Thadd’s Thoughts: Too proud to be an American


Thadd Simpson, Auxiliary Editor

I spent last Labor-day weekend with both my sets of grandparents. Between both farms, Omaha, and Wayne, I spent something like 19 hours on the road.

Good thing I didn’t spend any of that time on my American Lit homework, grumble grumble. But somewhere along the way, one of my grandpas said something interesting while we were all too busy interrupting ourselves to listen.

He said: “I’m tired of all the talk of the white man’s wrongs, I’m tired of hearing about all the pain we caused the Native Americans.”

Now, to be fair, we’d watched something like five hours of the history channel prior to him saying that, and there was a “Colonial Weekend Marathon” airing. Regardless though, that comment has stuck with me ever since. But not because of the weird reverse-racism he was describing.

Everybody has a racist old person in their lives, and we all have our own secret prejudices.

But Grandpa said “we” and I’m 90 percent sure I’ve never done anything wrong to any Native American. Heck, I’m supposedly 1/64th Cherokee anyways, just like the rest of white America.

But enough snark, where am I going with this?

Grandpa used “we” as if he and I were responsible for the crimes of our fathers. And the fact is we aren’t.

I don’t think there is a human alive that isn’t the offspring of some ancient murderer, rapist, pillager, a**hole, etc.

The people who made those choices, the people who committed those crimes, are dead and gone now.

Grandpa used “we” as if the attacks being made about the early American colonists were also directed at him, and at his way of life, when they were really only statements of fact.

And all this got me thinking, specifically about why he was reacting this way.

Obviously, he found some sort of common bond between himself and the men who formed this nation 200 years ago. But why? They wore petticoats and wigs, owned slaves and used wooden teeth. My family literally does none of that.

The best answer I could come up with was nationalistic pride.

My grandpa is proud to be an American, whatever that means. He is proud that our nation was the first to land a man on the moon. He is proud that our nation helped end WWII. He is proud that we are a nation of freedom, and a place that idealizes equality.

But for all the reasons he has pride, there are as many if not more reasons he should be ashamed of America. Things like slavery, Japanese internment camps and the Salem Witch trials must unsettle him, I assume. Which is too bad, seeing as how there’s no real reason to feel anything about such dark chapters in history other than sorrow.

Again, neither I nor my grandpa have ever colonized a continent.

According to what I remember of my world history class with Dr. Colvard, nationalism isn’t some ancient phenomenon, either. It’s a marketing tool.

Way back when, leaders must have figured out that it’s a lot easier to convince people to fight a war when you tell them they are a part of the best nation on earth. The “us vs. them” mentality, a perspective furthered by nationalism and raw animal instinct, it isn’t good for anything anymore. So the pervasiveness of American nationalism puzzles me.

So as an ending, I point your attention to my favorite quote from the great American film, “Iron Giant.” “You are what you choose to be.” Don’t choose to be only American, or only white, or only male or female. Choose to be a human.