Friday, July 04, 2008

Musing on America

I just posted this at my blog, Todd Blog. Hopefully readers of TSM will not mind my posting it here as well.

Seventeen years ago I was on my last overseas trip (the ones to Mexico in 1996 and Canada in 1997 not counting as overseas). I spent about 30 hours in the Bahrain airport, writing for my visa into post-war Kuwait to come through. It finally did, and I arrived in Kuwait July 4, 1991, where I joined my wife. She had been there about six weeks as a Red Cross nurse, and was about to leave for home. We overlapped three days, I think.At that time I had spent five of the previous nine years living out of the country: from 1981-83 in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and then from 1988 to 1990 in Kuwait. I remember my first flight back into America, in September 1981, when I came to fetch the family and bring them to Saudi for our life there. Charles was 2 years 8 months old, and Sara a mere 5 months. I flew on Pan Am, which to me was a symbol of America. Upon touch down at JFK airport, many on the plane broke out in cheers and clapping. Home again, to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Several times since then Lynda and I have commented on how reckless and foolish we were, as young parents, to take our children to the Persian Gulf region while the Iran-Iraq war was on. We saw few effects of it while in Saudi, but it was still on when we began expatriate life in Kuwait years later. Several times we saw smoking ships being brought to land somewhere to the south, close enough to see what it was but far enough away to not know what type of ship, or if they were putting into a Kuwaiti or Saudi port. I suspect the Saudi ports were over the horizon, and that they must have been foreign vessels--probably Iraqi--putting into Kuwait ports for repairs. My first month in Kuwait four terrorist bombs were set off, though always in a place that seemed to be to damage a business, not kill people.

In those five years, I had six homecomings to America, plus the one in the trip after the war, so seven overall. I've been to Canada twice, and Mexico once, so in all I have returned to America ten times in my life. Each time was an exhilarating feeling. Home again, to a nation where peace prevails and sanity rules. Home again, to where economic opportunity is bounded only by the effort you put in and the amount the government takes out. Home again, to safety and security. Usually to cheers, always to relief.

The world has changed in those years since the long trips for oversees residency, not for business or tourism. I had the opportunity to be in about twenty-five or thirty other countries. I love this country most of all. Yet, as I've said in an editorial, I see the United States as a fragile experiment, a mere 232 years after declaring independence, 217 after finding a workable form of government. We have outlasted some nations, but many others through history lasted longer. The experiment is still fragile. Forces foreign and domestic want to change us from being the nation we were formed to be. I won't list the changes, and not all readers would agree with the specifics.

Has America passed its zenith? Are we now on the decline? This would take many posts to write about, which I won't do at this time--too much writing to do otherwise. If we have passed our zenith, I hope it is momentary, and that another score of years will find us on the ascendancy again. As I said in the closing line of a tribute poem to Ronald Reagan, "Long live your shining city on a hill."

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