Tuesday, July 6, 2010

4th of July

I really hate to see patriotism being taken over by tea-party wingnuts and conservatives. It's hard for any one on the left, or even in the real middle of political thought (which is somewhere to the left of the media's idea of middle) to express love of country without being lumped in with those characters. It's especially hard for a former Vietnam-protesting, civil rights-supporting, FBI hating, anarchist manqué, 1960's college boy.

But though I have been critical, sometimes extremely critical, of how our government works, how often the reality of America has failed (and often continues to fail) America's ideals, I've never hated this country.
Let me tell you why:
There are the obvious things—you know, no king, freedom of speech (most of the time—and we certainly haven't beheaded anyone for it), etc.,  but that's not what I'm about.

What I'm about is how my father was born in Slovakia, a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire back in 1892 (Jesus, that was so long ago). I don't have all the details, but he worked for a "count," a Hungarian, and he told me about the time the horses he was watching (the counts' horses) were scared by a bear and it took him three days to round them all up. He was basically a serf—the Hungarians controlled that part of the Empire. And like many other conquerors (think about how the native Americans were treated), they weren't always nice to their subject peoples.
I'm not trying to dis Hungarians here, particularly. Some of my best friends, etcetery. They just acted like most other people in their position. No better, no worse. When he turned eighteen, he was supposed to join the army to defend the empire.
He decided that defending the government that was oppressing his people was bullshit and hoofed it across the mountains, probably with some like-minded companions, through a couple of countries whose language he didn't know, to another country across the ocean whose language he didn't know. Many Slovaks, like the poor and dispossessed of other countries, did the same. He ended up working in the steel mills of Youngstown, Ohio.

He came here in 1910, one hundred years ago this year. In 1916 America joined WWI, fighting against the Germans and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One of my father's friends said to him "Joe, we have to go back and fight for Austria. otherwise Franz Joseph will be mad at us and we'll never go back."
My fathers response was "Piss on Franz-Joseph. This is the greatest country in the world. He'll never beat this country!"

My mother was also from Slovakia. Because of the Hungarians' policy of Magyarization, making all things, especially language, Hungarian, she couldn't study at school in Slovak. Her parents sent her to a Jewish school so she could study in her own language.

One day, we were going though some old photographs and she pointed to  figure in one, and said,"That's my father, in New York City." I was dumbfounded. "What was your father doing there?"
She said he had to leave Slovakia for a while because he was wanted by the authorities for agitation—for Slovak independence.
So he went to New York City, United States of America, where he didn't have to worry about the police.

I never had to face any of the challenges my parents faced. Because I live in America.
Nobody is forcing me to learn another language.
In spite of my political agitation, no police are after me.
And I did have the option of being a conscientious objector to war during the Vietnam era. It was a near thing, whether or not I would go to jail because of my beliefs (I didn't), but I got a fair hearing. You can't ask for better than that.

That's why, is spite of all my kvetching, all my distaste for the body politic, all the concern I have that bigoted and fearful yahoos are going to one day get their way and destroy the best of this country, I love America.

Yes, the history of this country has much to be ashamed of—slavery, for one, treatment of the Native population (who were in many cases forbidden to use their own tribal languages) for another, the treatment of early unionists and workers for the dignity of the working class, for yet another. You can come up with your own list of crimes and misdemeanors.


Still. We have the ideal and many of us continue to strive for it.
We don't want people to have to carry evidence of citizenship on their persons at all times.
We want people to be able to express their views, even if they are Glen Beck.
We don't want the FBI or NSA spying on us.
We don't want to give up freedoms for a false security.
We want our leaders to stop being controlled by money and powerful interests and to keep the welfare of the American citizen (and that citizen is a PERSON, not a corporation) uppermost in their thoughts and endeavors.
We want to keep the beauty of our land safe from reckless development and mining.
We want to worship in the way we want to, and make it easy for others to worship the way they want to, without having an official religion that everyone is supposed to bow to.
We don't want the government to tell us what we can do as consenting adults in our own bedrooms.
We want to be a nation which takes care of the helpless and oppressed, not to nursemaid them, but to give them a chance to stand on their own feet and move ahead without the burdens of class snobbery or prejudice.

I could go on, but you get the picture. This is why I love this country.
This is why I will fight to keep it true to its highest ideals.
I hope everyone had a happy Fourth of July, and  that everyone had an opportunity, between the ingesting of hot dogs and the drinking of beer, to think about what s/he loves about America.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the story of your father's journey. I appreciate America, too, for all the reasons you give, and will be sad to leave it when I have to retire with what's left of my millions to a 3rd world country because I can't afford to go on living here. Wish more people who shared your ideas and ideals would run for office. -- Meg