As someone born in America in 1946, the first year of the “baby boom,” I grew up in a neighborhood in Houston, Texas, where virtually everyone’s father (and some mothers) had served in one of the branches of the American military during World War II.
In fact, even the streets in my neighborhood were World War II-themed, with names such as Ardennes, Bastogne, Calais, Dunkirk, Eisenhower, Forestal, Guadalcanal, etc.
In elementary school, we asked, “what was your dad in?” at least as much as, “what does your dad do?” My father served in the U.S. Navy (1940-1945) and was in several major battles in the Pacific (including having his ship sunk off Guadalcanal in August 1942).
I grew up in a very patriotic America where we were proud of our country and truly believed that we were a bulwark for liberty and freedom. We were taught about our great heritage of freedom and liberty in school, in church, and at home. We were aware that we were engaged in a great struggle with Soviet Communism to protect liberty and freedom for ourselves and for freedom-loving people around the world.
Our country responded with heartfelt ardor and enthusiasm when our new president, John F. Kennedy declared:
“…the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and a bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
This much we pledge—and more.”
–John F. Kennedy, Presidential Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
And we as a nation believed it. Our hearts were stirred by our young and energetic president and his eloquent expression of American purpose. I doubt anyone who heard JFK’s speech on that frigid January day will ever forget it.
Alas, it turned out subsequently that we were willing to pay some prices, meet some hardships, support some friends, oppose some foes, to assure “the survival and success of liberty.”
Nevertheless, JFK had captured the spirit of the nation, the heartbeat of the American people.
JFK was speaking for a great many of us when he declared, “the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”
And then in 1980, presidential candidate and then President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that America was the “new Jerusalem,” the “shining city” on a hill, lighting the way for the old world, referring to our Puritan heritage.
President Reagan inspired Americans to believe in themselves and their destiny again (after the malaise of Vietnam and Watergate) and led America and her allies to victory in the Cold War. He, like many other Americans, saw America as a cause as well as a country—and the cause was freedom. Americans see their values of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom to choose our own leaders, not as merely American values, but as universal values. And they believe that when people yearn for these freedoms America ought to help them achieve their freedom, much as the French assisted us in our Revolution.
The worldwide impact of the American ideal was evidenced by American flags being waved at the Berlin Wall as the wall came down in 1989. Similarly, the brave demonstrators at Tiananmen Square protesting in 1989 featured students in Red China waving American flags and carrying a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
When Madeleine Albright visited her native Czechoslovakia as Secretary of State, she recounted how multitudes of people came forward waving American flags. She noticed that they were the old 48-star flags (as opposed to the current 50-state flag). When she inquired about this, she was told these were flags handed out by American liberation troops in 1945 and the people had saved them during the entirety of the Communist regime, keeping them as a symbol of the freedom for which they longed.
When brave Iranians came out in the streets in the first months of the Obama administration in 2009, they were waving American flags and their protest signs were in English, as many of the signs in Tiananmen Square were, appealing to us for support and help.
As the late humorist P.J. O’Rourke observed, “Two things you find at every U.S. Embassy are a protest and a long line of people applying for U.S. passports.”
Why do people all over this world want to come here? The simple answer is that the common American has more freedom than anywhere else on the planet.
I, for one, grieve for the loss of this national understanding of our priceless heritage as Americans. I believe we ought to be the friend of freedom in the world and we should support those who yearn for this freedom for themselves.
I fear that the “wokism” that has inundated our schools and colleges has robbed at least a generation of Americans of a proper understanding of our heritage and our obligation to take up that cause and pass it on both here and around the world.
Partially as a consequence, totalitarianism is on the march around the world.
As the light of America as the friend of freedom flickers, we find there are MAJOR demonstrations against totalitarian regimes in three main epicenters of the enemies of freedom in the world: China, Iran, and Russia.
Tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in protest against the Ayatollahs of Muslim totalitarianism in their country.
In Russia, increasing numbers of Russians are protesting their country’s invasion of Ukraine. In China, literally, millions of Chinese citizens are protesting the most oppressive surveillance state in the world, Red China.
And what is our government doing? What is our media doing? Are they shining the harsh bright light of publicity on these yearnings for freedom? I long for the day when Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley were reporting on the plight of those trapped behind the Iron Curtain and encouraged American support for oppressed people.
And perhaps the most shameful event recently is the Apple Corporation’s apparent complicity in the Communist Party’s oppression of the Chinese people. Apple has complied with the Communist government’s request to shut down the “Drop Cloud” function which allows Apple phone users to contact each other directly, making it more difficult for protestors to communicate with each other without being monitored by the Chinese government.
Back during the Clinton administration, it was argued that we should engage with Communist China and bring China into the world family of nations. The theory was that as that happened, China would be influenced by the West and would become a more democratic nation.
Unfortunately, it appears that instead of influencing China, Red China has influenced us. The Chinese have a conscious policy of what they call “decapitation,” where you “buy off” and/or bribe the ruling class, thus neutralizing their opposition to China’s influence in their country. We see China successfully silencing NBA teams and our movie industry and now co-opting Apple for its nefarious purposes. It is well past time to wake up, smell the coffee, and fight back against Chinese infiltration.
A reporter for Iran’s state-controlled Press TV criticized U.S. soccer team captain Tyler Adams and asked him how he felt about representing a country that “has so much discrimination against Black people.” Adams, who is described in media as “mixed race,” replied, “there’s discrimination everywhere you go…in the U.S., we’re continuing to make progress every single day…as long as you make progress that’s the most important thing.” Amen to that. What a very “American” thing to say.
And our love of country has never been blind. Back when Ronald Reagan gave his very influential speech in 1983 to the National Association of Evangelicals (the “evil empire” speech) he spoke of the religious basis and foundation for freedom. However, he also acknowledged an American “legacy of evil with which we must deal,” referencing slavery, racism, and anti-Semitism. I know this because I was there and heard the “Great Communicator” deliver that speech.
Has America lost her way? The answer to that question is up to us. I vote no. How about you?
Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.
Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.