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Imagining a world without America

O my America! my new-found-land,

My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,

My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,

How blest am I in this discovering thee!

To enter in these bonds, is to be free;

Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.

— John Donne 1572-1631 (published posthumously 1654)

Since Columbus discovered America in the 15th century, America has been a dream — a dream of freedom — seducing people of all nations. Any immigrant from any country can become an American, but a native-born American can never become an Englishman, Russian, Greek or German. There is no such thing as a hyphenated American-Frenchman. America is an ideal, an aspiration, a beacon of freedom to people around the world.

Freedom: In the film “Braveheart” William Wallace, played by Mel Gibson, about to be beheaded yells out the primal scream, FREEDOM! Freedom historically has meant freedom from government, from government abuses, excessive regulations and usurpations from when monarchs owned all land and the people within their realm. There were no property rights, freedom of religion, freedom to criticize the government.

We laugh at the notion of the “divine right of kings,” which fooled and enslaved people for centuries. America is unique in that it had the first written declaration that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” and government works for the people, not the other way around. This revolutionary idea defines American exceptionalism.

Americans have natural rights, e.g., rights that predate governments, rights that emanate from the Creator and not an aristocracy, the top 1 percent, or by majority vote. Our Declaration of Independence declared: “That these united colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States,” absolved from all allegiance to the British king.

Why should you see a movie about America and America’s founding? How does it relate to us — to me — today?

My wife, Irina, graduated from Moscow State University in 1972. Typically, in the former Soviet Union the government dictated in which cities college graduates would live and work and what their salary would be in exchange for their education.

Large enterprises, factories and plants dictated their housing, whether one- or two-bedroom apartments, regardless of how many children, or if they would live with eight other people. They operated restaurants, provided clinics, medical facilities, rest homes, sanatoriums and hospitals.

Nearly all land was owned by the government. When the government owns the land you walk on, talk on, work on and sleep upon, it owns you. Russians were required to carry internal passports at all times and obtain police permits to visit other cities.

When I called Irina from America before we married — 27 years ago — a reservation had to be made three days in advance so the Soviet government could set up recording equipment. One time her phone rang and Irina heard an entire conversation played back by mistake. Very frightening!

A friend was imprisoned for seven years for possessing a samizdat (underground) copy of “Dr. Zhivago,” which the government considered subversive and critical of the regime. It was finally published in the USSR in 1989, the month he was released from prison.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned eight years for criticizing Joseph Stalin. The Soviet Union, of course, claimed it had free speech — it was only after the speech you might not be free. We laugh at the idea of people imprisoned for possessing a book or criticizing the government, but why is this relevant to us today?

First, we are told NSA keeps a record of every phone call we make. Second, last month 43 Senate Democrats supported a constitutional amendment (S.J. RES.19) that would limit free speech that criticizes incumbents, which may jeopardize their hold on political office.

Dinesh D’Souza’s movie, “America, Imagine a World Without Her,” explains why America evolved differently than other countries and reiterates many of the lessons high school students learned before the 1960s, which, judging by recent campus interviews, are no longer taught.

The movie opens with George Washington being killed in battle at the outset of the Revolutionary War and then imagining a world without the American Revolution.

What if Stalin or Hitler were first to get the atom bomb?

The issue of stealing America from the Indians is confronted (did American Indians, as Henry Kissinger purportedly said, own this land simply because they walked across it or gazed upon it from mountaintops?)

And from whom did the Indians steal it? Did we steal the Southwest from the Mexicans? If the Spanish conquest in 1519 stole Mexico from the Aztecs and dozens of other tribes before there were any Mexicans, a term first used in 1566, from whom did latter-day Mexicans steal the land, before we stole it from them?

In 1776, when our Declaration of Independence was adopted, slavery was a worldwide occurrence with people on every continent at one time or another enslaved. It occurred in both ancient Greece and Rome, and even in Egypt before Charlton Heston (as Moses) said, “Let my people go.”

Our Declaration of Independence established the principle — the ideal — that “All men are created equal.” Granted, it took nearly 100 years to perfect this ideal through the Emancipation Proclamation and we still aren’t finished improving it.

Since there was no massive slave rebellion to end slavery, and if today’s blacks are entitled to reparations, then why not, the movie asks, the descendants of the 600,000 Union soldiers who were wounded or died fighting to end slavery?

While indefensible, there is an intriguing thought about the cost of slavery, today’s workers and the marginal productivity of slaves, i.e., the profit confiscated over and above the cost of their food, clothing and care. Studies indicate the economic benefit to slave-owners ranged from 9.7 percent to about 50 percent, which is like a tax on labor. By comparison, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota, “The effective tax rate currently on labor income (all taxes) is 40 percent.”

In answer to the liberal charge that America is bent on empire, conquest and perpetual war, D’Souza quotes Gen. Colin Powell’s memorable remark that the only ground America has sought abroad in the aftermath of war is sufficient ground to bury our dead.

Schnaubelt, president of Citizens for Private Property Rights, has been a commercial real estate broker for 45 years and was a San Diego city councilman from 1977 to 1981.

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amy roth 11:22am July 22, 2014

I believe Donne was using America as a metaphor in this poem for his new lady-love's body! Donne was a "metaphysical poet," meaning he created complicated "conceits" to say what he wanted to say. Here America is his "new-found land," and his two hands are all he needs to explore the north, east, west and the south of her.