I was sitting on my back porch one evening watching the cardinals feeding in one of my bird feeders when it suddenly dawned on me that very possibly the America I once knew no longer exists. If that is true, my heart grieves not only for my country, but for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
My generation believed in so many things that no longer seem to have the meaning or value they once did.
We believed in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and our inalienable right to pursue happiness. We honored the American flag.
We believed in freedom of speech, the right for all to peacefully express themselves without fear of persecution. It didn’t always work and it sometimes made government unwieldy and uncomfortable, but it was much, much better than the state-ruled propaganda machines that exist in many of the countries of the world.
Spirituality was very important in our lives. The belief in a power greater than ourselves instilled a greater connectivity to our world that brought us great comfort. My generation would have been appalled if anyone would have suggested the amount of mental illness and substance abuse that exists in today’s society.
We believed in the rightness of the United States, our policies and our military. The infamy of Pearl Harbor, the pride in our soldiers who fought for our freedom at the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day and Iwo Jima brought us unification and great self-worth both as individuals and as a country.
We experienced real joy and awe in hearing about or watching larger-than-life sports figures like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown or Muhammad Ali, each of whom seemed to compete not for money, but for the love of the sport.
We were fiercely independent in our frugality, paying our own way and managing debt. Our current national debt would have boggled the most liberal of minds.
We valued education that taught more than one point of view. I fear that in many educational programs today, different points of view are not allowed. A healthy society needs differences of opinions and debate. Without these things, society will fail.
My generation had great pride in obtaining an education. My father was the son of Irish immigrants. Because of death and illness in his family, he only had a second-grade education. When I was young, we were very poor. I was the first male in my family to graduate from the eighth grade.
Through hard work and tremendous sacrifice on the part of my parents, I was able, partly through small athletic scholarships and partly through hard work on my own part, to get a master’s degree without the benefit of student loans. This was unthinkable in my father’s time (and probably sadder, may be unthinkable today). My education was a source of great pride to my parents and could only have happened in the America I knew!
We had a great work ethic. We didn’t expect or would not take handouts from anyone. We thought that welfare was degrading and corrupting. We would never have believed that today more than 110 million American people are on welfare of some kind.
Where has my country gone? Can we ever recover even a part of it? Do we even need to try? I strongly believe that we do.
Don McCullough, who lives in Manhattan, has worked as a controller of an Italian subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company, a farmer and an executive in a community mental health center.