By: General Douglas Murray, NMMI Academic Dean
On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday in November be set aside as a day of thanksgiving in order to ask, “the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it ….to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.” His proclamation not only established the Thanksgiving holiday, it stated its purpose – to commemorate the nation. With that in mind, each year I like to share with the readers of this paper anniversaries occurring during the year that help us remember and commemorate our nation and for which to give thanks. In 2019 the focus is on diversity. We are a diverse nation, diverse in many ways to include our citizens, our origins, our cultures, races, religions, our politics and economics, and how we live. Yet, we are one people because what unites us is a set of principles, ideals, values and beliefs focusing on freedom, the sanctity of the individual, and the nobility to think about more than ourselves. These ideals are established in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Both documents celebrate and protect our diversity because the founding fathers recognized that it is diversity that defines us as individuals – the centerpiece of our freedom.
This was the message in a sports page headline in the July 8, 2019, Wall Street Journal that read, “A very American Victory.” That article was about the U.S. Women’s National Team winning the Soccer World Cup. The storyline made reference to cultural diversity. The reporter wrote, “they are champions, but also a cultural referendum probably inevitably given how even the nicest things become arguments in these daffy, divisive days….(they) took the title like Americans, which is to say noisily without apology and fear. They did it with an avalanche of pressure on their backs.” That same headline and remark could be applied to an historical anniversary of 2019, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Yes, it was a white male crew, but it was made possible by a very diverse support team back on earth, one segment of which was documented in the film “Hidden Figures.”
Perhaps, the anniversary this year that best reminds us of the role of diversity in America’s heritage in 2019 is the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the African culture to America. In 1619, the first Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, and their arrival became just a part of the birth of a nation of peoples from all over the world – immigrants who came, or were forced to come, but would make a new nation destined for greatness. To be certain, failure to see the value of diversity creates the current debates over immigration and continual cultural, racial and gender discrimination. However, there is also a firm resolve to address them, and that is something very American for which to give thanks.
No President has stated this better than John Kennedy whose 100th birthday we celebrated in 2019. In June, 1963, in a significant televised speech on civil rights, he talked about diversity and outlined how discrimination impacts all segments of American society, undercutting the fundamental principles of a liberal democracy that guarantees equal rights and equal opportunities for all peoples.
Thirty years ago the denial of those rights exploded in protests at Tiananmen Square, China. It was a protest in 1989 that is being repeated today in Hong Kong even as this article is being written.
There were other anniversaries in 2019 that remind us of that same message. This year marked the 30th year since the Berlin Wall was torn down and the ending of the Cold War and the demise of Soviet Communism. In 2019 we also commemorated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy that would lead to the ending of the Nazi regime whose ultimate purpose was to eliminate diversity by creating a race of supermen.
In “A Brief Essay on Appreciating Diversity”, Nicholas Emmons writes, “Democracy allows for the expression of different points of view, each possibly offering to strengthen the institution itself. In the United States, we have safeguards in place to protect diverse viewpoints and experiences even if they should conflict with our own. As proponents of democratic government, we should all be interested in making certain the true appreciation of diversity is a priority.” I would add that for this reason, the diversity that defines us should also be part of what we celebrate as we mark Thanksgiving 2019.