Saturday, July 3, 2010

Am I proud to be an American? You had better believe it

Peter Lucas - Posted: 07/02/2010

How does it feel to be an American?

I am sitting in a smoke-filled pub in Belfast finishing off a pint of Smithwick. We are listening to a band playing haunting Irish tunes. It is some years ago. There are four of us -- two Catholics, one Protestant and me, a doubting newspaperman, and we are talking about the Troubles.

British Army patrols cruise the streets in armored vehicles. Armed soldiers on foot patrol sight you in their rifles, and there are roadblocks. The Brits are searching for members of the outlawed Irish Republican Army. The atmosphere is tense and depressing. To a Boston newspaperman it is an exciting story. Under discussion is the IRA bombing sometime earlier of the hotel I am staying at.

One of the women, downing the remains of her pint, suddenly turns to me and asks, "How does it feel to be an American?"

I am taken aback by her question. Who asks questions like that? Does anybody go around asking people how it feels to be German, or French or Greek? It doesn't happen.

But I understand. I understand her question to mean something about how it feels to be a citizen of such a free, rich, powerful and respected country like the United States, a country that has no sectarian fighting and killing taking place, like the fighting and killing in Northern Ireland.

I ponder for a moment.

"Lucky," I say. "I feel lucky to be born an American. America is a special place."

That sort of ends the conversation. But I have thought about that conversation many times since then, especially around this time of year, Independence Day, the Fourth of July, our country's birthday.

The creation of the United States of America and its success as a democracy is the only new thing that has ever happened in the world, and it has come as something of a shock to discover that we have a president who does not believe, unlike the woman in Belfast, that the U.S. is special or exceptional.

"I believe in American exceptionalism," President Obama said in response to a reporter's question at a NATO summit in Europe in April 2009, "just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionlism. I'm enormously proud of my country and its role in history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of our resources that were put into postwar Europe ..."

Europeans and American liberals praised Obama for his "nuanced" reply to the question, while many Americans were puzzled that an American president would equate his country with Greece and the UK.

He also said the U.S. should not be "embarrassed" to see evidence of the sacrifices American troops made in Europe during World War II. Embarrassed of what? American military cemeteries? Defeating Nazi Germany and liberating Europe?

Obama can only wish he could do the same with Afghanistan as we did in World War II. Obama has expanded his "necessary" war, and it has begun to entangle him the way the Vietnam War entangled and ruined President Lyndon Johnson.

Obama may not know it, but Afghanistan is his Vietnam. In his short tenure as president, he has appointed three generals to fight the war, and the war is going nowhere. That's what LBJ used to do. Like Vietnam, we are fighting for a corrupt government made up of thugs who are robbing us blind. Like Vietnam, American soldiers, the bravest of the brave, are fighting a war that Afghan soldiers should be fighting, but refuse to do so. American soldiers have begun to question the mission, and nobody seems to have an answer.

Hopefully Gen. David Petraeus can straighten out Obama's war, and maybe even help save the failing Obama presidency. That, however, may be impossible, even for a hero like Petraeus.

Yet, Americans can rest assured that Petraeus, unlike Obama, believes in American exceptionalism. After all, he has on numerous occasions led men in battle and put his own life on the line fighting for his country. A man does not do that unless he believes his country is special.

So be of good cheer. America is a strong country. We survive our presidents.

How does it feel to be an American? It feels special.

Happy Birthday, America


Thank you, Peter Lucas for reminding us how very fortunate we are to be Americans. There should be no hyphens either before or after that very special word that ties us inextricably to the greatest democracy the world has ever known. This great nation counts among its citizenry people from many and varied backgrounds and from every other country on earth. The common thread that binds us together is that we are all blessed to be AMERICANS. Please set aside a few minutes on our nation’s birthday to say a prayer for our troops and our veterans young and old. It was and is their sacrifice that made America what it is today.

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

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