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Archive for January, 2015

Freedom (Isn’t Free)

Liberty_Bell_2008

My post will overlap a bit with: “America: The Land of the Unsung Heroes.”  I too associate America at its core with freedom, liberty and oppurtunity.  Every person has the chance to make it in America.  Hard work and wise choices are rewarded; yes this is not absolute, but it can’t be in a free-market/free-choice society — we allow people to mess up.  America strives for a transparent effective court system, which much of the world has not come close to achieving.  As much as it may be frustrating to see our politicians constantly arguing, we are so lucky to have the disagreements and competition for office.  We are lucky to have free and fair elections available to all.  We as Americans can pretty much say and do whatever we want and this is something many (most?) of us take for granted.  We don’t have to worry about posting our reaction to the State of the Union Speech on twitter or professing our religious beliefs from Temple’s bell tower (it may be annoying but its allowed).

However it is important for us to recognize that earning and now protecting these rights is not something that comes without sacrifice and a strong sense of grounded patriotism.  And lucky for many of us, this is something we have to remind ourselves of!  A few nights ago I went to see American Sniper with a friend.  The film reminded me of how lucky I am to be an American where so many put their lives on the lines to allow me to go on… almost unaware.

I fear the long term result of what I perceive to be America’s shift to an anti-authority, anti-soldier, anti-policeman (or woman!!!!!!), anti-law, always offended mentality.  Here is a quick read written by Lt. Daniel Furseth of the Wisconsin Police Department:

http://nycfirewire.com/today-i-stopped-caring/

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America’s Brawn

image

It is difficult not to view America through a cynical lens due to several recent events that have highlighted America’s arrogance and savagery. America’s foreign policy with the Middle East is the most pertinent example.

There are a lot of Americans who view the entire Middle East as an enemy and think of Muslims as terrorists. Many people think the conflict started with September 11th, but it was America’s brutal foreign policy with the Middle East that led to the tragedy. America put sanctions on Iraq, forcing the country into a state of economic despair and poverty. After September 11th, America immediately resorted to using military force, invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Though Iraq had no part in September 11th, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed by American forces. At the beginning of the war, Hamid Karzai, who was an Afghan political figure at the time and would later become President, was against the Taliban and was successfully getting its members to surrender and convert to his political plans. However, America intervened and forced him to stop, wanting all Taliban members dead and not “living with dignity.” So the war raged on and the Taliban regrouped, and as the airstrikes and deaths piled on, the chances for peace diminished as Karzai simply had enough with America.

America’s chauvinism and barbarism has cost the country billions of dollars and thousands of innocent lives and put the entire world in danger by inciting Isis. America needs to learn that its not gonna solve its problems with its fists. America’s extreme lack of empathy and “us vs. them” mentality has prevented any chance at peace, and the country should put its pride aside and try to reach an agreement with its enemies before the conflict becomes even more volatile. But in a country whose culture is designed around war, including the dominance of football, superhero movies and the two rival political parties, any chance of changing this mentality and taking steps towards peace is going to be a challenge.

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One of the most prevalent idioms that exists about America is the notion of an ‘American Dream’. Usually this means a couple of things: the chance for a better life, the opportunity to reinvent one self for a more successful existence, the idea of upward social mobility.  This ideology is seen to play out time and time again throughout America’s history from Pilgrims fleeing persecution in the 17th Century to the mass immigration that followed in the late 19th Century. This ideology is not without its contradictions however, as shown (albeit indirectly) in the painting, titled American Progress.

Another example of the so called American Dream playing out is the frontier era of the country, The American West is a source of much romanticizing and mythology for the country. The images  and cultural ideas from the West, which acted as a quintessential example of the American Dream, pervade to this day. Cowboys and Indians. The popularity of the Western both here and over seas (such as the Italian Spaghetti Westerns).  From the Homefront Act to the Gold Rush to the ever popular ghost towns in the West, this is true. The above painting, American Progress is from 1872 which is one of the most commonly discussed images when the concept of Manifest Destiny is discussed. Manifest Destiny, the supposed divine right/command to expand Westward, was seen as another manifestation of the American Dream.

