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Commentary: Confessions from a New American

By George McNally

Buffalo, NY – When I was a young boy, I would so often see my father hanging the American flag off the front porch, nearly every day, all year long. "Why" I would ask, "do you put the flag out every day? It's not the 4th of July." He would just smile and say nothing as I would run off to play baseball in the park. I think of this childhood encounter often these days, as I consider how America, my America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, is not my father's America any more.

Remember? It used to be that you were taught that it was us against them. You know, the USA was the beacon of all things good and the USSR was the Evil Empire. And the Cold War. I never really understood why they called it cold. It didn't feel cold to me. I wasn't worried about the Russians driving tanks down Main Street. It was the ICBMs -- the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. And they were aimed at my house. Why me, I wondered? I didn't know any Russians, let alone mean them any harm.

Anyway, we were safe if we made it to school. We practiced and practiced those Civil Defense air raid drills, where I would crouch down, put my hands over my head, and lean against the outside wall. That would keep me safe, I imagined, Now if they would only stop that ear-splitting air raid siren. I was so relieved when that sound ended, even if I put my head up before the teacher told me to do so. Yep, survived another near nuclear attack from the one world enemy that everybody hated.

And besides, our government would protect us. They always protect us, don't they? We have B-52s and ICBMs of our own (although they wee always in Kansas, not around here). And we have nuclear submarines. Why we can sneak up and plant a nuke right on their front porch. No wonder the Iraqis gave up in droves. How would you feel seeing a cruise missile take out what you thought was the best hiding spot in the whole desert? And now you can't even see the America bombers coming. I mean, who would dare to challenge America now? Even those Russians finally gave up and said you win.

I used to think the day John Kennedy was shot would always be the saddest day of my Life as an American. "Kennedy Dead, Shot by Sniper in Texas" the headline read. King Arthur and Camelot were gone, under the drone of those never ending drumbeats.

And then came September 11. The Russians finally came down Main Street. Only they weren't Russians. They were an unknown enemy, one we didn't learn about in school. And it wasn't a big Army. And there were no nukes. It was an Army of 19. I must admit those disintegrating red, yellow and orange explosions against that crystal blue sky were as close to nuclear horror as I ever want to come. And 3,000 sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, were gone.

Now, a year later, I have a new saddest day of my life. And I can finally talk about my America again. Yes, it is still the land of the free and the home of the brave. Why I bet there were countless thousands of Taliban who actually though they would be safe in a cave. Right.

It is a different America I awaken to. We're older now, more seasoned to the terrors of this world, and wiser. I believe I know now, what the veterans are saying when they tell me freedom isn't free. Now we have new weapons to defend our freedom. Not more planes or submarines. We have carnivore and the TIPS Program, the Terrorist Information and Prevention System. Some have said these are an invasion into our privacy and an infringement of civil rights. Tough.

I WANT the mailman to tell me if he sees something that doesn't look right. We have Amber Alerts and Meagan's Law and God knows how many more little girls who will have their name in a new law. We have America back. And we have to fight for her. And fight we will.

I have long had a goal to actually see a Baseball game at Yankee Stadium. Now, I want to see a lady standing tall in a harbor not far away, and to visit an island right near her where so many came. I get it now, Dad. I understand.

Listener-Commentator George McNally lives in Amherst.