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Matthews: Where did 'America' go?

Let me finish tonight with a phrase you don't hear these days – “war effort.”It's when a country gets together in common purpose to support a war.

Let me finish tonight with a phrase you don't hear these days – “war effort.”

It's when a country gets together in common purpose to support a war. Not everyone is at the front - some are in support of the fighting forces - some are back home doing the work that speeds the victory. Some are Hollywood stars out selling war bonds. Millions more are buying those bonds or collecting scrap metal or accepting rationing or higher taxes but all in it together, keeping up with the war news, hoping for our forces to carry the day, doing our bit.

This spirit captured in that phrase "war effort" is as foreign to us now as those old newsreels at the movie theater. I wonder if this isn't that essential force and feeling that is missing in this country today. The sense of common cause, of being in this thing together and being willing to accept the burden as well as the freedoms and, even today, familiar joys of what is a uniquely American life.

I wonder on these days before 9/11/11, if this thing that is missing in America today is "America" itself. That America that got us through the Great Depression and World War II and, yes, through the really perilous days of the Cold War - when we really did fear a nuclear exchange, the thought of which enfeebles the human imagination for horror.

Where'd we lose it?  Where'd it go, this "America," this national soul whose absence leaves our daily sense of this country seem today so soulless?

How did we get to be just a clattering clash of separate interests who identify not as a country but as fighting legions - labor, minorities, rich people who want, above all, to guard their treasure, angry classes facing off against each other - making each other's days by the latest offense taken?

I want to take this moment to recall that there have been times - even in the early part of a century - when we stood proudly and strangely happy together. When the young and better off cheered the passing fire truck, when our eyes glistened again and again in thought of that guy running up the stairs of the World Trade Tower when we were all running down, when people's first impulse - against all self-interest - was to rush to those towers and to the flaming Pentagon and to the cockpit of Flight 93 knowing that plane could take only so much chaos and hell aboard before it too crashed - but not on the U.S. Capitol - treasured by us even now as the symbol of our self-government and dignity and honor as a people. 

How can we fear even a dangerous world when we have fellow countrymen? I’ll say it now as I said it then: how much better I feel about being an American when it is that fact - being an American - not anything else - that we most proudly wish to feel.