Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dear Superman...

Dear Superman,
You probably aren't used to getting letters from adults. Usually, by the time someone has reached my age you are no longer as mystifying as you were when we were children, and you are instead something as dependable as the sunrise; an accepted part of the American landscape which can never change as you are so firmly integrated into it.

American. More on that in a minute.

Anyway, I am not someone who sees trouble and immediately looks up to see if there is a streak of red coming faster than the eye can follow to save the day. I have a job where I am responsible to taking care of trouble, and for making the world a better place. It's something I am proud to do because it is inherent in my role as a protector, and a privilege conducted in service to the nation of my birth. Ostensibly, I work as a protector of that country, but in said role I often protect others in different nations. My role as protector is often misunderstood or misinterpreted. That is all right, because I do not protect people for recognition, but rather because it is the right thing to do. I do it in the name of my country, because I love this country and feel ideals like truth and justice are inherent to what we are supposed to be. As a super power, America will have to act in situations where no one else can, and I think we have a moral obligation as a nation to do so. Any superpower has an obligation to improve the condition of the world.

I am not an "America: right or wrong" kind of guy. I am an "America: let's do it right" sort. I know my nation both as a collective of individuals and as a state makes mistakes, and sometimes as a result of those mistakes, innocents die. I don't believe you stop trying to help though, I believe you just have to do a better job when you do offer help.

America, and the protection thereof, means a lot of different things to people, evoking both blind patriotism unwilling to see the nation's mistakes, and blind fury unwilling to see the nation's good. Both such extremes are wrong. America is made up of all of us, our victories, our foibles; our loves and our hates. Above all, this nation founded on principle-not on ethnicity or faith-is about opportunity for all. Again, we have made mistakes in the past, and will do so in the future, but for the most part we are a nation of immigrants; founded by immigrants, built by immigrants, fought for by immigrants, and all one needs to be part of it really is a profound belief in Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Some differ on the definition of "American Way," but most will agree it is that anyone in America can become the best of America. With ability, drive, and passion, America should give us the opportunity to become anything. That may apply to the poor, the lost, the downtrodden. It may apply to a child cast into the night who by the grace of God or fate ends up not in death or ocean or tyranny, but in America.

I don't know where you were raised, Superman. You seem to make your home in one of our greatest cities, yet when I see you in interviews your manner is almost like people I know who grew up on a farm. I don't know if you had powers as a baby or not. There's rumors you exhibited strange feats early on, and others that say the radiation of our sun almost killed you before it empowered you. Your greatest asset though did not come from the yellow sun or the ground or the sky. Your greatest asset, came from America; your ethics.

You've been around since 1938. Imagine if you had landed in Hitler's Germany or, like a story I once read in Stalin's USSR. Would you have become arrogant as one worshiped if you had landed with an aboriginal tribe with no understanding of science, labeling you a god? Had your ship landed anywhere else in the world, would you have become Superman, or instead The Superman ruling us as might makes right? It doesn't matter, because you DID land here, and you DID learn American core values, and you DO have a moral code which makes you a protector and not a dictator. You are the epitome of the cold, hungry immigrant washed ashore in America who rises to exceed their origin. As I say, you are a constant to me; a part of America as much as the flag, or a fair deal, or Teddy Roosevelt riding a Bull Moose across a river.

Now, as I understand you are afraid you will be confused with America. God, I hope you are right. I hope children the world over see you stop a volcano, or rescue innocents from the path of war, or change the course of mighty rivers and say, "look at America at its best." In that way you provide not only a sign to them that our nation can be great, but a sign to us that it should be great. We make mistakes, but to get better we need hope, we need inspiration. We need to know that as horrible as the things we have done are, we can still be good, and still make the world a better place. More powerful than anything is the need to believe what we can be, to have a symbol, we can look to and aspire to be.

I spend a lot of my life looking at the flag for that, and wear it on my own uniform while I am out trying to make the world a better place. I know at times that flag is all someone across from me sees, and that is why it is so important I wear it well. When I am out to make the world a better place, I recognize I am a citizen of the world as well as a citizen of the most just nation in history; being a citizen of the world and a citizen of the United States are not mutually exclusive. Don't give up one for the other; be both. The world does need you, and so do we. When I think of the tragedy that could have been had you landed somewhere else, I think there is still a level upon which you need us too.

Don't walk away from America out of fear, because you think the world will confuse you with us. Instead, wear that flag in the best possible way, and show them, and America, all it can mean; all it should mean.

You were quoted as saying, "I'm an alien...born on another world. I can't help but see the bigger picture." See it then, and tell your fellow Americans what you see. Help us see it too. We will help you see what Truth, Justice, and the American Way can do on the small scale; the Red Cross worker in Haiti, the American soldier keeping peace in Bosnia. I don't defend the misguided imperialism some would want to see this country practice, but I vehemently stand up for us as a light to the millions of immigrants before you have done by making this nation great. Let those who would fight against freedom and opportunity for all confuse you with America; then, help America be a country which can be easily confused with you.

Thank you for your time, Superman. I hope to see you out there as a comrade,

An American Soldier

My hooch, Baghdad 2004.