This also exposes the contradictions within America. Manifest Destiny is one of the most infamous examples of American Imperialism. The painting shows this concept in a positive light. The left side of the frames is showing Native Americans run off into the darkness. The story of what actually  happened to the Native Americans is very often brushed over or not discussed period. The fact that there is more fiction than truth about the ‘Wild West’ that pervade to this day is another example (a lesser extreme) of an inherent contradiction within this country. The American Dream is an idea, maybe not founded in reality, but in the popular conception of reality.

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mountrushmore

Throughout its history, it seems to me that America has had little time to sit still. As a nation that presents itself as a model for others around the world, it makes sense that America consistently seems to be rallying behind a new idea or device that will set them apart.

It begins with the birth of our country, when our founding fathers fostered the idea that independence was what they needed to become this icon of innovative living, a place where the peoples’ voices mattered. Our war with Britain was the first domino in a long line, creating a precedent of radical change in the country when the people deemed fit.

Let’s first consider the Constitutional Convention, where, after four years of absolute freedom, states realized that much of the way the Articles of Confederation were written made it difficult to act in their own interest. Rewriting the Articles as the Constitution of the United States of America in 1787, set America apart in a way that still seems to attract people to our nation today.

Over the next 200 years, “America, land of the free and home of the brave (for white, land-owning men)” challenged societal standards to promote and ensure civil rights including, but not limited to: the abolishment of slavery, the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, and, currently, the movement for LGBT rights. While systematic inequality is a tragic reality of America’s history, the American people have continuously fought to change the way all human beings are treated to promote equality.
In addition to this, America has, since the industrial revolution, been a source of ingenuity. Americans are credited with the invention of the airplane, battery, electric guitar, digital & personal computer, cable television, heart-lung machine, space shuttle, and the internet, just to name a few. On a less positive note, we have also made waves with the creation of the atomic bomb, an obsession with fast food, and an economic crisis leaning heavily on mass labor outsourcing.
Finally, the biggest change America may be seeking to make lies in the production of this class. It is an attempt to redefine “America” as an icon. As Americans, we seek to change the way students are thinking about our impact on the world. By innovating the way we see ourselves, in a setting as inviting as a college classroom, shows that we are once again seeking to rise above the standards we, along with the rest of the world, have set for ourselves.
Innovation has become a way to define America, for me, because throughout the life of our nation, while not many things have managed to remain untouched by the citizens, it is something constant.

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This We’ll Defend

This We'll Defend

The above banner is the emblem of the Department of the Army. The emblem displays the United States Army’s official motto, “This We’ll Defend.” But what exactly is this? According to an official Army blog post, the Army’s motto emerged after the establishment of the War Office in 1776; this originally referred to American liberty, as defending American liberty was the mission of the Continental Army (source). However, as America has evolved over the few centuries, has this changed?

America means many things to me, but ultimately I have trouble describing it in anything other than clichéd terms such as home, freedom, opportunity, equality, diversity. Yes these are idealistic, but I think America at its best exemplifies these principles. Even as America has evolved, these principles have remained close to the hearts of all Americans. Certainly America, like any other place, also has downsides, but I believe the good far outweighs the bad.

Just War Things contrasts pictures depicting the relatively carefree concerns of a teenage girl with the realities of war:

http://justwarthings.tumblr.com/image/84069967691

http://justwarthings.tumblr.com/image/78519516220

http://justwarthings.tumblr.com/post/73141951954/k-continues-to-deliver

http://justwarthings.tumblr.com/image/77848081981

 

The blog author describes his beliefs below, alluding to what he feels this is:

“I served knowing this is the greatest country in the world. I take pride that the biggest worry of teenagers in this country is how they do on their school test, or if they have the best iPhone. That cupcake life, I defend it. My father came to this country when he was 3 because of Communism in eastern Europe. My uncles tell me of the horrors there, and how happy they were that their kids grew up free and out of harms way. My brother married a woman whose family escaped Vietnam when she was 3. I am so glad my nephew was born a free man, in control of his own destiny, and free to pick his life. He can espouse any view he wants, he can support whatever political party he wants, and there will never be legal consequences for his beliefs.” (source)

In short, I know the U.S. has its flaws, but I do feel that this is still worth defending. The U.S. is not the greatest country in the world (nor do I think there is such thing), however it is my country, my home. Additionally, America offers the opportunity to live a life of one’s choosing, regardless of what the life may look like.

