So yesterday, the "don't ask don't tell" policy of the United States Armed Forces was repealed. And that set me to thinking.
It's really quite easy to get down on the United States, and the people who live in this nation. You look at current events and it all seems to be big business screwing the little guy for an extra percentage, or one set of corrupt politicians lying their way into electoral victories over another set of corrupt politicians so they can be the ones giving the electorate the finger, or the government grinding away at the rights of the people, or religious fanatics doing everything in their power to remake the world in their narrow and frightening world view, or any one of a thousand things that seems to make the world a sadder and grimmer place to live.
If you have a history degree, or even just an interest in the past that goes beyond the History Channel, it's even worse. Then it's easy to see the United States as the sum total of a legacy of genocide, colonialism, racism, sexism, religious hatred, and corruption. We - the United States - look like monsters viewed through the lens of history or current events.
Or, we can look that way. If all we focus on is the negatives.
The interesting thing is, in my opinion, that what we do really isn't all that different from what every other nation does (or would do, if they had our wealth and power). We get judged more harshly by outsiders, because we're doing it to them, instead of the other way around. And we get judged more harshly by ourselves, when we look at our behavior, because of... well...
Because we have a national mythology, that tells us we are better than that. We have a national mythology that we are a nation of free men and women, descended from people that came to this continent looking for a better life. A life where they could be free to worship and think and live freely, and where they could pass on that freedom to their children, and to their children's children. We have a national mythology that says that we are all equal before the law, that we all have the same opportunities, and that anyone - even the son of a poor immigrant - can be anything they want as long as they are willing to put in the work needed to achieve that goal. We have a national mythology that says we are the land of the free and the home of the brave, that we are great and good and generous, and that we saved the world from evil and made it safe for democracy.
Now the word "myth" comes from the Latin mythos, which comes from the Greek muthos. And what does "mythos" mean? "The complex of beliefs, values, attitudes, etc, characteristic of a specific group or society."
Like all other nations we have our flaws and our failings - and those flaws and failings are magnified a thousand-fold by our wealth, by our power, and by our influence on the world. But those flaws and those failings are not the whole story.
We are a great nation. We are a great nation because we believe our national mythology, because we value freedom and equality, because we want to be great and good and generous. For all of our failings, we keep trying. And look at what we have achieved.
My mother cannot remember a time in which women could not vote.
I cannot remember a time in which minorities could not vote.
My son will grow up in a time in which a black man was the President of the United States, and will - Gods willing - never remember a time in which a man or woman's sexual preference determined whether or not he or she could serve his or her country.
We are a great nation, because we believe our national mythology, because we want to be great and good and generous, and because we try our best to live up to those beliefs.
May we always be a great nation.
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