About ten years ago, in an international forum right after 9/11, a European colleague of mine expressed some puzzlement over why Americans are proud of being American. He stated that he was French, but wasn’t particularly proud or ashamed of the fact. He just was.
This opened my eyes to one of the biggest differences between Americans and other nationalities. This difference leads to a much different world view, and consequently is a stumbling block to non-Americans who are trying to understand the motivations and mindset of Americans.
You see, unlike virtually every other nation in the world, America is not a place. America is an idea! America is a loose collection of people who share this idea and embrace it and understand that this idea is the source of America’s incredible prosperity.
Now, not all “Americans” understand, or embrace these ideas, which leads to considerable confusion within our country, as well as for those who are trying to make sense of it from outside. You can easily identify these people, because they are not proud to be Americans, they downplay their national identity when overseas, they speak poorly of America to non-Americans, and they feel they have to apologize for things that America has done in history. Real Americans pretty much wish these faux Americans would find someplace more to their liking and go live there, because they’re not helping here.
When someone proudly and unashamedly proclaims “I am an American!” you can make some pretty safe assumptions about that person (yes, I'm being politically incorrect, I'm using the ancient "He" to refer to the generic human, in which the female gender is implicitly included. If you ladies feel left out, maybe it's time to dial down the sensitivity a few decibels) :
- He believes in personal responsibility, that he is responsible to feed and shelter himself and those who depend on him.
- He believes in a good day’s work for a fair days pay.
- He believes in the rule of law, and will typically observe the reasonable application of the law even when no one is looking.
- He believes in the inviolate right to private property. You have the right to keep what you have earned.
- He believes that the rights of government derive from the governed, that government is a necessary evil that should be kept small and poorly fed, lest it grow too large and become uncontrollable.
- He believes that no one owes you anything because you have a body temperature. You want something bad enough, you’re free to try to attain it, but you shouldn’t expect it to be handed to you.
- He understands that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
- He believes that liberty is a fundamental human right.
- He believes that you have the responsibility – but not the obligation – to help your neighbor when they’re in need.
- He understands that people are more important than things.
- He has a sense of justice, and a natural inclination to object to and oppose injustices. He recognizes that justice must apply to everybody, or it’s meaningless.
- He understands that one man’s prosperity doesn’t automatically imply another man’s poverty.
As a people, Americans are very tolerant. We have a long history for putting up with a lot of abuse. But there’s a limit, and when you cross that limit, woe to you. A number of nations have discovered this the hard way. Remember that the United States is the only nation in history to have used nuclear weapons in anger, and we don’t apologize for it. Remember also that the target of that retaliation is today one of our fastest friends, staunchest allies and most prosperous trading partners.
These are some of the characteristics of an American. This is the culture in which we were born, and which has allowed America to become the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. We are proud to be Americans, not because we hail from a particular place, but because when we make the statement we are telling you who we are as a people, what our values are and what you can expect from us. If you hold these ideals, if you embrace this ethic, then you are welcome to come to our shores and join us for our mutual prosperity.
Do not come to our country to escape the failed political and economic model of your home country, and then seek to alter America to duplicate the failed system of your home. Do not try to reshape America to your liking. America works just the way it is, and works better than anything else you can find today. Yes, there may be ways of making it better, but not by copying demonstrable failures from other countries. If you prefer another nation’s system to that of America’s, then by all means, go live there, and let us alone. There’s a reason for our incredible prosperity. If you want to partake of that prosperity, then learn what that reason is and reshape yourself to embrace it. If you think you have a right to come here and accept charity in the form of entitlements without having participated economically, then you are not welcome here. We want and encourage people who think like us to come to our shores and help us be prosperous. If that’s not acceptable, or if that’s not working for you, then you’re free to leave. No one is stopping you, and quite frankly, we wish you would go.
Two short tales of my personal experience to highlight what it is to be an American:
It was once observed to me by a man who had never been to America - and indeed had even met very few Americans – that the world was circled by the graves of Americans who died to bring freedom to other people.
One foggy morning in England, during rush hour about ten miles from a major American military base, I witnessed a one-car accident where a local woman missed a turn and collided with a barrier, doing severe damage to her car. At least thirty cars witnessed this accident. Only three cars stopped to render assistance. We were all Americans. I commented on this to one of the police officers who responded, and he replied “Oh, yeah, without you Yanks, we’d get no help at all in these situations.”
I am proud to be an American.