FROM A WANING PATRIOT
I wasn’t always this way. I grew up pretty normal. 30 years in Albuquerque, NM.
Mom was very Catholic and Pop would’ve, maybe, gone to the Baptist church he grew up in but they wouldn’t have him now, because he worked for a liquor company — hellfire damnation, Mr. Andrews. Never mind that he was the most honest and moral man I’ve ever known. For a couple years we had a Southern Baptist minister next door. Southern Baptists are Baptists on steroids. I don’t think anyone in their family ever made eye contact with us, for two years.
Mom insisted I go to a Catholic school in seventh grade, to give me a chance to transfer into the new Catholic high school, St. Pius X (not to be confused with Malcolm X). Because I would get such a great education, and, more importantly, a Catholic education. I made some good friends but mostly I hated it and really, really wanted to be in a public high school. As much as I resisted, the daily Catholic dogma assault did have an effect on me.
We were middle class. Remember that? Lifelong Democrats, union supporters, very nearly without any racial prejudice (and it was pre-Civil Rights), but still pretty conservative. Musically, my folks loved Nat King Cole, Jimmy Durante, Perry Como and Pearl Bailey, and wouldn’t miss Lawrence Welk on TV (ironically, broadcast to the desert and the world from the shores of Santa Monica). My Pop served in both the Navy (age
15) and, during WWII, in the Army, as Mess Sgt. at FDR’s summer White House in Hyde
Park, NY. I have personalized Christmas cards, photographs and other memorabilia. You did not say a discouraging word about Franklin or Eleanor in our house.
CATHOLIC, CONSERVATIVE, PATRIOTIC
I didn’t question things. Not even when I first got to college (UNM, lived at home), mid-’60s, with all hell starting to break loose. The American fabric was being stretched, torn even, burned and spat upon. I wasn’t comfortable with that but I was beginning to understand where it came from.
I had no idea until I took a college course what our Native American people went through, at the bloody hands of Manifest Destiny. We were taught in school that Andrew Jackson was one of our greatest presidents, Ho Chi Minh was a monster and Castro a very dangerous dictator. The media echoed it. The US was the most benevolent nation on earth, rebuilding Europe after the war and contributing millions to those in need. We always won our justified wars.
So when my draft number came up, age 19, I went. God knows I did not want to go. But
there was no thought of fleeing to Canada, or pulling Ted Nugent or even Arlo Guthrie stunts, to dodge. I felt it had to be done — the Domino Theory seemed real (stop them over there or fight them here) and Mao really was the greatest killer in human history. I did my patriotic duty.
Through a series of most fortunate events Vegas would never give you odds on, I wound
up serving out my term in Germany. If I had hit Nam, I most likely would have reverted
to my first MOS of radio operator and been assigned to a combat patrol. The accepted
wisdom was that “the life expectancy of a radio operator in Viet Nam is seven seconds.” Charlie snipers easily spotted that big antenna on your back and picked off the communications guy first. So, I have some valid perspective, I think, on love of country.
I couldn’t get over how some of my fellow GIs would badmouth the war and sympathize with the peace movement. You’re wearing the uniform, I would argue, so even though you’re sitting over here comfortably in Germany, smokin’ hash and drinkin’ Bier, you are part of the American war machine and you’d better own it.
Things changed rapidly for me when I got out and returned to UNM in fall of ‘68. As a new Journalism major, I couldn’t ignore the headlines and the stories behind them. I became informed, and that began to change my thinking. I lost half the vision in one eye covering a Viet Nam protest march for the student newspaper. Several, including a TV news cameraman, almost died from being bayoneted by poorly trained national guard troops blithely called out by our acting governor. Jane Fonda came to speak. This was four days after four students were killed (and nine more injured, one permanently paralyzed) at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard. This revolution shit was getting suddenly real.
But I didn’t join SDS or set fire to a Bank of America. I was married, to my high school sweetheart, and was a father. I eventually got my degree and except for a voracious travel bug lived a fairly normal life. But I began to feel uncomfortable about devotion to the flag (a symbol — of what?), the national anthem (I favor “America the Beautiful” over the bursting bombs of the racist slave owner F.S. Key), and all the other symbols that were
being hijacked by the right. Saluting the flag no longer meant what it did when I was a
It’s been gradual, as I have seen the values our great nation was founded upon bastardized for personal power and wealth by our “leaders,” mostly by Republicans. Sorry. True. The party has changed, and is now, IMHO, the greatest threat to our democracy today. Government-is-the-enemy trickle-down Alzheimer Reagan started it in the ‘80s and the Conservative takeover of Congress led by Newt Gingrich in ‘94 was the ugly tipping point. I haven’t had much to cheer about since.
But I still love my beautiful country and its amazing, generous people. I still have faith that we can turn this around and keep marching toward those ideals of 1776 that have taken so long to fulfill. So yes, I was proudly part of our Main Street 4th of July parade yesterday without any qualms. Like Obamacare, America is already great, but with flaws that need to be fixed. I’m all in.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Is it worth the incredible hassle and time to get to Pasadena’s Levitt Pavilion Friday evening to hear the bluegrass quintet The Hillbenders do their famous acoustic version of “Tommy,” complete? Mebbe.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” — Mark Twain
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 31 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else
in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org