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E Pluribus Unum

Perceptions, History, National Issues, Society and Morals

Out of many, one; the de facto motto of the United States of America prior to 1956 appears on the Great Seal of the United States and on our currency. We've seen it so often it may have lost some of its meaning. This is a post on the exceptionalism of America. Some may have a problem with that, but I believe it is undeniable. I'm not going to dwell on individual accomplishments or--yes--failures. But there is something about this country that stands out from the international crowd. I'm going to try to define and explain it.

There have been two periods in my life, going back 70 years, that stand out as examples of the American spirit. Note what I said--"American spirit." I can't think of another nation to which you could ascribe a spirit.

The first was World War II. The absolute unity of patriotic spirit during that trying time had to be experienced to be believed. There was absolute unanimity of purpose and resolve. Sacrificies were made and deprivations endured that I doubt we would tolerate today. There were shortages of not only goods but food and fuel. We couldn't drive very far on our "A" gas ticket which limited the amount of gas we could purchase to a few gallons a month. There were food ration books, which limited many foodstuffs, especially meat. We collected and bought bonds. School children bought "War Stamps" to fill a book good for a $25 War Bond. We held paper drives and took our fat-cans to the butcher.

There was no dissent, with the rare exception of perhaps one or two reviled individuals. The soldiers were honored, and especially their families proudly displaying blue star pennants in their windows or, all too common, gold stars for the ultimate sacrifice. The media wholeheartedly supported the war effort, even suppressing bad news from the front. Hollywood pumped out patriotic war movie after war movie, without a single "Platoon". Industry converted to war production with amazing speed and ramped up to unprecedented production levels. And yes, there were legions of "Rosie the Riveter."

The American spirit prevailed in that war, not only protecting our shores but  saving England and liberating Europe, at staggering cost. Just ask the French and view their American cemeteries. I'm certain that Hitler and the Axis, including the Japanese, never anticipated the courage, skill and tenacity with which we fought.

The second event, not on the same scale but equally impressive, was the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden expected his brilliantly-planned and coordinated attack would demoralize the morally corrupt Americans. He was wrong. We came together as a nation with fierce resolve to avenge the outrage and punish the perpetrators. Patriotism exploded across the landscape, with flags everywhere, on homes, vehicles and clothing. The result was the rapid destruction of the al Qaeda infrastructure in Afghanistan, never to be reconstituted. It was the beginning of the end of bin Laden's baby as a viable threat on the scale of 9/11. There were major terrorist attacks in other countries like Spain and London, England, but not on U.S. soil.

Since then there have been second-guessing and criticism, but that is the nature of our time. Maybe that's better than during the 1940's; maybe not. I think you can guess my opinion. The point is, as a nation we came together and fought back with an unexpected fierceness. The Spanish, when attacked were cowed and did what the terrorists demanded-withdrew their miniscule troops from Iraq. The British reacted with stoicism and characteristic "stiff upper lip," and beefed up security. No retaliation.

So, what is it about this country that's different. We are indeed a sleeping lion--Schlafenlöwe in German. There is a strength, a steely resolve, beneath the surface of our turbulent society. We may squabble among ourselves, but do not threaten our nation or the Löwe will awake angry as h___! Ask Adolf, ask Admiral Yamamoto, ask the ghost of bin Laden.

I begin this phase of my dissertation with--easy now, guys!--a quote from Dick Cheney during an interview with Rush Limbaugh. (Never let it be said I shrink from controversy.) 

"[A] lot of people ... are blessed in a sense when they're born to wealth or privilege or have certain advantages as a result of who their parents are. I could never think of a greater blessing or a greater advantage than having been born an American. In our day and age we are uniquely blessed to live in this time, to be a part of the greatest nation on earth, the most remarkable democracy the world has ever known. We're not always right, we're not always perfect by any means, but our motives are pure. We embarked not on conquests of empire, but rather on bringing freedom to millions of others. ..."

Why is this? Why are we Americans exceptional? Longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer once observed that the American is unique in that he has unbounded confidence in himself to solve any problem. (Sadly, I think we've lost some of this, thanks to our budding welfare state.) When a Frenchman's car dies on the highway, he will sit quietly and wait for assistance. (This is before cell phones.) The American, on the other hand, will jump out and raise the hood, somehow confident that he can fix the problem even though he may know nothing about automobile engines.

We have an innate sense that we can solve any problem. Unfortunately, this has led to an excess of government programs and bureaucracies established to solve problems that somehow never seem to get solved. However, the attitude is still alive and well. This level of national self-confidence--some might call it arrogance--has carried this nation through many crises, from the American Revolution through a terrible Civil War, two World Wars, a couple of abortive exercises in how not to fight a war and, of course, the current threat engendered by Islamic terrorism.

America is unique in all the world in that we are a melting pot of ethnicities. No other country opened its arms to as many legal immigrants from other nations. We have English, Germans, Irish, Polish, Jewish, Hungarian, Russian, South American, Mexican, Scandinavian, Asian from several countries and certainly several others I have neglected. Each immigrant brought a special heritage with him or her--special talents, ideas and attitudes, strengths and wisdom--the best from their place of origin.

Just as a metal alloy is stronger than the individual components, this melding of diverse characteristics has resulted in a unified exceptionalism unparalleled in the world. Some may be uncomfortable with this idea and may even find individual events in our history which are not to our credit, but overall we are a good people with uncommon empathy for those less fortunate, endowed with unquenchable optimism. No country has helped in national disasters around the world more than us. No other country cares as unselfishly. We are almost without exception "firstest with the mostest."

So, take pride fellow citizens of this marvelous experiment in democracy. With all our flaws, we are a good people with uncommon strength as a nation. The present difficulties we are experiencing, regardless of their source, will be overcome. You may be pessimistic about our present leadership or the status of your 401K, or a myriad of other problems, but we will weather these storms as we always have. Because we are Americans.

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