For the nation’s birthday, I wanted to offer a very different kind of list, and I’m hoping you’ll take part by adding to it.
This one, even more than most of my lists, is extremely subjective — and arguable for hours.
But my intent is to honor the occasion by offering some special American moments. And, I hope, in the process, maybe spur some things to reflect on between breaks in all of the weekend’s ballgames, parades, barbecues, fireworks and family get-togethers.
Here are my nominees for five “amazing American treasures” — tough choices all, but they’re part of the intriguing challenge in choosing just one per category.
I’d love to read about your choices for these categories — or other ones of your creation. Please share your nominees in the Comment section below.
America’s Finest Hour: Two related, massive post-World War II humanitarian events (with admittedly political overtones): the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan.
The 1948-49 Berlin Airlift, often regarded as “the first battle of the Cold War,” was an integral part of plans to stabilize Europe after the war. In just over a year, the U.S. military spearheaded a complex logistical effort to deliver needed basic supplies after Russia blockaded Berlin in an effort to gain control of the politically divided city. The airlift included nearly 190,000 U.S. flights, supplemented by more than 80,000 British and 400-plus French flights.
Likewise, the four-year Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Plan, went about rebuilding the war-torn continent. Beginning in 1948, the U.S. effort, named for Secretary of State George C. Marshall, funneled about $13 billion in economic and other assistance, in addition to the $12 billion in aid given between the war’s end and the plan’s start.
Most Influential Legislation: the 1944 G.I. Bill.
Now, in an era when Congress and most governmental units are held in low regard, it’s important to remember the impact our lawmakers can have when they actually lead the way. In this case, Congress was far ahead of President Franklin Roosevelt in the scope of its imagining.
The far-reaching $14 billion legislation provided educational support and vocational training for more than 8 million Americans, as well as unemployment compensation for returning veterans and financial help for buying homes and starting businesses. Many credit the landmark legislation for the rise of America’s middle class and the reshaping of the nation.
The G.I. Bill also led to the growth of the nation’s suburbs and eventually to the development of the interstate highway system. But in a classic case of even the best of intentions often having unintended consequences, the after-effects of these massive social changes also played a role in the decline of many central cities and the resulting urban sprawl.
Check out this marvelous Jim Lehrer “News Hour” discussion of the G.I. Bill’s impact, pros and cons. Here’s video of the session with historians Stephen Ambrose, Michael Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin and journalist/author Haynes Johnson.
The Most Inspiring Story of Our Lifetime: the Jan. 15, 2009, “Miracle on the Hudson.”
A classic case of the right man in the right place in history, the story of U.S. Airways Capt. Chesley ”Sully” Sullenberger and Flight 1549 is hard to top. Then, add in all the other heroes: the air crew, the rescuers and the first-responders.
And this “60 Minutes” report is riveting television at its best.
Greatest Speech: Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
One of the galvanizing moments of America’s civil rights movement, King’s address at the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington still resonates throughout the nation.
(For an inspiring “history lesson” time capsule, check out the American Rhetoric website’s list of the top 100 speeches of the 20th century.)
Best Example of America’s Unique Spirit: Norman Rockwell.
As a certified “softie,” I’m going with an American “storyteller” whose paintbrush captured so many universal human moments that transcend time and place. Norman Rockwell and his many magazine covers offer a “photo album” of American snapshots of an earlier time that still ring true today.
There are a couple of American storytellers who are big Rockwell fans, too — two guys named Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. In an example of fortuitous timing, their new six-month exhibit, “Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg,” opens today at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Check out the slide show here.
I’ll conclude with Rockwell’s “Going and Coming” portrayal of the Great American Road Trip. It seems an apt way to mark the holiday and commemorate a classic summertime family tradition.