Where Are Our American Heroes?

Published in the North Central Chronicle on October 26, 2007.

The Declaration of Independence. The Emancipation Proclamation. The Wright brothers. The fall of the Berlin Wall. These are great pieces of our nation’s history.  They represent the importance of American freedom, ingenuity, and strength.

Slavery. The treatment of Native Americans. The atomic bomb. Vietnam. Watergate. These are shameful chapters of American history that we continually try to forget.

And now, in our post-9/11 world, the shame seems to keep piling up. Abu Ghraib, Blackwater, Alberto Gonzales, a weak Congress and an absurd president—none of these things seem worth fighting for.

Now, flashback 40 years. Our parents had the unique opportunity to live through the most turbulent and revolutionary times in our country’s recent history. They saw an America on the brink of disaster fight through great injustices, assassinations, radical racism, and an unwinnable war. But they also lived to see one of our country’s greatest political figures: John F. Kennedy.

JFK met many obstacles; some he overcame, some got the best of him. But regardless of his politics or his personal life, JFK led. Arguably, one of the most consequential and defining choice he ever made was to lead this country into the Final Frontier and get a man on the Moon.

It’s hard to put into context now, but at the time this idea was Earth-shattering (pun intended). NASA had already been conducting space missions for a few years, but the Moon was still a long way off. After the Russians launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth, and effectively pulled ahead of the United States in the “Space Race,” President Kennedy had to convince the country to get to the Moon. And after a string of humiliating moral defeats, America was ready for a victory.

Eight years and billions of dollars later, we made it. A human walked on the Moon. Just think about that for a second. It’s incredible. Anyone over 40 will tell you exactly what it was like to witness Neil Armstrong step foot on the face of an uncharted, untamed celestial force of nature. Even Walter Cronkite, the most stoic and professional news anchor ever, could not contain his astonishment and joy at such an incredible feat.

But the greatest thing about the Apollo 11 moon landing was not that America was the country to do it, it was that America shared that epic achievement with the whole world. It wasn’t an American that landed on the moon; it was a human being. Like Armstrong famously said: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Mankind did it together, with America leading the way. That was the sentiment that the whole world shared.

Now, decades later, instead of banding together with our fellow man and setting the example for peace and freedom, we’ve alienated most of the world with our unilateral policies, our government has failed time after time to be honest with us, and we’ve abandoned all the moral authority we earned in the past. So who can we look to now? Who among us can take us back in the right direction?

We cannot rely on another event like the moon landing to inspire the world to co-exist peacefully. Life is too precious to be left in apathetic hands. But if another 9/11 comes along, when the world joins together, if only for a moment, we’ve got to seize that moment to do some good. We’ve got to raise the bar high, like we did with the Marshall Plan after World War II and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We’re nearing another fork in the road as we approach the 2008 election and turn the page on a tumultuous and unstable episode of history. The biggest issue I’m judging the candidates on is their sensibility and devotion to the restoration of true American dignity and leadership. So far, I’ve yet to be impressed by any candidate. Again, who will lead us into the abyss that lay before us?

Where are the George Washingtons, the Lewis & Clarks, and the Rosa Parkses of this generation? Is there no one to help clean up cities destroyed by hurricanes, to stop genocide, to eliminate hunger? I’m searching for someone or something to believe in, someone that unites rather than divides and actively pursues truth instead of obscures it. Does such a person exist?

I’m looking for the heroes, the pioneers, the events that will capture the heart of our nation and inspire true patriotism. Not patriotism limited to American flag lapel pins and bumper sticker slogans, but patriotism that is shown through action and truth rather than empty words and partisan bickering. It may be a lofty goal, but this is America, the Land of Opportunity; let’s take the opportunity set before us to become great again.

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