Commentary by Gene Kamena
Air War College
6/30/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, AL -- On this 235th birthday of our nation, amid fireworks and parades, it is appropriate to take a few minutes to reflect on who we are, as a people - as Americans. The identifier "American" in this sense means citizens of the United States of America. I began work on this article several weeks past, because, as is with most Americans, I anticipate holidays, especially Independence Day. It did not take long, however, before the stark reality struck me that I was inadequate for this task. This author admits that this attempt to define what an American is (traits, personal qualities, beliefs...) has fallen short not because of lack of effort but due to the enormity of the task itself.
Any attempt to definitively quantify in a single article an entire people as large and as diverse as Americans is sheer madness. Therefore, the best this lay-author can do is to attempt to address the ill-defined concept of Americanness.
I got the idea of using the term "Americanness" from an article titled "What is an American," by Akbar Ahmed, in the Huffpost style, dated July 20, 2009.
The task of defining "Americanness" would be easier if the people of America could be placed or categorized into a particular race, ethnic group, religion, economic or social class. Our citizenry may well be the most diverse group of citizens ever assembled within the boundaries of a single nation. To complicate things even more, levels of education or types of profession offer little assistance as well because Americans come from all walks of life and can select any career path suitable to them. Furthermore, no one belief system or ideology determines or defines who or what an American is except for one: the idea that all people have inalienable rights, which are God given.
Our nation has a tradition of accepting people from all corners of the globe provided they meet minimum requirements to obey our laws, support and defend our nation and its form of government, and swear allegiance to our flag and the constitution of the United States.
There are ideas and principles that, make Americans unique. My intent here is to speak to our Americanness. Here are my thoughts:
Americans understand they have great power. They know that they can influence issues in areas of the world in ways no other nation is capable of doing. Within this vein, Americans are compelled to reach out to others in times of need and disaster. We are capable of being the best of friends to people we have never met. We are also very determined enemies, not only to people, countries or groups that wish us harm, but also to tyrants and foes of freedom. At great cost, we have freed nations and protected the helpless asking only for enough land to bury our dead, paraphrasing a statement made by Colin Powell.
Americans have an innate sense that anything is possible. It was with determined grit that we, as a people and nation, tamed an entire continent, dug a canal from sea to sea, fought and won world wars and placed a man on the moon. Americans, indeed, like to see themselves as larger-than-life people. They like heroes and underdogs. When actual heroes are not available, Hollywood always comes through for us - we love to be entertained.
We have a love-hate relationship with our own government. We want what government has to offer, but not too much, and we want it a way that does not infringe on how we live our lives. The idea here is that our government works for us. We are always looking for the right balance between what the government should do for us and what we must do for the government.
Finally, Americans understand where we have been, our history, our past, but we are not tethered to it. Americans are constantly looking to the future. We understand that our forefathers sacrificed much to build this nation; therefore our attention and energies are directed to the future. We are driven to make the country even better so we can leave it to the next generation.