Written by Fumo Verde
What lies in store for our country as we step into this new century? As of this moment our future looks troubled and we as a people, the American People, must deal with it, be it bailouts that save those hardworking top-level executives who did such a bang-up job driving their companies into the ground, or the government trying to put a freeze on foreclosures, which I hear from some political talking heads that doing so would freeze the market as well, though the last year of people losing their homes seemed to have helped kill the market, too. With whatever eye you see our country’s future in, you must remember the lessons of the past and that is what Professor Simon Schama has given us here with this two-disc four-hour series. Shedding light on past events may not always hold the correct answers but the directions chosen give a template of what or what not to do.
Schama presents us with four major questions facing our nation right now using the 2008 elections as a backdrop for his scenic tour through American country and its history. War, faith, immigration, and the dwindling of resources, both natural and economic, are the four questions being broken down and examined as Schama visits places in our nation that played a role in events, which shaped our country and people. A small introduction is first made by Schama, an immigrant himself from Great Britain, as he sets the tone of the film. Most documentaries I watch give the viewer a feel of looking in on the subject at hand but not here. The professor doesn’t make this film a lesson, rather a discussion, though you, as the viewer, can’t add much, but the people he talks to do. Be it the farmers in Southern California and along the dwindling Colorado River, or the Border Support civilians along the Texas part of the U.S.-Mexico border who tell anyone who they think is illegal to “Get the hell out.” Voices on both sides of each issue are heard, then a look back to see what our forbearers had to do when a similar problem arose.
When it comes to American public, we seem only to get mad when the issue hits us in our bank accounts. The price of gas was outrageous when this film was being made and everybody was angry. There was a lot of talk via person to person and on the Internet about boycotting or marching to congress. As of last month when this played on the BBC and PBS networks, gas was less than two bucks a gallon. Right now, February 17th 2009, the five stations in my general vicinity are all over two dollars and fifteen cents. Yet not a peep from any of us, myself included. Oil, a recourse we can’t live with right? How about water? What if it cost us two bucks for a gallon of water? How about five dollars a gallon? Schama notes that weather patterns have changed and the rain fall in regions such as eastern California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico continues to become less each season. Rather that using some kooky kat with a Doppler radar doing Storm Watch 2000 and whatever, he gets his facts from the farmers, you know the people who read weather patterns, so they can prepare for what’s to come.
I didn’t live through the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and I doubt anyone reading this did either, but it wasn’t drought alone that caused the dirt under the prairie farmers’ feet to get whisked away by those strong winds. Poor crop rotation are over farming were also culprits, but the one big one was the deep plowing of the virgin top soil of the prairie lands which were also called the Grass Lands. Once the grass had been removed there was nothing to hold the dirt down once the winds came. We have learned since then and with far less technology than we have today. Schama doesn’t point to any one answer that will secure any of our natural resources. He presents the situation and lets you ponder the ways to it could be handled. Some say desalinization is the way to go, but right now it costs too much, but I’ll bet you that some good old Yankee ingenuity could solve that and make it less expensive, and we still would have to ship it to the interior of the country. At the end of this story Las Vegas looked as if it had the right template for dealing with this problem. They have water cops and fines are heavy. Is that the future for water?
This is the same for the other three questions, such as the second one, War. Why and where America fights all depends on who or what we are fight for. Many have strong feelings about our military such as myself, and though we maybe a world superpower, I don’t think our military should be the world police. What does it take to bring the full weight of U.S. power onto oneself? Bin Laden really needs to find out, but the allies we have in the region aren’t much help. When America goes to war the reasons behind it become clouded.
Starting with the Spanish-American War, where we were liberating Cuba and the Philippines from the tyrannical grip of Spain. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly but carry a big stick,” and use it when you need to show you are not weak. His contemporary at the time, Mark Twain, felt this way when he first heard of the attack on the U.S.S. Maine, but later felt to fight for democracy is needed and to fight for the democracy of others is noble, but to be led down the path to war with no real truth behind it is an evil this country needs to stay away from. It doesn’t matter if you are for or against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or Democrat, there always seems to be this underlying argument about how much our freedom costs where we should pay for it. Again, these answers don’t come easy and they never will. This debate will last as long as we do as a nation.
The third question has to do with faith, religious faith, a belief in god. Faith is part of this country’s fabric, yet some would like their distinct brand of faith to be the faith of the nation, we must remember why those “faith-filled” pilgrims came to this new world, to escape religious persecution. When the country united and formed a government, the leaders felt it was better to keep the state separate from the church so that hands of power may never tie the people into one kind of religion or force them to do so. Thomas Jefferson wrote a separation clause in the Virginia State Constitution called “The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom;” it states the reasons for this separation and why it must be this way. I think this debate will last long after this nation turns to dust.
The last hour of this series comes down to another fabric that has sowed this country together: immigration. To relate to how a lot of Americans feel today about the illegal entering of immigrants to these shores, Schama reminds us of how every nationality was treated when they first arrived. The Irish, Italians, Slavs, and Asians were all considered sub-human and were branded with bringing crime and disease wherever they went. Cries about these “people” taking over our country raged in local papers and violence erupted from a fearful American public. It was then as it is now, some feel the immigrants, legal or illegal, are taking over our country and our dream. But what is the American Dream and really, who’s allowed to have it? To Americans, the “American Dream” is to own a house and have a family; this would be you A-typical idea if you were born here. If you came from another country, the American Dream is to live free and make a better life for you and your family or to escape tyranny and oppression.
French nobleman J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, who immigrated to America and became a gentleman farmer and writer, gave millions the idea of the American Dream with his stories about farming and living on the New Frontier. They were published in Europe and gave hope to those who wanted to liberate themselves for whatever reasons they had. However you want to split it, stopping immigration to America, legal or illegal is like trying to hand out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. Still some would rather forget the words from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lighting, and her name
Mother of Exiles, From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
If you have four hours and truly want to get an idea of where we might be headed, or even if you are confused and need to find out where we came from, The American Future – A History will give you the chance. It isn’t political, it isn’t partisan, it asks the up-front questions about who we are and how will we adapt to the changes coming our way. Schama is optimistic but he also knows what might happen if the American Future slips away.