I’ve found myself being completely enamoured with Erik Larson’s new book, In The Garden of Beasts. The book details the true story of the American ambassador (and his family) to Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. The book is made up of actual dialogue that has been taken “from a letter, diary, memoir, or other historical document”. Just like Larson’s previous book, The Devil In The White City, it is written in a way that makes it hard to put down.
But the brilliance of the writer and the his work is not the central point of this post (rambling). I saw that the German public that is represented in the book had quite a love for their country. This sense of nationalism they felt led to some pretty awful things (note that just being a citizen of Germany during that time didn’t make you a Nazi). These people were proud of their heritage. They loved that they were German. And this made me think about being an American.
I love my country. I have no doubt that America, overall, is the best country in the world. I feel a sense of pride whenever I see an American flag. I feel a sense of pride whenever I see someone who has an opposite opinion that I do. I feel pride when I see that Nirvana saved someone’s life and the Black Eyed Peas made someone want to end theirs. These displays of freedom make me think about how great it is that I live in a place where they are allowed to be displayed.
A further example of this can be found by simply looking at my bookshelf. Sitting next to a copy of The Coming Insurrection by the Invisible Committee (an anarchist book written by those involved in the 2008 sabatoge of rail services in France) is a Bible (a collection of books that have formed the central understanding of the Christian faith). Next to the Bible is a copy of George Orwell’s amazing (it really is) Animal Farm. And next to that is a copy of Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial book American Psycho and the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll (which I used as a text book for some sociology class I took).
I think it is pretty incredible that I am able to own books that have been considered taboo in other countries (not so much the Rolling Stone book). I think a lot of people tend to forget how great the freedom we have is. It get’s lost in the everyday ambitions we have. It’s just always been there and it’s something, in my opinion anyway, we take for granted. It’s pretty great to live in a country where all these various expressions of life can be, well, expressed.
I’ll be the first to tell you that America isn’t perfect. But with the next breath I’ll tell you that America is always striving to be perfect. And then I’ll probably smile awkwardly, make an odd noise and scurry away. And the fact that I can do that is just another reason why America is great.
So go and be proud about being an American. Or don’t be. That’s what’s great about this country. You’re free to do as you please.