WASHINGTON — My friend, the actor and writer Ben Stein, is forever putting me to shame, writing eloquent laudations to the wonder of America while I am given to heaving up diatribes against the world’s pests and scoundrels. Ben rhapsodizes about this great country, its underappreciated citizenry, the brave and effective soldiers of its volunteer military, Cadillacs. And what is my response? I heave spitballs — all are, I believe, on target; but surely it is not right to leave the patriotic ratiocinating to Ben.
Whenever he begins waving the flag and whistling “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he is the soul of wisdom. America is almost everything our enemies deny it to be. As Ben has sung, America is generous, free, democratic, hard-working, tolerant, and cheerful. It is the greatest multiracial nation on earth. For years it has been multi-ethnic, the Melting Pot, as they say. But today it is multiracial, having overcome slavery that endured far too long in a country whose Founding Fathers propounded freedom for all mankind while strangely maintaining servitude for almost all blacks who were shipped over here. Well, even the noblest of the species Homo sapiens have blind spots and related weaknesses. I think today the majority of Americans has made up for the bigotry of earlier Americans, and the achievements of blacks in America today — in entertainment, commerce, medicine, education, the sciences — make it clear that racism was the evil of ignorance, the ignorance of the bigot.
There is a tremendous energy about this country that I never fail to notice upon returning to our shores from faraway. Europe is a lovely place to visit, but it is a drowsy place by comparison to America. Why this is I am uncertain, though I think it has something to do with Old Europe’s centuries of religious and class warfare, the two world wars of the 20th century that mowed down so many of Europe’s best men, and the American celebration of freedom. Europeans consider our celebration of freedom vulgar and even alarming. Actually freedom, when combined with our market economy, has led to enormous progress in terms of product innovation, product quality, spreading wealth. Our social freedom perhaps explains our cheerfulness.
Today the political parasites who wish to attain high office by latching on to some presumed misery in our society tell us that there is a dreadful gulf between the rich and the poor. Actually it is a gulf that very few Americans care much about. The average American is simply too good-natured to care if Warren Buffet has five billion dollars or fifty billion dollars. More properly the average American cares about the condition of the very poor among us, and America has tried to do quite a lot about the very poor. As a consequence, poverty in America today is not as pernicious as it was a century ago; and there are through social services, education, and our vibrant economy infinitely more avenues of escaping poverty.
Now talk like this, I know, will trigger uproar here in the U. S. of A., but it is an uproar instigated either by well-meaning economic illiterates or by demagogues. Let it pass, my intention here is to reinforce Ben’s praise of America.
Never is he more eloquent in praising the volunteer troops who keep us free and secure. Today there are myriads of out-at-the-elbow Hitlers intent on blowing up our cities and spreading pandemics. The American military under civilian control fights on foreign soil far away to insure that the aspiring Adolfs fail…and get what they deserve. Despite the defeatist humors in our media, these soldiers and Marines dispatch the enemy with a professionalism of the highest order. They are constantly readjusting their tactics to new conditions. They are deadly but they are for the most part decent, conforming to the international rules of warfare unlike their enemies who hide in mosques, use women and children for shields, and blow up civilians.
There is something else about our military that I do not believe even Ben has mentioned. When they return to civilian life they will become leading members of society. Their record as good citizens is a matter of fact. I recall years ago spending time in a retirement community with a learned intellectual named Huntington Cairns. He, a leftist with tendencies toward pacifism, one day confided that in this community of retirees and octogenarians the old folks who could always be counted on to look out for the community and for its most fragile members were most likely retired military.
There is no reason to doubt that the members of the military defending us abroad today will return to be leaders in their communities tomorrow in a country as pleasant and just as Ben insists that it is.