I am four years short of having lived for three quarters of a century. I was born just before the bombing of Japan, so I was a first post-war baby. I grew up in the Midwest in the town of Columbus, Ohio, where even today people would not be surprised to see a farm tractor driving down Broad Street.
Growing up, we could go outside and play all day and our parents never had to worry about where we were or if we were safe. We rarely had to lock the front door of our house during the day, and most of the time, not even at night. We celebrated America. We celebrated the men and women who gave so much in the Second World War to keep us free, and we celebrated our flag and the Republic for which it stood.
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In school every day we started with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. We went to parades on the 4th of July and Veterans Day and watched the men and women who served to protect our country, march in review. We were told that the policemen were our friends and if we were ever in trouble, to try and find a policeman who would help you. Most of the time we did our homework from school, did our chores around the house, and went to church every Sunday.
In school we learned about the history of America and the people who made it great. Our teachers taught us about the men and women who formed our nation, what they believed, and what was their dream for America. My generation saw a President assassinated; we saw his murderer killed on live television; and we cried. We watched as his body was taken through the streets of Washington DC and on to Arlington Cemetery.
After Kennedy’s death, our government leaders made decisions that changed my country forever. Lyndon Johnson committed more troops to Vietnam, and young people in America were sent off to the war and died, over 58,000 of them. Other young people protested the war by burning the American flag and left the country rather than serve. Some confronted the returning soldiers with distain and abuse. Lyndon Johnson, while expanding the fighting in the Vietnam War, started a new war here in America. He started the War on Poverty.
This fight on poverty has forever changed the black family, and in many respects, the relationship between blacks and whites in America. Government handouts are now considered by many to be a right, not something for a short-term need. Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated, along with Bobby Kennedy. The nation that had not seen an assassination of a political leader in over 62 years, in a short period of time saw three go down to assassins’ bullets. America erupted with violence at the death of these leaders and the violence is still with us today.
Many people began to think that America was wrong and needed to change. There were ever increasing tears in the fabric of the country. Segregation was made illegal, which lead to protests, death and the destruction of property. America had turned ugly, but I didn’t. I believed that every American, regardless of their race or religion, had the right to be free. But as I would learn in my advancing years, your freedom, in most cases, came at the expense of somebody else’s freedom, or their life.
Political correctness was driven by the intellectual elite around the world, starting with Karl Marx in Russia and then Hitler in Germany in the 1930’s. This elite believed that the state was the great arbiter of right and wrong. When the war protests broke out in colleges in the 1960’s, those students were converted to political correctness by their college professors.
Over the subsequent years and decades, I sat back like millions of Americans and watched what was going on. I didn’t give these events much credibility and they didn’t get my serious attention. I went to work, raised my four sons, and had a good life with my wife. I had lived the American dream going from a middle-class family in Columbus, Ohio to a successful businessman. But with that lack of attention, I lost my country.
Now, towards the twilight of my life, I and many other Americans are desperately trying to atone for our sins of omission. We didn’t take the protesters to heart; we didn’t pay attention to changes in the curriculums in our schools; and we didn’t pay attention when the laws were changed that overturned our values. We now have a deeply divided country. For some time we have had a portion of the community who believes that they are right and that anybody who is against them has no right to speak. They question the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as being outdated, no longer functional in our contemporary society. We have built a society that has no understanding of its past, and if one has no idea of where he came from, how can he know where he is going?
The truth is, it was not the antiwar protesters of the 60’s, or the communists, the Nazis or fascists of the 30’s who took away our country. The truth is, I let them take it. I am the one responsible. I’m the one who didn’t pay attention to the people I was electing. I didn’t follow what our country was doing while trying to be all things to all people. The old hymn sums it up very well, “Lord I was blind, but I could not see.” I find myself wondering if now that I can see, is it too late to save, “my country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty?”