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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A More Perfect Union

Manzanar National Historic Site
It seems to be popular sport these days for those on both the left and right to talk down their country and its future. The left points to racism and gun violence as obvious evidence of our national sin. While the right counters it's an overreaching federal government and international terrorism that signals the country's failure.

But the only way one can truly make this claim is to ignore American history, to be truly ignorant of where we have been and where the country is likely to go.

What does this have to do with national parks, one might ask. When one mentions the term national park, the vast majority of people think of places like Yellowstone and Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Everglades.  National Parks are the location of countless family vacations, where cherished memories are made. National Parks are home to treasured wildlife and spectacular scenery.

If this is all anyone thinks of parks then they have served their purpose. Yet, parks are much more.  National Parks surely tell and protect the positive aspects of our nation's history. But America's story is a complicated one.

Over our more than 240 year history, Americans have made progress such as slavery's abolition, the extension of the franchise to women, and civil rights, and environmental protection. We have established parks that rightly commemorate these accomplishments.

However, America's progress has not been a straight path. We have stumbled and fallen short of the mark. The United States forcibly removed Native Americans from their homes. During World War II, we interred thousands of Americans in camps. At our nation's birth, we enslaved millions condemning countless to a life of toil and misery, and led massacres against women and children.

These are true black marks on America's historical record. 

However, unlike most other countries, America doesn't shy away from its dark stories. Rather, we are a people who want to remember these dark chapters. We learn the lessons of these stories, so that we never repeat these mistakes.

America's founding document is the Constitution. It's opening statement, called the preamble, sets our central goal as "to form a more perfect union." Note the constitution doesn't say the country will form "a perfect union," a noun, a destination. Rather, our purpose is to "form a more perfect union," a verb, it's a process.

This goal is a double edged sword. On the one hand, America will never reach perfection. There is no promised land. Anyone expecting perfection will be disappointed. However, on the other as long as we continue to strive toward perfection, toward bettering ourselves, we attain the goal the founders set for us.

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

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