 

 

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One of the greatest things about America is that most everyone is originally, if you go back far enough, from somewhere else. We are truly a land of diverse people, and that diversity is what makes us such an amazing place to live in. But, what is it about America that has drawn so many thousands, if not millions, of immigrants over the years? Certainly something drew my own two parents here: my father came over for college and then decided to stay, soon bringing my mother here as well.

One of the common phrases to describe America is ‘the land of opportunity,’ where just about anybody can make it rich, or be successful, no matter their upbringing or background. My father’s story epitomizes this ideal, and I continue to look to him for inspiration in my own life. My dad, Munir Mandviwalla, came to the United States of America when he was just 17 years old, starting his undergraduate college career at Boston University. He did well enough to go on to graduate school at Claremont University, all the way in California, where he eventually got his PhD in management information systems (MIS). This field was virtually unknown to the rest of his family back in Pakistan, where having a TV was still considered the height of luxury. But he’d found out about it, and mastered it, going on to found an entirely new MIS department at another university, and leading it to become number one in the world, within 10 years of its founding. My father first came to America because of the opportunity to get a great schooling, and then decided to stay because of the opportunities to pioneer a new way of thinking about, and using technology. Traveling to Pakistan has shown me exactly the sort of conditions that he grew up in, and inspired me all the more.

The history of America can be characterized by immigration, by its peaks and its valleys. When the most people were immigrating here often indicated that America was doing better than most of the rest of the world, and vice versa. But immigration to America has always remained a constant facet of American life, and I believe it is because of the myriad opportunities available to those willing to do the work necessary to seize them. America was founded on the principles of freedom, democracy, and liberty, principles that set out to make America different from the world, better. Despite all the flaws that one can argue are present in modern-day America, we’ll always be able to say that more people come here from the rest of the world than any other place, to stay.

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Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851

When I think of America, I automatically think of freedom: of speech, of religion, of press, etc. We live in the land of opportunity where “rags to riches” stories are common. We have the power to choose our fate. We can watch, listen, or do what we want, when we want. However, what most Americans tend to forget is that freedom is not free; we have unsung heroes working for that freedom. From George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt to General MacArthur to my brother (pictured below on the right), these heroes are better known as the American soldier.

Josh

Some families place a flag outside their homes around the Fourth of July, Veteran’s Day, or 9/11 but my family has one hanging outside all year round. We remember and respect our heroes every day. Last June, our family lost a good friend in the line of duty. He and my brother graduated high school, West Point, and ranger school together. He even went on to become a Green Beret. When it came time for the funeral, his friends and comrades stayed in our home. In those three days I learned more about the price of freedom than any class could have ever taught me. To hear their stories and to see both the physical and mental impairments from the war was heartbreaking to say the least. What shocked me the most was that not one of them was bitter about their experience, situation, or condition. I saw that these people truly love America, a rare expression in our generation.

Ask an American to define America, and the answer will most likely point out a negative aspect. Frequently, people complain about the political system, that Wi-Fi is not working up to speed, or that they have to pay taxes. What they seem to not realize is that all of those things are privileges. The fact that we can voice our opinions about a political figure without fearing persecution is due to the fact that America has a great, though flawed, democracy. We are free to search the Internet, watch movies, read books, and communicate with people across the seas because Americans have inalienable rights. Taxes provide children with access to education, they keep our streets clean and our roads safe, and they pay for our police, firefighters, and other emergency services. My point is that Americans focus on the negatives, not because America is bad, but because our society strives for perfection. We are quick to point out what is wrong and how we think it should be fixed, rather than appreciate all that we already have.

I believe an important, but often overlooked, part of being American is appreciating those who have fought for all of the privileges we have. Because my brother served, I have first-hand knowledge of the repercussions of war on the human; repercussions that tend to be invisible to the unaffected. This invisibility stems from the strong sense of pride that radiates from the American solider. At the end of the day, I am proud to be an American. America is my home and I do not take for granted the lives lost in the pursuit of protecting my freedom.

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