Americans are nice people, or at least we used to be. Among the components of our niceness were courtesy, generosity and instinctive sympathy for underdogs. We resented bullies and rooted for heroes. We favored the good guys, a role we happily took on ourselves. One expression of that impulse was patriotism. We had it good, better than most, so it only made sense to defend the country, the Constitution, the culture that gave it to us, and celebrate those who defended it. Call it gratitude.
A reader sees it otherwise. I’ve written several recent posts about my middle son entering the U.S. Naval Academy. He has exceeded all of our expectations, and we are prouder than we knew it was possible to be. “He wants to fight for Trump?” my reader asks. “He wants to kill for the American Empire?” And so on, for many paragraphs. His rant is better written than most – no misspellings or misuse of the uppercase – nor does he (I'm sure it's a man, though anonymous) threaten my life or my son’s, which is a reassuring. But is he nice?
In her most recent collection, A Memory of Manaus: Poems (Mercer University Press, 2017), Catharine Savage Brosman includes “For the Paris Dead,” an elegy for those murdered by Muslim fanatics in the November 2015 attacks in Paris. In it she writes:
“We see too well
how new attackers want the West to rot;
they’d kill the culture with the infidel.—
It’s foolish to be nice. De Gaulle was not,
nor Patton, nor was Charles Martel, who drove
the Saracens from Tours, quite nasty work—
essential, though— nor John, the king who strove
for Christendom, and won, against the Turk.”
Baldomero Lopez definitely wasn’t nice. Nor were Robert Dale Reem, James B. Stockdale and John James Powers. Brosman’s poem concludes:
“Past errors stain us, but do not excuse
today’s; and suicide remains a crime.
The dead require a stand. Who could refuse?”