Editor's note: The following column is the seventh in an eight-part series about "What's right with America" that will appear in the pages of the Roundup through July 4. The author, Stan Brown, is a local historian, a columnist for The Rim Review and a retired minister. This series reflects his take on the implications of freedom in America.
What's right about America. The freedom to act out of kindness and compassion in the face of a violent world is right about America. Perhaps the growth of compassion is helped by the increasing Latin influence with its willingness to express feelings, and the women's liberation movement bringing feminine gentleness into places of influence.
As for my Celtic and Anglo-Saxon clans, we are noted for violence, and America is looked upon abroad as one of the most violent of nations. My four grandparents came here in the 17th century from Wales, Scotland and England. I was dismayed to learn that we Browns (or Bruins for brunettes) from Scotland had no real family crest of our own, because our clan was so wild it had been stripped of its legitimacy by the British. The name of a color was substituted for the lost clan, as our forefathers sought refuge anonymously among others.
At the same time I find myself to be a compassionate person. Could this be a prototype of America herself? Our nation is a strange mixture of violence and gentleness. The saving factor seems to be our conscience. We know we are prone to violence, we have guilt about this, and we have never accepted violence as good or right.
On our pilgrimage to our nation's capitol we kept looking for the angry people, the crooks and muggers, people shoving and blowing their car horns, people trying to beat each other out of something. That's what we had heard we would find there.
Instead, everywhere we went we met genial, friendly, happy people. Bus drivers waited for us, said "thank you" when we paid, courteously answered questions and said "goodbye" to departing passengers.
We met strangers who quickly took us into their confidence, and we were not lonely anymore. We met taxi drivers who asked about our children and got excited when we told of grandchildren. We met friends we hadn't seen in 25 years, who dropped everything to host us. Everywhere we went we experienced kindness. We saw no frowns and heard much laughter. We heard people singing hymns to themselves, and everywhere we turned in the nation's capitol there was a sign announcing some nearby prayer meeting.
Three different times we stood puzzling over our map. Once a city worker picking up paper with a spiked stick stopped to help and exchange goodwill. A second time, a student with a knapsack broke his pace and lingered to help. A third time, a distinguished, ambassadorial looking gentleman asked, "May I help you?"
"Yes, we're trying to orient ourselves. We want to go to the Capitol Building."
After he described the way and pointed us to it, he said as he left, "I hope you enjoy it."
We did. We really did.
It was an August day in 1945 when I accompanied my grandfather to the stone church on the hill, and for a full 15 minutes helped him ring the steeple bell proclaiming VJ Day, the end of World War II. Then, on Sept. 2, the Japanese foreign minister met General MacArthur on the deck of the battleship Missouri, and made a full surrender of Japan to America. He expected America to take revenge, but instead he heard MacArthur say, "It is my firm purpose, in the tradition of the countries I represent, to proceed in the discharge of my duties with justice and tolerance."
The Japanese emperor was acknowledged as a symbol of cultural importance. When hunger threatened the Japanese people, the allied occupation forces were ordered to stop consuming local food so it could be available to the civilian population. Supplies were rushed to feed American forces and provide food for the Japanese through army kitchens.
America's occupation policy was unheard of in history. It included building a representative government, modernizing their constitution, holding free elections, enfranchising women, releasing political prisoners, establishing a free labor movement, a free press, public education, separating church and state, and generally rebuilding Japan as a democracy. America made a friend of her enemy. It was perhaps the most compassionate and constructive occupation ever imposed by a conquering nation.
Meanwhile, in Europe, millions faced starvation and people struggled to survive among bombed out cities. Food from America poured into Europe through the newly formed United Nations. Later the CARE program was instituted, and Americans shared their compassion in voluntary help to their defeated enemy.
One of the CARE packages was received by 16 year old Helmut Kole and his family. Thirty-five years later, he would be chairman of Germany's largest political party. He remembered the compassion of America and said, "We had nothing to eat, and America put food on our table. The first suit I ever owned was a used American suit that came out of that CARE package. I shall never forget what America did for me and my family ... because America helped us when we had nothing."
Freedom is right about America! The freedom to be compassionate.