Reaffirming American values

By, Jean-François Godet-Calogeras

What happened to us? I was born in Europe in the aftermath of World War II. In my native Belgium, my parents had survived five years of Nazi occupation. My father’s two brothers spent those years as prisoners of war in Nazi camps in Germany.
I grew up in the years Europe was re-building itself. And around me, everyone was grateful for the Americans who had come to rescue them from the fascist oppression. In doing so, many of those Americans, thousands of them, lost their lives and are buried in my home country. I visited their cemeteries.
Americans continued to help. During my early years, cars bore the names of Ford and Chevrolet. Household appliances were from Hoover and General Electric. America was the symbol of a better world, a world where maybe freedom and justice had gone further than in the Old World.
I moved to this country a little over 25 years ago, not because I was unhappy or in dire straits in Europe, but simply because I wanted to marry the woman I love and who happened to be American.
I knew I was also moving to a great country; not perfect (I am an historian and know too well that such country does not exist), but a great country with great people, friendly people, generous people. So, I settled here, first as a resident, then as a citizen.
When I became a citizen, not only was I proud, but my parents were proud, because we all knew the foundational values of this great country. Those values are all written, clearly written, in the first paragraph of the Constitution of the United States of America: “We, the People…” A wonderful paragraph, a citizen’s creed, where every single word matters.
And now we are at a point I would never have thought possible after all that happened in the past: hearing about whiteness and white supremacy; watching violence perpetrated by people bearing Nazi helmets and flying swastika flags; screaming words of hatred; harming and even killing other people. What happened to us?
I have always believed in a just and peaceful world. Oh! I am not naïve, I know that we still have to work at it. But I am a Franciscan, a Christian, follower of Francis of Assisi and Jesus of Nazareth. So is my wife. We have been working with others to build a society where nobody would be excluded, a society where we would be happy to care for each other as sisters and brothers. It seems that we haven’t done much yet, since it is clear that a lot still needs to be done.

jefgocal@sbu.edu

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