In my junior year of high school, while learning about World War II, I proudly told my AP History teacher that my grandfather had worked on the Manhattan Project. Alongside Fermi and numerous other brilliant chemical engineers, he helped develop plutonium-239 in the metallurgical laboratory underneath the University of Chicago stadium. On the day the bomb was dropped, my grandmother received a celebratory telegram from her beloved stating that this was the secret project he had been working on. Before I had the chance to share the latter with my teacher, she had shamed me for being proud of my “murderous ancestor.” My grandfather’s grandfather had emigrated from Germany less than a century earlier, so my grandfather was not far removed from the past. He was proud to be an American, ready to fight for his liberties, and willing to do anything to support his home country. and his future prodigy
“…respect for the memories and deeds of our ancestors is security for the present and seed-corn for the future.”Richard Taylor
Lately, I’ve been particularly interested in genealogy. I’ve been helping my mom transcribe the same grandfather’s journal from a six-month trip to Europe after graduating from Caltech in 1931. The cathedrals, museums, theaters, battlegrounds, and rural towns all sound so whimsically cultured, with deep roots tapping into the past.
I’ve been filling out pedigree charts, tracing some lineages back to the 1200s. Internet searches have turned up Wikipedia articles about ancestors who served as advisors to the king, were appointed to parliament, and we nicked-named “the pearl of Scotland.” Some ancestors died defending their king, while others were executed for refusing to renounce their religious beliefs. It’s truly fascinating, and I feel more connected to the past than I ever have before.
A few weeks ago, I read an article proposing an increased participation by the common citizen in the functions of government. In the grand scheme of things, my vote for the presidency does not matter. However, electing city council members and and state senators that represent my interests provide me, the average citizen, a direct line into the larger system. I can call, email, or sit down with a politician who will listen to my questions and concerns, and then rally for the necessary change.
The government at large may be corrupt, bloated with bureaucracy, and deeply influenced by lobbying. However, we have far more influence over the goings on in our owns backyards than in crime-riddled big cities or overtly racist small towns. When we choose local representatives that share our values, we can foster growth in ours politicians (who may one day run at the federal level) and instill communal values into our youth (who may one day go on to represent us). We live in a society where instant gratification has come to be expected. In politics, the long game has proved most effective.
In the article mentioned, the author questions: “what has caused us, up to this point, to remain rather quiet and reserved in our demands of liberty?” Their theory is that our kindly disposition and a natural tendency to be agreeable. We don’t want to be a burden, so we hold our tongues and allow our liberties to be sniped away like a manicured hedge.
What sets America apart from Australia and France is the Second Amendment. We have the ability to defend our liberties against tyranny and government overreach. If we turn in our guns, we give up all other rights. It’s the unspoken threat of rebellion that protects us.
I stumbled across another fascinating article from a man recounting his family history and reflecting on hos connection to that past. One particular line stuck me: “Most folks today don’t seem to know who they are or where they belong, much less what they live for… and the poverty of their spirit causes them great pain and confusion. And so they twist in the wind. Perhaps they’d be better off consulting their dead.”
I’ve noted for years how many young people seem so terribly lost. Perhaps they grew up in a single family household, were a latchkey kid with little affection at home, or turned their back on their religious upbringing. All in all, there is no connection to the past–no cherished family stories, no longstanding traditions, and nothing to tether themselves to. It’s no wonder they feel lost. It’s no wonder they are seeking to create a new history for themselves.
But we need not rely on our own family histories. America, and the world at large, is rife with stories of failures, successes, hopes, and dreams. The history of humanity is our own. We may, and should, claim and tether ourselves to any story, belief, or dream that brings about a sense of connection.
So, here’s the call to action. Wherever you may fall on the political spectrum, consider some action you can take to forge a connection to the past, as well as an action to pave a path into the future.
- Read or listen to the Declaration of Independence. Familiarize yourself with the language and the tone. Can you sense the frustration, the confidence, and the hope? Read the Constitution and memorize the Bill of Rights, and teach others (here’s a great technique). Know your rights, inside and out.
- Run for local office or campaign for those who share your values and vision for the future. Canvas, hold up a poster and initiate discussions outside the grocery store, pound signs into the ground, or donate funds.
- Contact your local representatives to share your thoughts of bills and propose ideas for new bills that would benefit the community. Get involved wherever and however you can.
- Volunteer at the local VA office and at parades honoring veterans. Talk to those that have served our country, listen to their stories, and appreciate the sacrifices they made to protect our liberties.
- Volunteer with political service organizations. My mother-in-law is a member of the The Great American Eagle Society, which hosts debates, organizes fundraisers, and trains members of the community to be poll-watchers. I recently joined Daughters of the American Revolution, a lineage-based organization, which volunteers with historical societies, promotes education and good citizenship through youth programs, and supports veterans. There are hundreds of options available, I’m sure!
Our ancestors struggled with difficulties that would kill most of us today. Everyone living today is the descendant of tough, resilient, and hopeful men and woman. They won wars, traveled west, and brought up future generations with that same seed of tenacity. The torch of liberty has been handed down from generation to generation. Over the last century, we’ve allowed it to go dim. The fire has not been completely extinguished, but now is the time to stoke the flame and ready the torch of freedom for the next generation.