What it means to be an American

Published 6:59 am Wednesday, July 2, 2003

By By Connie Nowlin
Managing editor
This is one of the times of the year when I think about what being an American means.
Because of the way I was brought up, there are other times as well. Days like June 6, the day our forces landed at Normandy; Nov. 11, what is now known as Veteran's Day; May 6, victory in Europe; and August 6, victory in Japan. Those days were commemorated in our household because my mother lived through those times and made them important to us, as they should be to all Americans.
But what does it mean, "being American?"
It means I can come to work at a newspaper and not be told by anyone what to print or not to print.
It means any one of us may go to church on any day of the week we choose and worship as our religion dictates. It also means we are free not to go to church, if that is our desire.
It means we do not have to fear the sound of a knock on the door in the night, afraid the secret police have come to take a member of our family away, never to be heard from again.
It means that it is highly unlikely that we will be victims of ethnic purging, that we will be murdered because we belong – or do not belong – to one group or another by virtue of birth.
It means that we are able to go to the grocery store and spend a very small percentage of our income on food and avail ourselves of the best nutrition there is. It means if we are unable to afford even that small percentage, there are fail safes built into our government so that we may get help and not go hungry. It means the specter of starvation is not part of our national landscape, regardless of the weather or our political standing in the world. We depend on no one for our food supply.
It means that at any time if we are attacked, there are ways to protect ourselves. As a sovereign nation, it means when we feel threatened, know that some other nation or group would do us harm, we are able to ferret that threat out and do our best to destroy it.
It means that all children are allowed to be educated. It is not a privilege reserved for only the children of the wealthy or upper class.
It means that should any person be accused of a crime, he or she will have a day in court, in front of a jury of peers, not be cast into some dark hole somewhere, forgotten until the regime changes or the dictator is feeling magnanimous.
And how is it that we are able to go to bed at night relatively safe and full and free from harm?
Because there were those who believed that those were unalienable rights.
Because the founding fathers, men who believed political service was a duty and honor, not a way to feather a nest for themselves, were committed to making the republic work. They wrote a framework for us in the Constitution that has served our nation well for a very long time – strong enough to hold its own, but flexible enough to continue to bend, change and evolve with its people, their needs and the times those people live in.
Because historically there have been people who believed firmly enough in what this experiment is all about that they were willing to die to uphold those beliefs.
They have fallen at Valley Forge and at Shiloh, at Belleau Wood, in North Africa and Baatan, on Hill 937 and Da Nang.
There are a thousand other battles and places, literally millions of Americans who never came home to the land they loved to their own death. There are hilltops and beaches and jungles all over the globe, deserts and city streets, where our troops went and died and won.
It isn't just the ones who died, either. It is the families that were shattered, the children who the heroes never saw, the birthdays and Christmases and anniversaries that were never marked.
It is the daughters that were given in marriage by someone else; it is the sons taught baseball by an uncle or coach and not a dad.
That is what it means to be an American, the best way of life, a free life, and the costs to maintain those liberties.
And it is a way of life that will continue to call on us for sacrifice and provide us with joy long after the last firework fades from the sky.
It is a sacrifice to be thankful for, both that others before us have been willing to make, and that it makes us the best we can be as a nation.
God bless the USA.
Connie Nowlin is managing editor of the Atmore Advance and may be reached at 368-2123 or by email at connie.nowlin@atmoreadvance.com.

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