May 25, 2009

The Hyphen

There is a quote by Margaret Thatcher that I have always treasured: “Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy.” In fact, as a European by birth and an “American by philosophy,” what I really think, along with Theodore Roosevelt, is that “Americanism is a matter of the spirit, and of the soul.” Another great quote to ponder, which is about—however strange it may seem—the hyphen… Teddy Roosevelt was speaking to the largely Irish Catholic Knights of Columbus at Carnegie Hall on Columbus Day 1915:

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all... Americanism is a matter of the spirit, and of the soul… The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic... There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.

I'm sure this quote can help many people understand what America is all about and, in a sense, also what Memorial Day is all about.

Then again, to conclude on “the hyphen issue,” I think the following audio recording by John Wayne is superbly effective (thanks: Duane Lester):