- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

America is not what it used to be this Independence Day. In a nation of change, the Fourth of July 2002 stands apart from earlier celebrations of the Declaration of Independence.
Terrorists have made Americans more aware of their own religious faith, but at the same time, debate over separation of church and state grows hotter: Fireworks will explode on the heels of a federal court ruling that "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.
There are other contradictions. America still lives on the memory of a "greatest generation" that stopped Nazism, challenged communism and rebuilt the world. But as those heroes pass away, their values still must stick with a younger generation amid adult scandals and political apathy.
Even as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island face the broken skyline of New York City, they symbolize America's open society. It is a nation that is one-fifth new immigrants, and its graying population has a birthrate that barely meets replacement levels.
"There are a lot of new forces defining America, but probably the largest is immigration," said Allen Hertzke, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma. "We're in the process of negotiating a new set of relationships."
The 2000 Census found that one in five who live in the United States is either foreign-born or a first-generation resident, and the vast majority of them are Hispanic.
Demographers agree that new immigrants are less willing to learn English and are often transient workers, but the desire to become American remains strong. When filling in the "ancestry" blank on the census survey, immigrants prefer not to list their foreign cultures, said Kevin Deardorff of the U.S. Census Bureau.
"We've seen an increase in the number of people who respond they are 'American,'" he said.
One important route of American integration is military service, and the Department of Defense reports that immigrants account for 4 percent of new recruits. "They serve their adopted country, and many distinguish themselves," Army Lt. Col. James P. Cassella said.
In the six branches of the armed forces, Hispanics make up 9 percent; they represent 13 percent of the U.S. population. Blacks, at 20 percent, are the largest minority in military service.
The census reports the lowest U.S. birthrate in history, 2.1 births per woman.
But what those children are learning in school determines much about the nation's future identity, said Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council. Even when textbooks and civics courses do a good job on the facts about the founding of the nation and its system of government, he said, they do not necessarily instill patriotism.
"What is not well-explained is why the Constitution is special, an exception in history," said Mr. Sewall, a former history professor. "The explanations do not build devotion to a nation. A lot of kids today end up indifferent."
That may be changing since September 11. Patriotism is supplanting cynicism among some students, he said, and many history textbooks for 2003 end with themes such as "United We Stand," world terrorism vs. democracy, or a "clash of civilizations."
An American Enterprise Institute study of polling on patriotism found that it jumped after September 11; 60 percent of Americans polled said they felt "more patriotic."
While "love of country" and voting ranked high among definitions of patriotism, so did treating others equally, serving in the military and singing national hymns.
Handing down American identity, meanwhile, involves a link among at least three generations, said John Harmon McElroy, author of "American Beliefs."
"You have to have this going on past three generations for the culture to be passed into history," Mr. McElroy said. "The linchpin of our culture is the Judeo-Christian outlook that teaches us about equality, freedom and responsibility."
Historian Martin Marty said appreciating the Constitution makes diversity a uniting concept, adding that another "cohesive sentiment" for Americans is the land itself.
But he warns against a more recent rise of "tribalists" and "totalists," a clash between minorities who claim victimhood and redress, and Americans who hark back sentimentally to a "better" day.
Mr. Hertzke, the political scientist, said a new test for American identity will be integration of Muslims and Arabs. When U.S. Muslim groups convene here in August, he thinks they might talk less about foreign affairs and more about being American.
"I was interviewing a Muslim," Mr. Hertzke recalled, "and when I asked where he was from, he said 'Detroit' and smiled."


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