This morning I am thinking of US Senator John McCain, and of his last words to the country he loved and served for the better part of his life.
Nations live on long after individual lives have perished. And if living a meaningful life is all about loving something greater than yourself then loving one’s country would fit the bill.
But what is a country? What is a nation?
I am not a professional anthropologist or a sociologist or a political scientist. I haven’t read all the required texts on the subject. But John McCain’s letter brought home to me two conflicting ideas about what it means to be a “nation”.
A nation of ideals versus a nation of blood and soil.
It’s like what does it mean to be a mother – giving birth to a child that is genetically related to you or raising a human being that may/may not be genetically related. It would be great if those two conditions exist at the same time; but what if they don’t? What takes precedence?
What is a country? What is a nation?
Is a country an amalgamation of people who may or may not look like each other, who may have been born in different land masses or continents but have been brought together by ideals and ideas that they share with each other?
Or are we a country just because we were born in the same place with parents who probably shared a common ancestor?
Blood and soil versus ideals.
In the 1940’s Germany was almost torn apart because a political faction insisted that being a German was about “blood and soil,” hence lebensraum was an acceptable policy.
In the United States, Americans with dark skins had to fight tooth and nail for their right to equality in a country that they have invested in with their sweat and blood.
In my country, there are presently two types of Filipinos: those who believe that an autocratic/dictatorial government is ideal and those who disagree. Are we part of the same nation?
So here is a full text of McCain’s last letter before his death. Eat your heart out Barack Obama, McCain’s got style.
My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for sixty years, and especially my fellow Arizonans,
Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.
I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else’s.
I owe that satisfaction to the love of my family. No man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America. To be connected to America’s causes — liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people — brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.
Fellow Americans’ — that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process.
We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.
We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.
Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with the heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening.
I feel it powerfully still.
Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.
Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.