When I was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950's, the product of an immigrant family which had pulled itself out of poverty in two generations, there was one image that stood out in my mind that captured most why I was proud to be an American.
It was the picture of a US soldier, walking in a war torn country, with his arm around a terrified child, reassuring him that he was finally safe.
What it suggested to me was that the powerful, wealthy country I lived in was a force for good in the world, using its wealth and power to help people being persecuted and impoverished and save them from dictators. It gave me added motivation to try to excel in school and in sports so that I become part of the leadership of this great nation
I would learn, as the Civil Rights movement erupted and as the war in Vietnam unfolded, that this image was only one part of a much more complicated and troubled history, but the ideal reflected in the photo was one I still kept close to my heart
Now segue to the present. The most powerful image of the US we have been presented with in the last few months is of children in cages and courtrooms, crying as they have been separated from their parents. They have the same haunted look in their eyes as the children being comforted by GI's in the photos from the 1940's and 1950's, but this time it is Americans, including Americans in uniform, responsible for their pain.
What does this image say to my counterparts today, impressionable young people trying to figure out their place in the country of their birth? What does it say to people around the world trying to make sense of what the United States stands for.
Have the people of this country become so cynical and angry that they are comfortable with the United States inflicting cruelty on children rather than healing their pain? Are they prepared for the US to be seen as the latest installment of the dictators we fought in World War 2.
Make no mistake about it, children in cages, and Donald Trump's angry words and contorted face, define this country to America's youth and the people of the world, the way images of GI Generosity and JFK's inspiring image and words once did.
How the mighty have fallen?
Will we fall further still?
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