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That's America to me

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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

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Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

I listened to a Frank Sinatra tune this week — “The House I Live In” — and enjoyed a renewed desire to fight on.

Sinatra performed the patriotic song in an 11-minute movie short that was made in 1945, shortly after the conclusion of the war.

In the short, Sinatra steps out of a recording studio into an alley, where he confronts a group of kids chasing a smaller boy. He learns that the smaller boy was being picked on by the others because of his religion.

Sinatra explains to the kids that it is un-American to dwell on what makes us different. Rather, we must celebrate the many unique characteristics we have in common — the characteristics that make us very strong as a nation.

To illustrate his point, Sinatra sings “The House I Live In”:

What is America to me?

A name, a map, or a flag I see.

A certain word, democracy.

What is America to me?

More than just a democracy, America is a representative republic. It was designed to put the power in the people's hands — people like Sinatra's Italian-born father, who understood how lucky he was to be American when, for many years, his birth country had been run by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The howdy and the handshake,

The air and feeling free.

And the right to speak my mind out,

That's America to me.

The howdy and the handshake speak of a civility and friendliness that we are losing in modern America. Our government has expanded considerably and the sense of feeling free is not so great as it once was. Though people are still able to “speak their minds,” they run the risk of coming under assault for the ideas they speak.

Take Dr. Ben Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon who had been director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital for 36 years. His commonsense thoughts on the highly charged issues of the day so agitate some on the left that he was recently forced out as commencement speaker at the university his work made famous.

The things I see about me,

The big things and the small.

The little corner newsstand,

And the house a mile tall.

It's hard to imagine now, but envy had never been a big part of the American spirit. America was a place people came to rise on their own merits. Most of our early immigrants were too proud to take handouts — all they wanted was the opportunity to work and prosper and make a better life for their children.

Sinatra's father couldn't read or write. He became a fireman and eventually a pub owner and lived a good life. But look at the remarkable life his son went on to live — a life and career that could be possible only in America.

The words of old Abe Lincoln,

Of Jefferson and Paine.

Of Washington and Jackson,

And the tasks that still remain.

The American Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789 — 156 years before Sinatra recorded “The House I Live In.” Most Americans were still very much aware of the unique ideals upon which the country was founded — most realized that, despite America's many imperfections that still needed to be worked out, it was a blessing to be an American citizen.

It was a blessing to have God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In 2013, I dare say, most Americans have little understanding of the ideas and principles that make our country exceptional, and far too many are eager to give up our freedoms in exchange for the promise of free government stuff.

A house that we call freedom,

A home of liberty.

And it belongs to fighting people,

That's America to me.

That's America to me, too. And we better fight harder if we hope to maintain the principles and blessings that have made our country great.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com. E-mail him at: Tom@TomPurcell.com

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