Just plain American.
No holidays to buy someone presents for, no large family dinners, no fireworks to head out to, no trees to put up, nothing. That doesn't mean I have nothing to write about, however.
I once saw a person explain the difference between a comic and a comedian. A comic has a list of funny jokes, while a comedian takes any situation and makes it funny. Maybe the same principle applies to writers and reporters?
A reporter needs a story to write, but a writer can captivate an audience with any subject. On that note, I'd like to share something that's been brewing with me the past few months and that's the hyphenation of so many Americans.
No Military Hyphens
For example, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans and so on.
Just writing that last sentence brought some measure of anxiety to me because of my worry about getting a letter stating that I'd forgotten a group. I believe one of the reasons for my military service was so that we may retain the freedoms we enjoy every day.
But I also took an oath to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. I can't help but wonder if all these hyphenated Americans are disintegrating the melting pot this country has boasted about for so long.
I've stated before that I believe the military integrated its ranks long before society did. Why did people find it so difficult to share a school with black people but not living quarters out at sea? Why did people struggle sitting next to a Latino person in a movie theater but not in a bunker out in a desert?
When people are wearing a uniform, we never say African-Army sergeant, Mexican-Navy petty officer, Asian-Air Force captain. However, to call someone simply American can often lead to a hyphenated correction.
When I get overwhelmed with protests, marches and requests to join a hyphenated group, I go to the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital where I can simply hang out with vets of all colors, races and creeds.
You don't have to tell a veteran someone's life matters or not, because we've all put our lives on the line for those lives, and most of us have lost a limb or two defending those lives.
Has my time spent in the military changed the way I think about myself and the world? Absolutely.
Dissolving A Chip
I remember having a chip on my shoulder, having the experience of a black person born in the 1960s. I felt pretty justified for having that underlying anger toward any member of the majority population.
I kept that underlying anger within me right up until I boarded a Navy missile cruiser and headed to the Middle East, via every country we could visit along the way. The time I spent outside of the United States was life-changing.
I saw people living on a level of poverty I never imagined, and yet there were plenty of smiles. As I spent time helping these people, the chip on my shoulder began to dissolve.
I also encountered many situations where life was sitting in the balance and skin color wasn't an issue. Another thing is so many people called me an American. Not a hyphenated American, just an American. Sometimes it was a compliment, often it wasn't.
Either way, I learned being an American had a high level of significance to people all around the world. So much so that I discovered I could no longer afford to be distracted by our petty differences any longer.
What Box To Check?
So, I firmly believe that time spent in the military has the potential to provide someone with a world view, simply by putting him or her out there in it.
I can't discount the benefit I achieved while serving in the military. I came out a better man than when I went in. I also don't believe I'm the only one who feels this way.
However, I can only recommend that every man and woman join a service organization when he or she finishes high school or college. If there are questions regarding participating in war, there's the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Peace Corps and others.
These kids would return after four years with experiences that'll stick with them for the rest of their lives. Heck, I'm even trying to get my nephew interested in Up with People, a nonprofit that combines international travel, service learning, leadership development and performing arts.
I'm not advocating the dissolution of the hyphenated American, but I want people to understand the slippery slope we've allowed to develop.
What happens when an African-American marries a Japanese-American and has a son, while a Korean-American marries a German-American and has a daughter? Then, with a small nudge of fate, this boy and girl meet, fall in love and marry. You tell me, which circle do their children fill in during the next census? Any reason "just plain ol' American" can't be a choice? I'm just thinking out loud here. Happy March.
Scoba Rhodes is a U.S. Navy veteran and author of Rules of Engagement: A Self-Help Guide for Those Overcoming Major Personal Trauma.
The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the position of Paralyzed Veterans of America.