Updated: Sep 24, 2022
We drove back to our house on the night of July 4th after spending a week taking care of my elderly parents. Fireworks started as early as 9 pm when the sky got dark and continued to explode across the Southern California skies as we drove 80 miles from south Orange County to north Los Angeles county. At one point well past 10:30 pm, there were 4 separate firework sites right next to the 405 freeway that we can see. I am reminded of how spectacular this country is and how much I love it.
It is easy to idolize something or someone who you think is perfect, but to truly love something, you must be willing to learn its true nature and acknowledge its many faults and virtues. Having forced myself and my family to travel to every single state in this sprawling country of ours, I can unequivocally state that the United States is still the greatest nation on earth.
I have been to the richest places in America and the poorest. I have seen our highest mountain Denali on a clear day, snorkeled our deepest ocean in Hawaii, camped in the Mojave desert, and watched a meteor shower in the swamps of Everglades. I've eaten razor clams in Oregon and alligators in Louisiana, hunted for diamonds in Arkansas, dug for crystals in Oklahoma, toured Gettysburg and Manassas battle sites, visited Woodstock Museum and Wallstreet in New York, the America Mall in Minneapolis, the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham and most of the National Parks in the United States. I've found amazing things in states normally considered to be fly-over terrain.
I know that more than six and a half billion people may disagree with me about the greatest country thing, but I am not speaking from a position of blind idolization and ignorance. I was born in Vietnam during the war and raised in America. I have traveled and studied in dozens of countries in Europe and Asia, so I do have a basis for comparison. Many people who knew me as a doctor don't even realize that I majored in Political Science as well as Microbiology at UCLA. Therefore, like any normal egomaniac, I can certify myself as the foremost expert on what a great county I am living in.
America is not a perfect country. Like everything that is alive, America sometimes fail, we often make mistakes, but we pick ourselves up, we try to learn from our mistakes and we constantly strive to get better. That, to me, is the hallmark of a great person, species, or nation. What makes America the greatest is our ability to do so, our freedom to grow and change, to push boundaries, and to inspire the same all over the world. Unfortunately, our freedom and our ability to push boundaries, our constant need to question authorities, while helping to make America great, can sometimes work against us.
I know that America's history is littered with incidents of atrocities, corruption, divisiveness, and bigotry. Freedom of speech allows the exposure of these atrocities and corruption. Some of the greatest heroes in America are the journalists who live by their credo of searching for and exposing the truth. This cannot be said for many of the countries that I have been to where they imprison or murder their journalists and assassinate their judges. (I've been a member of Amnesty International since high school and gets their regular updates, see https://www.amnestyusa.org/amnestynews/ )
As to divisiveness and bigotry, while we still need much work in these failings, the framework of the constitution, the law, and the justice system, allows us the ability to hash this out without the frequent coups that I saw in Asia and the constant strikes that I saw in Europe. I had thought for the longest time that freedom, protected by that framework and stability, was what made America great.
The insurrection of January 6th, 2021 scared the crap out of me. The increase in hate, bigotry, and divisiveness of the past 4 years scared me too. It gave me nightmares to watch the country that I love, the country that I thought was great and stable, succumbing to the forces of Evil; to witness with my own eyes and ears so many people falling prey to the whispers of hate, the hollers of mindless obedience; to realize how fragile democracy is, how easily we can fall from a great, civilized country to one ruled by tyranny, violence, and ignorance.
The nightmare was still fresh because I had just visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Peng the year before in our medical mission to Cambodia (see https://ihumanemissions.org/ ). The exhibits of torture chambers, the pictures of the piles of bodies were so similar to those seen in the Holocaust museums that it made you see how easily human beings can turn on each other, just based on one man's order. It was enough to throw my faith in humanity right out the window.
I genuinely hope that someone will find a solution to the fake news channels that so influenced those people into trying to overthrow the greatest country on earth. Or maybe someone can get through to all the people who think that other Americans are the enemy and don't deserve any human rights. But I doubt it will happen. In my worst nightmare, this year a big chunk of Americans will have lost the right to vote, the American woman will have lost the human right to control their own body, and the Taliban will rule Afghanistan again. Some steps forward, some steps backward, that is how America rolls. And I still love it, somehow.