Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Born in the Wrong Place

"Born American, but in the Wrong Place" by Peter Schramm

Keywords: citizen, kingdom of god, city of god,

Peter W. Schramm is the Executive Director of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs and a Professor of Political Science at Ashland University. He came to the United States from Hungary following the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Schramm was ten years old at the time.

Peter Schramm tells this story...

"Now, with the revolution failing, came the final straw for my Dad. On one of his trips out to secure some bread, a hand grenade landed next to him but, miraculously, it did not go off. The spark that should have set off that grenade set off my father instead. He came home and announced to my mother that that was it. He said he was going to leave the country whether she would come or not. Mom said, "O.K., William. We will come if Peter agrees. Ask Peter."
My mother tells me, though I don’t remember saying this, that I told my father I would follow him to hell if he asked it of me. Fortunately for my eager spirit, hell was exactly what we were trying to escape and the opposite of what my father sought.

"But where are we going?" I asked.

"We are going to America," my father said.

"Why America?" I prodded.

"Because, son. We were born Americans, but in the wrong place," he replied.

My father said that as naturally as if I had asked him what was the color of the sky. It was so obvious to him why we should head for America. There was really no other option in his mind. What was obvious to him, unfortunately, took me nearly 20 years to learn. But then, I had to "un-learn" a lot of things along the way. How is it that this simple man who had none of the benefits or luxuries of freedom and so-called "education" understood this truth so deeply and so purely and expressed it so beautifully? It has something to do with the self-evidence, as Jefferson put it, of America’s principles. Of course, he hadn’t studied Jefferson or America’s Declaration of Independence, but he had come to know deep in his heart the meaning of tyranny. And he hungered for its opposite. The embodiment of those self-evident truths and of justice in America was an undeniable fact to souls suffering under oppression. And while a professor at Harvard might have scoffed at the idea of American justice in 1956 (or today, for that matter), my Dad would have scoffed at him. Such a person, Dad would say, had never suffered in a regime of true injustice. America represented to my Dad, as Lincoln put it, "the last, best hope of earth."

I would like to be able to say that this made Dad a remarkable man for his time and his circumstance. For, in many ways, Dad truly is a wonder. But this is not one of them. He was not remarkable in this understanding. Everybody in Hungary—at least everybody who wasn’t a true believer in the Communists—thought that way. For some it was instinct. For others, it was habit or family teaching. For some it was through book learning. Indeed, most Hungarian kids at that time (myself included) had read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Last of the Mohicans, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn. Jefferson understood this too when he penned those famous lines in the Declaration. The wonderful thing about self-evident truths, in a way, is that they don’t have to be taught. Or do they? They don’t have to be taught in the same way, for example, that we teach grammar. It isn’t an artificial order of things that we impose upon ourselves. Still, these truths must be understood. For if they are not fully understood (as they frequently are not by those who take them for granted), they are easily forgotten. Dad just never had the luxury to forget."

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