateful I am for this country, for the freedoms we have and for those in the military who defend those freedoms, not only for us but who champion those same freedoms on behalf of others around the world.

In his book, "Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues that will Heal our Hearts and Homes," Gordon B. Hinckley wrote about America in the introduction section. I'd like to share a part of that section, it has stuck with me ever since I read it, and I think it sums up what is great about America.

"My wife and I first visited Jerusalem long ago, before the 1967 war. It was then a divided city. We retained the services of a guide who was an Arab, and, during our tour, we stood on an elevation where we could see the other side of Jerusalem. With tears in his eyes, this man pointed to the home from which he had been dispossessed. And then he said with deep emotion, 'You belong to the greatest nation on the face of the earth. Yours is the only nation that has been victorious in war and never claimed any territory as a prize of conquest. Your people have given millions, even billions, to the poor of the earth and never asked for anything in return. Rather, even after coming off as conqueror, you have poured yet other billions to revive those who had been your enemies in bloody conflict.'

"I had never thought of this significant perspective before. In no instance during my lifetime -- not in the First World War or the Second, not in the Korean War or Vietnam or the Persian Gulf -- did our nation seize and hold territory for itself as a prize of conquest. To the contrary: On a train from Fukuoka, on the south island of Japan, to Tokyo, I have passed mile upon mile of great, modern steel mills built largely with money from the United States following the devastation of Japan. Now the Japanese are our tremendous competitors in the markets of the world. Not only did we not seize territory at the end of World War II, but we provided the impetus that has led to their superiority in many business enterprises. Surely there is no story like this in all of recorded history!

"On another occasion, I accompanied the U.S. Agricultural Attache to the docks of Bombay, in India, and there counted fourteen freighters in the harbor, each waiting to unload its cargo of wheat. We stood there for an hour as ton after ton of wheat from the fields of America was lifted out of the hulls of those ships. That grain spelled life to millions of the hungry of that land. When we returned to the attache's office, he gathered his tabulations from his files and sat down to enter them into a calculating machine. Later, he concluded that the delivery of American wheat to India that year amounted to all of the grain grown in the United States from Colorado westward. Ours is a generous country that has been quick to respond when others are in need."

I had never thought about it that way either. Colin Powell made a similar observation in an address to the World Economic Forum, in which he responded to a question from Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. Carey asked him:

"Mr. Secretary of State, at this conference, among the language that has been used has been a phrase, the difference between hard power and soft power: hard power and military power, and perhaps expressed in America as the only superpower with a grave responsibility to create and help to forward the cause of peace in the world; and then soft power, soft power which binds us all, which has something to do with values, human values and all the things that you and I passionately believe in. . . .

"[W]ould you not agree, as a very significant political figure in the United States, Colin, that America, at the present time, is in danger of relying too much upon the hard power and not enough upon building the trust from which the soft values, which of course all of our family life that actually at the bottom, when the bottom line is reached, is what makes human life valuable?"

Secretary Powell's response was as follows:

"The United States believes strongly in what you call soft power, the value of democracy, the value of the free economic system, the value of making sure that each citizen is free and free to pursue their own God-given ambitions and to use the talents that they were given by God. And that is what we say to the rest of the world. . . . There is nothing in American experience or in American political life or in our culture that suggests we want to use hard power. But what we have found over the decades is that unless you do have hard power -- and here I think you're referring to military power -- then sometimes you are faced with situations that you can't deal with.

"I mean, it was not soft power that freed Europe. It was hard power. And what followed immediately after hard power? Did the United States ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan. Soft power came with American GIs who put their weapons down once the war was over and helped all those nations rebuild. We did the same thing in Japan.So our record of living our values and letting our values be an inspiration to others I think is clear. And I don't think I have anything to be ashamed of or apologize for with respect to what America has done for the world.

"We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last 100 years -- and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan -- and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own, you know, to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. But there comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works."

Obviously America is not perfect. Her people are far from perfect, as are all people. But I believe the ideals this country was founded on are truly inspired, and I am both grateful and proud to be an American. And to quote former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, "There is nothing wrong with America that the faith, love of freedom, intelligence and energy of her citizens cannot cure."

And so with that, Happy Birthday America -- Land of the Free & Home of the Brave!


mrsbear0309 on July 4, 2008 at 9:57 AM said...

Those were very beautiful, thoughtful excerpts. Thanks for sharing them.


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I'm a mom of three boys on the autism spectrum, 11-yr-old identical twins and a 7-yr-old. My husband is a SAHD.


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