“I want to ask a few simple questions. And then I shall answer them.
What has happened to our vaunted idealism? Why have some of us been behaving like scared chickens? Where is the million-throated, democratic voice of America?
For years it has been dinned into us that we are a weak nation; that we are an inefficient people; that we are simple-minded. For years we have been told that we are beaten, decayed, and that no part of the world belongs to us any longer.
Some amongst us have fallen for this carefully pickled tripe. Some amongst us have fallen for this calculated poison. Some amongst us have begun to preach that the “wave of the future” has passed over us and left us a wet, dead fish.
They shout–from public platforms in printed pages, through the microphones–that it is futile to oppose the “wave of the future.” They cry that we Americans, we free Americans nourished on Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, hold moth-eaten ideas. They exclaim that there is no room for free men in the world any more and that only the slaves will inherit the earth. America–the America of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and Walt Whitman–they say, is waiting for the undertaker and all the hopes and aspirations that have gone into the making of America are dead too.
However, my fellow citizens, this is not the real point of the story. The real point–the shameful point–is that many of us are listening to them and some of us almost believe them.
I say that it is time for the great American people to raise its voice and cry out in mighty triumph what it is to be an American. And why it is that only Americans, with the aid of our brave allies–yes, let’s call them “allies”–the British, can and will build the only future worth having. I mean a future, not of concentration camps, not of physical torture and mental straitjackets, not of sawdust bread or of sawdust Caesars–I mean a future when free men will live free lives in dignity and in security.
This tide of the future, the democratic future, is ours. It is ours if we show ourselves worthy of our culture and of our heritage…” – From Harold Ickes’ speech, “What is an American?”
Sixty-eight years ago, people were questioning about a war that was going on. America, it seemed, had been left in the dust and people were saying that this other thing destined to be the cornerstone of the future. Interestingly, there is a parallel today. There is a war going on and people are saying that America’s best days are behind her. Well, they’ve never heard this speech.
Speeches have done some pretty interesting things to people. They stir them to action, well up emotion, sternly discipline at times, and praise the righteous among us. This speech was meant to do all those things. Abraham Lincoln wanted to put slavery to an end. Harold Ickes wanted to warn us what Hitler would do to us when he was done with Britian if we sat idly by.
In the same way we are being lied to. This poison is injected to the youth and it has seeped into our culture in general. Were we our ancestors we wouldn’t have fallen for it. We wouldn’t have accepted it. We wouldn’t have taught it. And most importantly, we wouldn’t have allowed it to continue.
According to Harold Ickes: “What constitutes an American? Not color nor race nor religion. Not the pedigree of his family nor the place of his birth. Not the coincidence of his citizenship. Not his social status nor his bank account. Not his trade nor his profession. An American is one who loves justice and believes in the dignity of man. An American is one who will fight for his freedom and that of his neighbor. An American is one who will sacrifice property, ease and security in order that he and his children may retain the rights of free men. An American is one in whose heart is engraved the immortal second sentence of the Declaration of Independence.”
The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
So I want to know what happened to our idealism? What’s wrong with being an American? What is the antidote to the poison?