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My Favorite Country

Especially when it just leaves people alone.

by James Leroy Wilson
July 3, 2003

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My Favorite Country_James Leroy Wilson-Especially when it just leaves people alone. In times of war, it is easy for those critical of government policy to be accused of being unpatriotic. To that, I could plead either guilty or not guilty, depending on the definition of patriotism. As I've written before, I am a patriot in the sense that I love my home and homeland. I want things to go well here; I want myself and others to live happily in freedom and peace in my own city, state, and country. And I love American food, American sports, American music, American movies. I admire the theological and moral seriousness of many American denominations. I love American cities and I love the American countryside.

Where I would confess to being unpatriotic is in the degrees of affection. I have closer ties, obviously, to family and friends than I do with strangers. The death or suffering of strangers mean more to me, if those strangers are close to someone who is close to me. I don't know any of the victims of September 11, but I know some who were friends or relatives of victims. That brings the tragedy closer to home. No doubt, it's usually true that the death of any American has a greater chance of impacting my life or the life of someone I know.

But the mere fact of being American is neither here nor there to me. That an American soldier died in combat doesn't cause in me any greater grief than an Iraqi child run over by a tank, or blown to bits upon stumbling on a live shell. I can't say that Iraqis who shoot American troops are any more in the wrong than those troops themselves. After all, the American soldiers volunteered to serve, assuming the risk that the government would place them in an unjust and useless war. They are personally responsible for that decision, and for not deserting once the shooting began. But the Iraqis did not consent to an American invasion and occupation. I can't judge the Iraqi resistance, or assume that they are all either pro-Saddam or Iranian-supported Islamic fundamentalists. Many of them probably just want to be let alone.

This leads me back to why I'm glad I'm an American. How can that be after what I've just written? Well, it's because I'm not proud of anything the government has done; I'm glad to be an American for what the government hasn't done. When the United States government decides to do something, count me out. It never does anything good, because no State in history ever accomplished anything good. The State can't, because it brings about social "cooperation" through force, whereas the only good things in life are accomplished through voluntary cooperation.

And that's why I'm glad - proud - to be an American. Throughout most of its history, our government was mostly willing to just leave people alone. The government wasn't good - in fact, it did a lot of evil things. But it did fewer things than the governments of other countries. And that's the key.

It is also the best trait, to the extent it exists, of the American character. Arguably, it is the best trait of character and virtue itself: to tolerate other people and their ways; to leave other people alone. Rose Wilder Lane, a woman of compassionate heart who already knew what American big-city slums were like, wrote that while visiting Budapest in the late 1910's or early 20's, she observed the police as it marched through the slums at night. Every slum-dweller had an employment card which would have been marked by an employer if he or she had worked that day. If a man's card hadn't been marked for a few days in a row, he was hauled into court, guilty unless proven innocent of thievery. And women with unmarked cards were judged to be prostitutes and given a prostitute's card. The men must be thieves and the women prostitutes - otherwise, how could they eat? Such was the logic of the European State.

Lane also recounts the thirty minute ordeal of purchasing such mundane items as buttons in Paris. Napoleon set up an elaborate system that would "protect the consumer" from fraud. Every purchase must be meticulously recorded and signed by the customer, clerk, and third party. Even after the United States had given the Industrial Revolution a second wind, creating far more efficiency and abundance than ever previously imagined, France maintained this apparatus for fear of throwing its bureaucrats out of work.

This was the sort of mischief that the United States avoided for much of its history. This is why people fled to the United States. The United States wasn't, and wasn't supposed to be, like other countries. And that is the United States I love. The land of opportunity. The land of people minding their own business. The land of the Ethiopian cab driver, and of the Amish buggy-rider. The land of tranquil routine (baseball), but also of constant movement (basketball) and risk (tackle football).

For we can't have one without the other. The right of the individual, whether an immigrant or not, to pursue happiness through acquiring financial wealth, is the very same right to let another pursue happiness through simplicity and tranquility. One can not resort to The State to tread on the other. There is room enough for all kinds: sectarian farmers, flamboyant cosmopolitans, intellectuals, journeymen, classically-trained musicians, untrained punk musicians, the bourgeois, the bohemian, the jock, the scientist, the drinker, the teetotaler, the bawdy, the holy, the gambler, the philanthropist.

The United States is where it's at. The United States is loved and admired precisely where it is out of step with the rest of the world, and detested in the very ways that it behaves like the rest of the world. It is still a land of energy and vitality. Yet it still can be a quiet, stress-free place for people who want to live that way. America has it all.

So for our Independence Day I will celebrate what is right about the United States. There are lots of other days to point out what is wrong.

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