By the accidents of my life, I celebrated July 4th, 2004 in Mosul, Iraq. And I have celebrated July 4th in Romania ever since, including today, as I sit at my favorite pizzeria in Bucharest, sipping red wine and reflecting on it all.
I love the fact that our Founding Fathers, in the very Preamble of our Constitution, denied us the arrogance of ever being able to assert that our Nation is "perfect":
"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union..."
It was not perfect then. It is not perfect now. It will never be perfect.
The very fact that they wrote into our Constitution the ability to amend it shows that they knew it should be a dynamic document through which we strive to ever press toward that perfection of unity and justice in which the people deserve to live and thrive.
This willingness to accept that the American Experiment is a work in progress is also stated in the hymn "America the Beautiful":
God mend mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self-control
They liberty in law.
As I reflect on all this at a pizzeria in Bucharest, Romania, I am compelled to express the story of how the United States, in my opinion, once failed miserably in both her principles and obligations, but also of how she has rectified them today.
Fascist Romania Switches Sides in the Middle of the War
A Fascist Coup had taken control of Romania. King Michael was a mere puppet as the country fought alongside the Nazis.
The Americans bombed refineries in Pitești, Romania that I drove past just yesterday, because those facilities were providing the Axis cause with a great deal of its gasoline.
King Michael, arguably the last head of state to actually wage war as a combatant, was a participant in a Counter-Coup that overthrew the Fascists.
They ordered Romania to turn armaments around to now attack the Nazis.
And they had one stated hope. That when it was all over, the Americans would protect them from the Russians.
Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin agreed to something else for the Romanians at the Summit of Yalta.
When the war ended, the Communists had free hand to take over the state. King Michael would abdicate and flee.
The Time of the Communists
Little known is the fact that serious anti-Communist insurgencies raged within Romania for twenty years. They were finally suppressed brutally by 1962.
My novel A Place of Brightness tells the story of one such family, as they waged a guerrilla war against Communist forces in Romania and then had to regroup for a modern resurgence of their struggle.
A Founded Hope Expressed Through a Joke
A dear friend of mine here in Romania is a former naval officer. He told me what is perhaps the smartest and most clever joke I have ever heard. It plays off linguistic double entendres and national dreams.
During the time of the Communists, my friend tells me, the following joke was told.
To understand the joke properly, here is key information:
The word "vin" means simultaneously "wine" and "(they) come"
The verb "a se căra" means "to leave" and the noun "secară" means "an alcoholic beverage produced from grains."
The joke goes as follows:
De ce Rușii beau vodka si no se-cadă, dar Americanii beau Uiskii și nu vin?
Here's one translation, focusing on the beverages:
"Why do Russians drink vodka, but not 'alcoholic beverage produced from grains', but the Americans drink whisky but not wine?"
Here's another understanding of the exact same sounds, this time focusing on the potentially understood verbs:
"Why do Russians drink vodka but they don't leave, but Americans drink whisky but they don't come?"
The American Response
Churchill once said that "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else."
We didn't do the right thing at Yalta (he didn't either). Understandably, we were all tired of war. But we consigned millions of people to Soviet domination. And let's be honest. We had the bomb. They did not. I'm not saying we should have dropped it on them. But we were obviously in a position of strength.
The Cold War we decided upon instead would eventually result in the deaths of 33,000 US soldiers in Korea and 47,000 US soldiers in Vietnam. We will never know how many people total would have died, or what the world would look like today if we had pressed our advantage and seized Eastern Europe. Would the Far East Wars have even then happened? No one can tell.
And for these Romanians, and the others in Eastern Europe who struggled under Soviet Domination, there would be decades in which the Church was bitterly suppressed, freedom of expression was non-existent, and hope was all but lost.
Eastern Europe Today, July 4th, 2016
I sit in a bustling pizzeria in Bucharest, Romania. These people want what all of us want. They want to enjoy their lives and raise families with opportunities, in prosperity and freedom.
And these people have made an historical decision. They have joined NATO. They have sent soldiers to fight and die in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a sign of their commitment to us.
We have sizable US bases now in Romania, the land we once surrendered to Stalin to avoid further conflict after WWII. They have invited us here because they have chosen representative government, freedom of expression, and they are not turning back.
And so, as I sit here, watching them eat their pizza and going about their lives, I have tears in my eyes for all they endured as a result of the failings of our "Imperfect Union." But we are making it right.
And I am proud to share my July 4th with them...