Monday, July 04, 2005

Hail, America!

Happy Birthday, America!

It's interesting to trace the rise of the disenchantment and cynicism of the Left through the following case study.

In the 1950s, the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters, and the Radio-Electronics-Television Association sponsored the "Voice of Democracy Contest" for high school students to win a $500 college scholarship and a trip to Washington, DC to see Ike.

In 1953, one of the 4 national finalists was Elizabeth "Betsy" Ellen Evans, from Akron, Ohio. Her speech, "I Speak for Democracy", so impressed President Eisenhower that he asked her to recite it for 3,000 businessmen at the national convention of the US Chamber of Commerce.

She was also asked to present it for the Voice of Firestone radio and tv program. Interest in the essay exploded, with over a million requests for reprints. It became a national phenomenon. My mother, for example, remembers presenting that speech as a schoolgirl the next year as part of a choral speaking production.

There is an old vinyl album, long out of print, called "Hail, America!" It was a collection of patriotic songs, and included one Edmond O'Brien reciting a modified version of the speech, adpated for musical presentation by Adrian Michaaelis (so it didn't quite sound like a high-schooler wrote it) to music composed by Carmen Dragon.

The text of the re-written version as performed on "Hail, America!" can be found here or here.

The original version (more defiantly) begins,
I am an American.
Listen to my words, Fascist, Communist.
Listen well, for my county is a strong country,
and my message is a strong message.
I am an American, and I speak for democracy.

My ancestors have left their blood
on the green at Lexington and the snow at Valley Forge,
on the walls of Fort Sumter and the fields at Gettysburg,
on the waters of the River Marne
and in the shadows of the Argonne Forest,
on the beachheads of Salerno and Normandy
and the sands of Okinawa,
on the bare bleak hills called
Pork Chop
and Old Baldy
and Heartbreak Ridge.
A million and more of my countrymen have died for freedom.
My country is their eternal monument.
I would note that today's schoolkids would probably not understand 90% of the geographical and historical references made above! Which is clearly part of the problem today.

There follows a moving catalog of Mom & Apple Pie Americana, a tribute to the farming and industrial might of the heartland, and a celebration Jew, Catholic, and Protestant all worshipping freely in their own manner. Closing with pride in 1950s advances in consumer goods, such as orlon fabric and aureomycin antibiotics, the original speech ends,
This is my answer, Fascist, Communist!
Show me a country greater than our country,
Show me a people more energetic, creative, progressive --
bigger-hearted and happier than our people.
Not until then will I consider your way of life.
For I am an American,
and I speak for democracy.
The professionally re-written version, which tightens up the speech (by not taking a detour to dwell on the gladness of the "Jew fischrier on Maxwell St.", for example), ends instead:
I am an American...and these are my words.
Show me now a country greater than my country,
A people happier than my people.
I am an American...
I speak for democracy and the dignity of the individual.
Now, fast-forward to 1970.

The speech is still being heard, but people are forgetting about it. A Knoxville, TN schoolgirl named Susan Huskisson finds it in a school speech-book, and recites it at the Billy Graham East Tennessee Crusade. It impresses the Reverend so much that he asks her to recite it on the steps of the Lincoln Monument at the Honor America Day rally.

This prompts reporter Charles S. Montague to find what has become of the author, Elizabeth Ellen Evans, who now 17 years later is Mrs. John J. Toland and finds the whole thing embarassing, and something she'd "like to forget."

"My Patriotic Essay Not Relevant Now" is the headline of this news story, in response to the speech's recitation for Honor America Day. Mrs. Toland is quoted as saying,
It's dated. My essay represents the view of American that many, many people held in 1953. And I shared that view. But somewhere around 1960 -- and John Kennedy -- this country moved from an age of content to an age of concern...It's not relevant now that we are far more aware of our national problems and our fallibility.
So Betsy Evans, "All-American high-school girl," became Elizabeth Toland, "concerned American", wife of the head of the sociology department at Towson State College, and a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

Somehow, because of "fallibility", we are now to express a sophisticated disgust, or at least suspicion, of America. Somehow those foreigners to whose wisdon we will be deferring are infallible, I suppose. It was the new age of the sensitively cynical.

I had thought albums like "Hail, America!" weren't made anymore, until I came across "Salute!" which features WW2-era music performed by contemporary artists such as Darryl Tookes, Crystal Gayle, The Judds, LeAnn Rimes, and Marie Osmond. Better yet,
The Tribute Album features popular songs from the World War II era performed by some of America’s leading contemporary recording artists. The mission of The Tribute Album is to provide a lasting tribute to the exceptional generation of Americans who served both in the trenches as well as on the home front through a pivotal moment of American history. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the Album will be donated to the American Experience Foundation to benefit America’s veterans. Charles Osgood and Senator Bob Dole wrote the album’s liner notes.

Rod McBrien was inspired to produce the Tribute Album when asked to create a fundraiser for the World War II Memorial. Senator Bob Dole, while spearheading the efforts to build the Memorial, was instrumental in encouraging the production of the The Tribute Album. President Bill Clinton, who signed the law authorizing the establishment of the National World War II Memorial, also lent his support.
Happy Birthday, America!

3 Comments:

Blogger Amber said...

Funny thing, or fortuitous perhaps...here I am researching a record album I found called...Hail America! I haven't heard it yet and had no way of knowing what was on it, since there is a vast black hole out there of information.
So, thank you for your detailed info on this album.
Very cool!
Amber

8:24 PM, November 19, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also recited this speech in Junior High (1956). It still goes over & over in my head.
What is hapening to America!
Pat

7:29 AM, December 16, 2010  
Blogger Bob Mendoza said...

I recited this speech in 1954 at my 8th grade graduation and I have always remembered it.
I speak for Democracy was true then and is even truer now. I was proud then to be an American
and I'm even prouder now.
Bob M 11/5/16 San Mateo, Ca......

7:40 PM, November 05, 2016  

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