Questioning America's unity
How united are we? Americans boast that they are united against our nation's aggressors, but many of their actions have thus far been less than inspirational. Each of us sees the same flag with its stars and stripes, yet our definitions of patriotism and freedom selfishly omit others.
Unfortunately nothing was more evident and disappointing than last Saturday's Notre Dame football pre-game ceremony as well as as a Catholic mass last Sunday in suburban Indianapolis.
While sitting in Notre Dame Stadium last weekend, I was moved by the wonderful tribute the University orchestrated for the young alumnae who lost her life in the World Trade Center. Permitting her parents and siblings to present the American flag for its lift above the stadium brought tears to my eyes. While the announcer listed other Notre Dame alumni who fell victim a month ago, nobody thought to include more Americans who were Pittsburgh alumni and lost their lives on that fateful day.
What does it mean to be united? It requires that each of us embrace the rest of us. If we are truly living in a new era then we should change our thought process to be more inclusive. Had Notre Dame included its fellow Big East Conference school in the pre-game ceremony by merely mentioning the lost Pitt alumni, they would have powerfully made the statement that everyone at the stadium was an equal partner in our American family.
A month ago in New York City emergency response personnel — policemen, firemen, medical technicians and other good Samaritans — without hesitation sacrificed their lives to assist strangers. Those who assisted saw no African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic. They saw no Jew or Christian or Muslim. They certainly did not see Pittsburgh or Notre Dame graduates. Rather they extended their hands to all in need in a city that represents just how much of a nation of nations our country has become.
Service to others and freedom to live and worship as we please reminds us that ours is a unique and unparalleled society. It saddens me that I attended a suburban Indianapolis Catholic mass last week that included a General Intercession to pray for our Christian politicians that they may have the wisdom to lead our country.
Does that diocese infer that Senator Joseph Lieberman, former Vice Presidential candidate and an Orthodox Jew, is excluded from Catholic prayers or is unworthy of public service? Does it mean that Catholics and self-proclaimed, self-righteous born-again Christians like Jerry Falwell are more worthy to interact with each other? After all, this is the same Jerry Falwell who blamed certain groups, including liberals, gays, Hollywood, women's rights and abortion supporters for the attacks on our nation.
Why is my patriotism and tolerance of everything Falwell opposes any less American? In his syndicated column, "My Answer," Reverend Billy Graham published a letter in which the writer, an immigrant, said that he had been in the United States for 10 years. He said that people in his school won't make friends and call him names. He concludes with, "I had heard this was a Christian nation and Christians were nice people, but it isn't true in my experience."
Graham responded by saying that he was saddened by the letter but wanted to print it to remind all of us to be kinder to people from different backgrounds. While being influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition, Graham contends that we are not a truly "Christian" nation. He says not to judge Christ by a majority of people who may not follow him nor think about him and what he should mean in their daily lives.
Graham's logic could be extended to our nation's current surge of star-struck patriotism. Some blindly follow the president and some blindly question every presidential decision. Both views are equally American. I am embarrassed to read this newspaper's letters to the editor which include alumni personally attacking students and vice versa over the questioning of government authority. It is reminiscent of my college days during the Vietnam War when fellow students died in Vietnam. Today's so-called war on terrorists is no different.
Bill Maher, host of ABC's "Politically Incorrect," said that the United States has been cowards by lobbing cruise missiles. Maher and Falwell are both equally American. What differentiates them is that Maher advocates a "live and let live" philosophy while Falwell preaches the "live like I tell you because that is the correct way to live" dogma.
Who is more Christian? Probably the atheist Maher. Who is financially benefiting during this time of uncertainty and anxiety? Definitely Falwell. Who is more American? Neither of the two men.
Until we stop thinking of our differences and preferences, we will continue to omit our football opponents at pre-game ceremonies and exclude non-Christians in our prayers. Being united as a nation is a blessing we share and a burden each of us must preserve and protect in the freedom of our hearts. To do less would be to forsake last month's fallen brothers and sisters as well as to abandon the principles we seek to enshrine.
Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame‚'73, served in President Clinton's administration as a Congressional and Public Affairs Director. His column appears every other Friday, and his Internet address is Hottline@aol.com.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, October 12, 2001