2004-07-16 / Columnists

The Progressive By John Paul Culotta

A Nation of Laws

The Progressive By John Paul Culotta

A Nation of Laws

This past Independence Day, as many other Americans, I reflected on the reason this nation is unique and special. My mother is an immigrant to these shores and was always the first in my family to pray the blessings this nation has and is willing to share with others would continue. It is part of my heritage-the story of my mother’s first week in the United States. She left war-torn Italy and during her first week here she went into a five and dime. The sight of pins, needle and thread, candy, writing paper and other sundries on the shelves for sale caused her to cry. The war in Europe left the populace so destitute that the merchandise in a simple five and dime were luxury items overseas.

All nations have dark and shameful periods in their shared histories and their relationships with other nations around the globe. Racism, imperialism, class divisions, poverty, injustices are historical facts in all nations. Our nation also has and does suffer from these evils. We now dominate the world in a way no other nation in history has dominated this precious planet. Americans have a special responsibility and duty to examine the nature of the character of this nation. What makes America different?

America is abundant with natural beauty and different climates, topography, and resources. Many years ago any grade school student, when geography was taught, could have told you this. We are a nation that is continental is scope. The nation is from Atlantic to Pacific. We face both Europe and Asia. The bounty of our farms helps feed the world. When you enjoy the beach in your Rockaway neighborhood I ask you to reflect on the varieties of natural and human beauty our nation enjoys. We have mountains, seashore, plains, and deserts. We are blessed with coal, petroleum and other resources. Hawaii and Alaska are part of our heritage. We have Niagara Falls, the Florida Keys, and the Rocky Mountains. We have the energy of Manhattan, the cultural dynamic of a New Orleans and the vistas of San Francisco. And yet, this is not what makes us unique.

Some of us will ponder the economic aspect of our uniqueness. It is true the many of ancestors came to these shores because of the material rewards and opportunities that this nation offered. Today, the immigrants are not from Europe. They are from Asia, Africa and South America. Some of us fear the number and cultural differences of the new immigrants. Immigrants are often met, as our ancestors were, with hostility. They are willing to do work we Amer0ican-born are no longer willing to do. They often live in our slums, have dangerous occupations are regarded as threats, are rewarded with low wages. Despite this, they see our nation as a beacon of hope and come. And yet, this is not what makes us unique.

America is a mosaic of races. Although the United States has been and is a racist nation, this nation has all the major races of the globe represented in our population. Our shared history is with Africa, Asia, and Europe. This has enriched the nation. People from all over the globe have influenced our cuisine, music, arts, and political systems. And yet, this is not what makes us unique.

Our nation is a super military powerhouse. No other nation is as powerful in terms of military strength. It is apparent throughout history that military strength is only a part of what makes a nation strong. France was defeated in Algeria. Britain could not keep its empire. A guerilla army in Vietnam defeated us. Sometimes a person’s greatest strength is also that person’s greatest weakness. The same is also true for nations. Therefore, military strength does not make us unique.

Religious differences in other nations around the world cause conflict and strife. In this nation we have a variety of religions that are followed and with a minimal of strife. In no other nation do so many different religious beliefs practiced. Many religions began in this nation. The Church of Latter Day Saints and the Christian Science Church are two examples. And yet, religious tolerance does not make us unique.

When I was young I traveled extensively in Europe. Many Europeans are puzzled by the civic pride we have in this nation. Our pride in our civic symbols, patriotic music, pledges of allegiance, and flag are considered excessive in many countries. Europeans fear such manifestations of nationalism can lead to the excesses that occurred in their continent during the past century. And yet, civic pride does not make this nation unique.

All over the globe, American cultural gifts have been exported and appreciated. Hollywood movies with the extraordinary special effects, Broadway musicals, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and even baseball are popular throughout the globe. And yet, the American entertainment industry does not make our nation unique. Popular tastes in food and clothing have been exported from America. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, dungarees, are popular through out the world. And yet, this does not this nation unique.

American technology and scientific research is admired throughout the globe. Microsoft is an international force. And yet this does not make us unique.

Our nation is unique because we as a nation put our civic faith in a system of laws and not our faith in men, political parties, or clergy. Reuters, the news agency, on June 7, 2004,had an article regarding how in times of war this belief in the rule of law erodes in this nation. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the 1918 Sedition Act, the Palmer Raids, the internment of aliens and American citizens of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War, and the Smith Act are examples of how civil liberties and rights can erode during period of fear. To the great credit to this nation, Americans react after reflection with aversion to these erosions.

Daniel Webster once wrote: " Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say the Constitutions was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. He went on to say " There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." Albert Gonzales White House counsel in a memo to our President stated the war on terrorism " in my judgment renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners. He wrote this on January 25, 2002. It is a dangerous notion for a free nation to have the commander in chief to be unchecked by the courts when dealing with any enemy. Israeli counter-terrorism experts say that the sexual humiliation of the kind witnessed at Abu-Ghraib prison does little to obtain information. Amnesty International and the International Red Cross-state that the abuses appear to be systematic and not the results of a few "bad apples". Our Supreme Court is limiting the Bush’s administration ideas regarding enemy-combatants. It is time for Americans to remember our uniqueness and demand our leaders live to the dictates of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Geneva Conventions.

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