Teaching and perpetuating Americanism to each generation of American citizen is extremely important to the security and well-being of our nation. Daniel Webster, who served as Secretary of State, Congressman, and Senator, believed that a part of the core of the American education system must be what he called “nationalism” – simply a precursor to what we now call Americanism. Standard school curriculum must, he believed, teach the reasons behind the founding of the United States, the rights of citizen, and the responsibilities of citizenship. He believed that the culture developing within the United States would be far superior to anything possessed by the nations of Europe, and even set out to write a new dictionary for the emerging American English language. Webster was also a strong supporter of the early emancipation efforts, believing that African slavery was contrary to the foundation of liberty the United States had been created upon.
What Webster realized, as did the men that founded the nation, a citizenry must see the value of their citizenship. Only then will the average man and woman be willing to give their lives for the preservation of the nation. For me, as a historian and as a son of a Vietnam veteran, the 1960s is a disturbing time. Not only did the Johnson administration betray the American trust with that war, the American news media complicated matters by distorting the efforts of the brave men and women fighting that war. Fighting in a hostile land where the forces of Ho Chi Minh and Vietcong were not very distinguishable from the American allies, the average American solider found themselves abandoned by the citizenry and by the government that sent them into war. Even now, the specter of the Vietnam War hovers over the military and how many young people, being exposed to the 1960s liberal ideology of the war, view veterans who have either served or are serving now in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yes, the Untied States has made its share of mistakes in the world; however, there is no such thing as a perfect nation. We fought political, legal, and even a declared war to end slavery. The apology for that national evil has been paid for in America’s most precious and costly commodity – the blood of the men who fought on both sides of that war. It was these men, Yankee and Rebel, Freedman and white, that fought the battles that would eventually lead to the 13th Amendment and would become the shoulders that men such as Medger Evers and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and others would stand upon in their quest for racial equality. They didn’t seek to destroy the love those of that generation had for the nation, they sought to join those that loved this nation through equality and the liberty to participate as full citizens. What we are witnessing today is a far cry from what was fought, paid for, and claimed.
President John F. Kennedy said, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” He firmly believed in the greatness of this nation, of its exceptionalism, and of its future potential. Somehow the love of nation – Americanism – has simply not been taught to the younger generations as it once was. Personally, I believe it is time for us to go back to teaching Americanism to our young people and to expect our politicians to become statesmen and stateswomen (yes, there is a difference between the two terms).