A vanished dream
Date: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 @ 00:00:30 CST
By John Brand, D.Min., J.D.
YellowTimes.org Columnist (United States)
(YellowTimes.org) – The time was a balmy spring Sunday afternoon in Vienna, Austria in 1936. The incident took place in front of the Bristol Hotel across the street from the Vienna Opera House. The tableau consisted of two groups of people. In the first were several American tourists. The other group consisted of several Austrian boys and girls, including myself. We were on a chaperoned Sunday afternoon stroll along the Ringstrasse.
We knew that the members of the first group were Americans. Their dress, their language, their general appearance made us realize who they were. They represented messengers from a world about which we could only dream.
America was the land of opportunity. In spite of the worldwide depression, we believed that hard work and strength of moral character provided Americans with the possibility of a brighter future. In our very rigid and regimented class system, opportunities were limited or non-existing.
We knew that in that far off Eden there was freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion. In Austria, you could be put in jail for criticizing the Chancellor. Roman Catholicism was the official state religion. Other religions only existed if the government sanctioned them.
We belonged to a regimented society. Freedom was a dream belonging to another, far-away world. We, who had come into close proximity to these messengers from Utopia, thought we stood in the presence of divine messengers.
Worldwide, America was respected and envied. Of course, we knew there were problems in America. However, we believed that its ideals far outweighed its difficulties.
I came to America in 1938 filled with excitement that I know was part of the dream. My goal was to embrace the values, the beliefs, the opportunities that presented themselves. Many people helped me to fulfill the vision in my personal life.
It was with great pride that I joined the U.S. Army. In the fall of 1945, the 103rd Infantry Division drove up the Rhone Valley to relieve the 3rd Division which had been on the line for 105 consecutive days. In every village through which our convoy passed, we were warmly greeted by elated Frenchmen. The 3rd Division had brought them freedom from tyranny. We were on our way to finish a war that would lead to an ennobling future for humankind.
In our heart of hearts, we believed that our fight was for the high and noble purpose of freedom and justice. Some of my comrades now lie buried in foreign soil. Some of us made it back without disabilities. Some of us, over fifty years later, are suffering from combat related injuries and problems. Yet all of us served gladly. We accepted our burdens as a price that had to be paid to protect freedom.
But some years ago, storm clouds began to gather in America. The dream came under attack.
The first sign that the foundations of freedom were cracking occurred in the early 1950s. Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee were the first signs that something very serious was amiss in our nation. A crazed fear that communism was about to take over America swept the nation. We came to believe that a Communist was hiding behind every bush and underneath every rock. In the frenzy to destroy our perceived enemies, constitutional rights were abrogated. Lives were destroyed and careers were ruined. A corrosive agenda started to dissolve the fibers of America's tapestry.
We began to fear ideas! We were alarmed that another ideology might destroy the dream of the Fathers. But instead of combating ideas with ideas, we fought the perceived enemy by bringing to ruin anyone suspected of harboring beliefs alien to our tradition. We were so frenzied that we forgot that an idea can only be overcome with a better idea.
We forsook the ideals of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. More than that, another insidious "bug" infected America. That vicious infection was materialism for the sake of materialism.
Those of us who fought World War II were children of the Depression. That era left an indelible mark on us. We would make certain that our children would not go through the hard times that marked our own childhood. After the war, we rolled up our shirtsleeves and built a nation flowing with milk and honey.
But over time, our possessions, our stock options, our assets became more important than the dream for which our forebears gave their lives, their honor, and their possessions. To them, ridding a newly born nation from the tyranny of government was more important than the Dow Jones average, GNP, or any other economic indicator.
We forged the good life from the ruins of WWII. We were not about to let any damned Commies take it away from us. We forgot that the fuel for the torch of freedom requires sacrifice and vigilance. But our hearts began to freeze at the altar of materialism. Our minds, grown cold, rejected anything that hinted that we might have to give up that second bathroom or the two-car garage. Our glacial spirits were only concerned with making money and more money.
Slowly, but ever so surely, we gave up our heritage and traded it in for a mess of lentils. We ripped the torch from the hand of the Statue of Liberty.
We put a P&L statement, audited and certified by the Anderson accounting firm, into her outstretched hand.
Corporate aggrandizement became more important than the Constitution. Financial reports overshadowed our concern for freedom. Selfishness drowned out the call to sacrifice.
What was the result of our newly found religion presided over by the god Mammon?
America is hated in most of the world. What is worse, we do not even understand the reason for the hatred. For decades, the leaders of our nation developed a foreign policy supporting dictators and destroying people's movements to bring justice and equity to their nations. We support an Israeli government that has learned nothing from the Holocaust.
Both Israel and America claim to be a people of the Book. But the prophetic message of righteousness and justice has been ripped from the pages of the Bible. A narrow-minded, provincial dogmatism has replaced the calls of the prophets "to let justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream."
Our president had to fly to Buckingham Palace under the cover of darkness in the middle of the night while tens of thousands in the street proclaim the injustice of a war fought over nothing more than dominance over Iraqi oil reserves. Our president did not even address Parliament for fear that he might be shouted down. Just think of it! America's president having to scurry through the cover of darkness like a furtive prey being chased by its predator!
We think we can fight ideas we do not like with tanks and bombs. The more we rely upon Mars, the more intense will be the opposition to our rampant materialism. The more we worship the gods of war, the stronger will be the opposition to our forces.
We have yet to learn that ideas cannot be destroyed with weaponry.
I fear that the scene that took place in Vienna in 1936 cannot be repeated today. It might well be that visiting Americans might be the subjects of jeers and sneers.
[John Brand is a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry veteran of World War II. He received his Juris Doctor degree at Northwestern University and a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry at Southern Methodist University. He served as a Methodist minister for 19 years, was Vice President, Birkman & Associates, Industrial Psychologists, and concluded his career as Director, Organizational and Human Resources, Warren-King Enterprises, an independent oil and gas company.]
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