Sunday, December 7, 1941, a dozen of us 18-19 year olds at the start of our lives, were rehearsing a freshman production of a relatively silly play, Uncle Stanley Slept Here, on the Esplanade behind Emerson College at 130 Beacon Street, Boston, under the direction of a large-hatted, soprano-voiced, Noel Coward character of a woman, aptly named Gertrude Binley Kay, when someone came charging downstairs with the news, fresh off the radio, that the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor.
"A day that shall live in infamy," said FDR a few days later, and America was at war. Those of us who were there have been labeled by Tom Brokaw, "The Greatest Generation". I'm not at all sure we earn that appellation, but I can attest to the fact that our love of country was nothing we had to wear a lapel pin to prove. Our individual religions were far more a private and personal matter, but we did display a kind of civil religion in the amount of parades we held --Memorial Day, Armistice day, the 4th. of July, Lincoln's Birthday, Washington's Birthday-- and the reverence in which we held America's founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
We were closer to our feelings for America in 1941 and beyond. I suspect that's because our generation had far less doubts about America's direction. But we did have doubts -- and we dared to voice them -- and that resulted over the years in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Minimum Wage Act, the Fair Housing Act and a host of other laws in our nation's pursuit of equal opportunity and equal justice for all. No doubt, we feel better about ourselves when we speak up. As citizens we feel better about our country when we do the same.
The FDR I quote above also said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." He wasn't talking about the fear of being labeled unpatriotic if you dared to criticize the direction of your government. It didn't apply. It never applies. The cowards who cower behind the flag because they can't bear the heat of democracy, will always be there, hurling their epithets.
So, and it was ever thus, we must dare to swallow our fears -- and declare ourselves!