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Hello, my fellow Americans!

Writing about the American identity, the historian Philip Gleason put it this way:

“To be or to become an American, a person did not have to be
 any particular national, linguistic, religious, or ethnic background.
 All he had to do was to commit himself to the political ideology
 centered on the abstract ideals of liberty, equality, and
 republicanism. Thus the Universalist ideological character
 of American nationality meant that it was open to anyone
 who willed to become an American”. (Quinn, Arthur Hobson, 1991, 24)

AMERICA is commonly represented by two images, two icons. One is an extremely thin, tall old man, his gray beard trimmed to an old-fashioned goatee, his clothes of a bygone era embellished with the stars and stripes of the national flag, the other a portly maternal female dressed in flowing robes of classical style (which still do not differ too greatly from the ceremonial costumes worn by matrons at such functions as weddings), crowned with a diadem, and holding a torch in one hand. These two images are used alternatively in poster, cartoon, or medal to represent the United States; as far as I know there is no accepted rule as to which icon should be used in which circumstances; and consequently the choice, as it is commonly practiced, is the more revealing.

Uncle Sam represents above all the government of America, chiefly in its demanding aspects, occasionally negotiating, rarely giving. Uncle Sam is to the fore when sacrifices or deprivations are called for: Uncle Sam wants you, or your boy, in the army; Uncle Sam wants your savings for war loans; Uncle Sam wants your money for taxes; Uncle Sam wants you to use the telephone, or transport, or electricity less, for the sake of the war effort. This is his most constant role, the embodiment of a despised government in its most unpleasant and interfering aspects. More rarely he is shown in cartoons as negotiating with other government figures and, shrewd old yankee horse-trader as he is pictured, almost inevitably being cheated, robbed, or swindled by his companions. Occasionally Uncle Sam gives handouts of "the people's money," either to undeserving foreign nations or to special groups of Americans, sometimes deserving, such as veterans when they receive a bonus, more often parasitic, such as artists and dancers and the lazy supported by W. P. A. Incidentally, I remember few caricatures of Uncle Sam as benefactor to the deserving; it occurs more commonly as a figure of speech in the talk of the recipients, who may feel some uneasiness about their right to this unearned increment.

This summary (and certainly partial) description of the functions of Uncle Sam will account for the very negative attitudes most Americans have toward this figure. It has amused me to ask a great number of Americans the symbolic relationship of Uncle Sam to themselves. None have admitted that Uncle Sam represents some feature of them, and the greater number denies any kinship with him, despite the use of the term "Uncle." His clothes date him, and the contemporary ancestors of most Americans were not Yankees. He is unrelated, neither loved nor respected, but at best grudgingly obeyed. Government must needs come, but woe to him through whom government cometh.

In far different case is the Goddess of Liberty. She is America the bountiful, pouring out endless treasures from her cornucopia. She is America the Land of the Free, holding high her torch to illuminate the path to democracy for the benighted. She is America the Land of Opportunity, yielding her favors to those who are industrious, energetic, and ingenious enough to deserve them.

THE SIGNS of friendship, of love, are a necessity for the American. He is insatiable in his demands for them, for any occasion on which they are withheld raises the gnawing doubt that maybe one is not lovable, not a success. There is no occasion, however trivial or however important, which brings two or more people together in which such signs are not desired. The smallest purchase should be accompanied by a smile and by the implied assurance that the vendor is delighted and privileged to serve you; the weightiest business or political conference must start with those greetings and anecdotes which demonstrate that the conferrers like one another. There are no alternatives to these signs; unsmiling subservience produces discomfort, unsmiling arrogance, fear and hostility. The emotional egalitarianism of America demands that all relationships shall bear some resemblance to those of love and friendship.

Few contrasts are more marked than the attitudes of the American man toward things and toward people. In their dealings with other people, most American men (though not most American women) would appear to be troubled by a feeling of basic insecurity, which is inadequately disguised by the overcompensations of brashness and boasting; their insatiable need for reassurance has already been described. In contrast, their attitude toward things is untroubled by ambiguity, serene and confident, audacious and creative to an extent that no other society in the world has seen or imagined. In personal relations, the American woman is generally dominant, whether she is physically present or not; the world of things is the kingdom of the American man.

The American completely dominates his material. The search for its natural qualities and stresses, the cunning study of its nature and tendencies, which have been the distinguishing mark of the craftsman in most societies, have little place in the American approach to things. His vision, his plan, comes first; if nature does not provide the requisite materials, then be will do his utmost to improve and invent materials which will realize his vision. (Jenson, Robert W. 1999, page 12)

FOR EVERY right-thinking American the object of life-indeed almost the justification for living--is to be a success, to "make good." To make good things, and more of them, is the best and most concrete way of making good, and is the reason for the very high prestige and respect accorded to the successful businessman, manufacturer, and engineer. But not all people can make things, and everyone should make good. When there are no things, how can one be sure that a person is a success?

This could be a very great problem in America because of the enormous diversity of pursuits inherent in a complex society, and because there is no accepted hierarchy of social values. Compared with the situation in Europe, the contrast between the prestige inherent in different professions and occupations is relatively slight. A few vocations have relatively low social prestige, especially when their esteem is compared with European countries--politics, the civil service, peacetime soldiering, teaching for men (it is essentially a somewhat feminine pursuit) --but this is because they are thought to be safe and easy, demanding too little initiative and tainted with the suspicion of authority, rather than from any absolute standards. Other things being equal, clean work is preferable to dirty work, a white-collar job to a shirt-sleeves job. But what makes other things equal? With the increasing lack of emotional involvement in most work, there is only one lowest common denominator by which jobs can be compared, by which success in one pursuit can be compared with success in quite a different one, and that is the social value accorded to each; and in a relatively unstructured commercial society this can only be measured in one way: in dollars.

From one aspect, dollars can be considered an adult equivalent of the marks and grades which signified the school child's relative position in regard to his fellows. An, adult's income shows his rating in relation to his fellows, and a relatively good income is as much a matter for legitimate pride and boasting as getting A's in all subjects on one's report card. It is an outward and visible sign that one has striven successfully.

AMERICANS differ from the rest of the world in their principle that nationality is an act of determination, rather than the consequence of likelihood or fate. The message of General Patton, already quoted, made the point with admirable succinctness when be contrasted his troops' ancestors "who so loved freedom that they gave up home and country to cross the ocean in search of liberty" with the ancestors of the enemy who "lacked the courage to make such a sacrifice and continued as slaves." (Quinn, Arthur Hobson. 1991, page 88) In the view of General Patton, and probably of the greatest part of his audience and compatriots, the fact that the Germans and the Italians were Germans and Italians rather than Americans was a sign of their (and their ancestors') weakness of will and their contumacy; by not choosing to be American they had willfully rejected the best condition known to men and all its attendant advantages; they had shown individually their contempt for and their rejection of Freedom, Opportunity, Democracy, and all the other civic virtues embodied in the American Constitution and exemplified in the American Way of Life; from weakness of spirit they had chosen to be inferior, and should therefore be so regarded.

THE BELIEF that Americanism can be more or less complete, and that this relative completeness is above all a matter of will, is a most important component in the attitude of most Americans toward the inhabitants of the rest of the world. Viewed from one aspect, all the people, and all the peoples, of the world can be placed at different positions along a single continuum, with one hundred per cent Americanism at the positive end, and what might be called one hundred per cent un-Americanism at the negative. Such a schematic concept is not, as far as I know, consciously formulated by any group in the United States; but the speeches and actions of Americans of every political persuasion become far more comprehensible if they are interpreted in the light of such an unformulated scale. Since full Americanism and full humanity are equated, peoples who are placed on the negative half of the continuum--as, for example, the Japanese during the last war--are denied human status and forfeit human rights. Until surrender and the consequent occupation transformed the Japanese into postulant Americans, Americans from the forces would recount to their approving compatriots tales of cruelty and deception practiced on the Japanese soldiers

During nearly two centuries men, women, and children have abandoned their homes and countries and crossed the oceans to the United States of North America, carrying with them the hope of finding there some freedom or opportunity that their country of birth could not or did not give them. They made the journey as individuals, at most as small families, united only negatively by their rejection of the countries they had left behind. The original settlement, made by loyal Englishmen and by Englishmen who had rejected English tyranny, succeeded in unparalleled fashion in assimilating these millions from all over the world, giving their children a common American character and unwittingly, almost inadvertently, forming a nation. The advance of democracy in the old world involved the lessening of the rights of the state and the increase in the rights of the individual. Uniquely, America did not start as a state, but as millions of Americans seeking their own advantage. The peril of the old world is, and always has been, tyranny; the peril of the new world is anarchy. The reward of nature, the chances of war, and the constrain and know-how of individuals have made the United States already the richest country in the world and potentially the strongest; if to these traits are added general civic responsibility and political farsightedness its power and influence will be incalculable. (Bent, Eliza, 2009, page 22).

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