letter of warning to a young patriot
A Citizen’s call to action
I wrote this book because I could no longer ignore the echoes between events in the past and forces at work today. When I discussed these issues informally with a good friend who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors—and who teaches students about the American system of government as a kind of personal response to what happened to her family—she insisted that I present this argument.
I also wrote it as I did because, in the midst of my research, I went to Christopher Le and Jennifer Gandin’s wedding. Jennifer is one of our graduates—a gifted young writer who is the daughter of a Texas minister. Her American heartland roots reach back generations.
Chris—the “young patriot” of the subtitle—is a born activist, a natural grassroots leader and teacher. He helps run the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and is active on a range of issues. They are characteristic of the kinds of the idealistic young people—idealistic Americans—who need to lead our nation out of this crisis.
I attended Chris and Jennifer’s wedding on a warm day in early autumn. It was a scene of perfect Americana: the best of this nation’s freedom, bounty, and shelter.
The celebration took place on a green slope along the Hudson River Valley. Jennifer’s family decorated the ceremony and reception sites in billowing white chiffon; Chris’s mother and his female relatives cooked for days to create wonderful Vietnamese dishes. Jennifer appeared for the vows themselves, glowing, in a white ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese wedding gown, then changed for the dancing—appearing equally radiant—into a purple American ball gown. There were children playing, trees soughing in the wind, the sun dappling the scene; there were toasts and gifts, a great DJ, and bad jokes. Friends of different races and backgrounds were dancing and chatting, and sharing in the affection we all had for the young couple. It was a scene of everything this country should be.
I was there having emerged from my reading and could not ignore the terrible storm clouds gathering in the nation at large, and I felt that the young couple needed one more gift: the tools to fully realize and defend their freedom; the means to be sure that their own children would be born in liberty.
This was not an academic thought. Chris’s mother, Le Mai, who welcomed the guests with wit and style, is a heroine. She fled Vietnam as a young woman, a refugee—a “boat person”—with her less-than-two-months-old Vu (Chris’s birth name) in her arms. She knew she had to risk her own life and her child’s life for the chance to live in freedom. With our own until-recent surfeit of liberty, we scarcely understand the preciousness of liberty as she does. But we have to reach this kind of understanding quickly, in order to contend with the crisis we face and to act with the urgency the time requires.
Chris and I have talked about liberty and his faith in the pendulum’s ability to “swing back.” He also believes many of his peers have little connection to democracy because previous generations have not brought it to life.
It is not just the young who are disconnected from democracy’s tasks at just the moment that the nation’s freedoms are being dismantled; in my travels across the country, I have heard from citizens of all backgrounds who feel alienated from the Founders’ idea that they are the ones who must lead; they are the ones who must decide and confront and draw a line. They are the ones who matter. This book is written for them.
Such citizens need the keys to, the understanding of, the Founders’ radical legacy. They need to understand how despots have gone about their work. They need a primer so they and those around them can be well-equipped for the fight that lies ahead.
So they can fight it well.
So that our children may continue to live in freedom. So that we may all.
June 24, 2007
End of America .pdf file