PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN ???
Earlier this month I attended a country music review in Osage Beach, Missouri. As is common lately at the end of such shows, tribute was paid to military veterans. The performers sang parts of The Marines’ Hymn, The Army Goes Rolling Along, The US Air Force song, and Anchors Away. As usual, the fifth branch of our military, the US Coast Guard, got left out (Semper Paratus – United States Coast Guard Marching Song).
And of course the show ended with a rousing performance of Lee Greenwood’s song, GOD BLESS THE USA.
We were asked to stand to be recognized when the song of our branch of service was sung. Most of those who stood were men my age or older. A proud gentleman behind me stood at attention, ram-rod straight, when The US Air Force song was performed. I served in the Army during the Viet Nam War, and although I have somewhat reluctantly stood in the past, I did not stand this time. There are three reasons why.
- In part, this ritual seems to be obligatory and has become rather meaningless to me.
- I was not proud to be an American during Viet Nam. Yes, it feels good to be recognized decades later for the sacrifice that my family and I made at that time. But, like many others, I opposed the Viet Nam War. I would have avoided serving if there had been any way to do so, short of fleeing to Canada as many did. It seems inappropriate to mix the “thanks” that I am receiving with something that I did only because I had no choice. Such “thanks” is strangely mixed with the glorification of war. The “thanks” presumes that my contemporaries and I fought for some noble cause, or to keep America “free,” which was not the case.
- I also feel uncomfortable because I was able (quite legally) to receive a commission as a Social Work Officer in the Medical Service Corps while many of my contemporaries where drafted into the service to become infantrymen fighting in Viet Nam. I never went to Nam. I did serve in South Korea in the Second Infantry Division that guarded the Demilitarized Zone, and I was in Panmunjom, the heavily guarded, now deserted, truce village on the border between North and South Korea. But I was providing substance abuse and mental health counseling to soldiers, and the risk of losing my life was fairly minimal. I was not shooting at anyone, and no one was shooting at me. I am proud of the work that I did in the Army, but now, years later, I feel that somehow I cheated the system, that I was privileged by my education and career choice, when others were not. It’s hard to simultaneously hold these conflicting emotions.
Since the inauguration of President Trump, as it was for me during the Viet Nam War and the ill-advised invasion of Iraq, I am not proud to be a citizen of the USA, which is rapidly becoming the laughing stock of the world. Please don’t misunderstand; I am grateful that I am free to write this without fear of being arrested. But the President’s values and the domestic and international policies that he is pursing are diametrically opposed to what I believe to be the nobler ideals of America. I’m sorry, Mr. Greenwood, and those of you who find this offensive, but I will not “stand up” for repression, repeal of health care benefits, a larger military with reduced funding for diplomacy, xenophobia, and immigration policies that separate American born children from their parents. These policies do not square with the lyrics of “God Bless the USA,” Where “I am free,” all people should be free. “I love this land,” but so do many others who would also like to call America home. Yes, I will “stand up to defend this land” by striving to make America more just, more compassionate, and more welcoming to others. Formulating and defending American values begins and ends at home. We ourselves pose a greater threat to our freedom than do outsiders.
Independence Day represents an idea yet to be fully realized, not simply a celebration of something that happened 241 years ago. I hope that in the coming years that idea will come closer to fruition, and that I can again more honestly say that, “I am proud to be an American.”
In the meantime, I have chosen to no longer stand for these military tributes honoring my time of service in the Army.