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Jewish World Review May 30, 2000 /25 Iyar, 5760

Don Feder

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Who will live for America? -- IN THIS CENTURY, more than 630,000 Americans gave their lives for an ideal. Millions more served, sacrificed and suffered in what they assumed was a noble cause -- America.

We are losing their vision.

Once, we knew what America meant: one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; consent of the governed; of the people, by the people and for the people. These were truths we held to be self-evident and principles worth pledging our lives, fortunes and sacred honor to defend.

Young men are always willing to risk death for their homes and families, so the foot of the conqueror will not tread on ground hallowed by childhood memory.

But for America to go from colonial backwater to pre-eminent power in a little over two centuries required more than peoples' natural affinity for their homeland.

For most of our history, and up until the last third of this century, Americans truly believed their nation to be mankind's noblest experiment in self-government.

Our saga seemed to confirm a national mission -- Pilgrim fathers who endured unimaginable hardships; settlers who tamed a savage wilderness; yeomen farmers who defeated the world's mightiest empire; the republic that went to war with itself to free a people in bondage; the workshop of the world that churned out invention after remarkable invention; the new world, which twice in the span of a quarter century came to the rescue of the old. Then, self-doubt crept in. In the late '60s, a generation arose whose most vocal representatives felt little more than revulsion at their nation's past. They magnified America's imperfections while dismissing its past glories as myth.

In his 1990 book "Anti-Americanism," political scientist Paul Hollander writes, "It is quite likely that never before ... have such large numbers of people, comfortable and privileged to various degrees, come to the conclusion that their society was severely flawed or thoroughly immoral."

What started as a counterculture quickly became the reigning ethos. Its assault on America -- via multiculturalism, internationalism and a sneering contempt for patriotism -- is relentless.

Perpetually indignant minorities (who wouldn't go back to wherever if we paid them) rebuke America as sinful to the core. We stole the Indians' land, enslaved the black man for 300 years, mistreated Chinese laborers and spread devastation in the Third World in a paranoid crusade against communism, they tell us.

Quite the contrary. The so-called dominant culture sacrificed its sons in a fratricidal conflict to end an institution that had existed throughout history; we treated Indian tribes better than most treated each other (certainly better than any indigenous people were treated by newcomers with superior firepower); we took in immigrants who were wanted nowhere else (including my grandparents); and we stopped a loathsome ism bent of world conquest.

None of this is any longer taught in our schools, dramatized by Hollywood or heard in the halls of government.

For 13 years, New Jersey State Sen. Gerald Cardinale has been pushing legislation that would require the state's schoolchildren to recite certain portions of the Declaration of Independence.

When Cardinale's bill was debated in February, Sen. William Bryant, a black legislator, deflected a vote by objecting that it would insult minority students because their ancestors were slaves when the document was written and the author was a slave-owner.

By the same logic, black litigants should never rely on the Bill of Rights, because their forebears were in servitude when the Constitution's first 10 amendments were adopted and James Madison wasn't exactly an abolitionist.

Cardinale has since met with a number of black professionals in his district. He says all but one reject Bryant's fractured reasoning. But such fatuous notions are becoming common wisdom, to this nation's great detriment.

Today we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for America. But now, the test of national survival may be not how many will die for their country, but who will live for it -- who will help us reassert those ideals that inspired generations past and led our finest to brave death on foreign battlefields.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate