What it means to me to be an American

I am an adopted American. If the language allowed, I’d be a native born immigrant.

I was born on January 22, 1973, in Ogden. That same day, the Supreme Court of the United States passed down the Roe v. Wade decision, legalizing abortion.

Given my career as a conservative radio talk-show host and opinion columnist, this was an unnecessarily ironic coincidence.

At the age of 2, I moved with my family to West Germany. At the height of the Cold War, my father, a newly minted Second Lieutenant in the Cavalry, patrolled the Czechoslovakian-West German border with his tank platoon.

Even during peacetime, military life is a hazardous. Tanks combine the worst aspects of driving heavy machinery, along with the joys of carrying live ammunition. My father’s sole responsibility, should the balloon go up and T72s head for Paris, was to survive long enough to make one radio call, letting the rest of the Army know that the Warsaw Pact had invaded. In that eventuality, his platoon’s casualties in the first 10 minutes of combat were estimated to be 70 percent.

As a 2-year-old, I knew nothing of this. My earliest memories are of me sitting at a table in our apartment in the small West German town of Tielheim.

My mother had a copy of a first-grade reading workbook. She showed me how to fill out the spaces on the first page and then left me alone. I taught myself to read at the age of two.

By the time I was in grade school, I had progressed to reading “real books.” My first was Robert Heinlein’s Space Cadet. In third grade, I read The Lord of the Rings. When challenged, I could discuss details of the plot and character, sometimes better than the adults doing the questioning.

This was 1980, just as Jimmy Carter was leaving and Ronald Reagan was being inaugurated. We prayed for the hostages to be returned from Iran. I knew nothing of politics, but nearly all the military supported Reagan over Carter.

In Germany, we had one television station in English-the Armed Forces Network. If you wanted to watch TV, you watched AFN or nothing at all. My father subscribed to a few magazines, including those from our church, National Geographic and Boys Life. Movies were a rare treat because my family couldn’t afford to go very often.

My time in Europe-eight years in all-was enriching and isolating. We visited a great many countries, learning all about Europe, but I learned almost nothing about American culture.

I visited castles and keeps. I saw the dikes and windmills of Holland. I remember the red double-decker buses of London. I visited Venice, saw Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel, and went to St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Vatican City, Rome. I skied the Alps. I visited two concentration camps, in Bergen-Belsen and Dachau. The ovens that burned the bodies of the dead haunt me still.

The border between Germany and the Soviet bloc was called the Iron Curtain. I visited that as well. I saw fences, guard dogs and machine gun nests, all designed to keep an entire nation enslaved. We traveled to West Berlin, an outpost of freedom in the midst of tyranny. The East Germans didn’t even control the border of their own country-Soviet troops manned all checkpoints. I saw the Berlin Wall.

In 1984, we moved back to America, to Kentucky. I was suddenly immersed in a foreign culture-my family got cable TV. Instead of one channel, we had 40. My first glimpse of American television was of Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk on MTV. After that, I grew up with MTV.

I went to parties at my neighbors’ homes, still on base, and learned how to break-dance and to rap, although I was never any good.

In 1988, I moved to Utah, where no one listened to any rap-except for the Beastie Boys. I went to high school, became an Eagle Scout and joined debate and drama.

My man Lee Flake, an migr from Los Angeles, turned me on to old-school rap. I bootlegged his cassettes of Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Mantronix and UTFO. I bought Public Enemy’s “Nation of Millions” from Columbia House (12 for the price of 1!), paying for it with a lawn-mowing job. In the middle of white suburban Utah, I endured high school with Chuck D., Bon Jovi and Axl Rose.

I graduated in 1991 and came to the U on a Presidential Honors at Entrance Scholarship. George Bush was president. That year, America held the Clarence Thomas hearings and the Rodney King riots. I still knew nothing of politics.

For the next six years, I burned through my list of possible careers and majors.

I studied English, Computer Science, Political Science, Pre-Law and History. Liberals introduced me to racism and Rush Limbaugh introduced me to politics. I had five majors, eight minors and became a four time college dropout.

In between bouts of college, I worked for three Internet service providers, Matrixx Marketing and Chick-Fil-A. I applied for credit cards, got them and spent more money than I care to remember.

In 1996, I moved to Salt Lake City, lost my job and spent the next year slowly starving. I ate only pizza and ramen noodles-pizza because I worked at a pizza restaurant and so I got it for free, ramen because it was almost cheap enough to buy. I had to price-shop for ramen and there were months when I couldn’t afford any.

In 1997, I moved to Ogden and enrolled at Weber State. I was on my own and couldn’t find a job for six weeks. I made rent and food money by selling nearly every valuable I had, including my library of books and my CD collection. I sold everything I could. I had nothing left, but at least I ate.

I got into talk radio by accident-a friend invited me to do a show with him during summer break. We spent three months together, then broke up over creative differences. I turned solo.

Kelly Hammer, a Salt Lake City DJ, told me I needed to be doing this on a real station. I moved to Salt Lake, enrolled at the U and became a talk show host. In 2001, the Salt Lake City Weekly named me as one of the 150 Best Things About Utah. I got to be the keynote speaker at the Utah Libertarian Party state convention. (I am not a libertarian.)

This year, I will graduate, at the age of 31. I end college where I began it-at the U.

It’s hard to point to different bits of your life and say what you learned and when. All I know is that America is the greatest country in the world. For 50 years, America was the shield protecting the free world from slavery. We defeated fascism. We ended communism.

I never knew what America was until I moved here, but I cannot help but love this country.

We have our faults and our imperfections, but they are far outweighed by our greatness. In a world of cynicism and cowardice, Americans are sincere and brave.

We represent the best of humanity, a state all of humanity can aspire to. In dark times, we are a beacon to the hopeless. We are a rebuke to the despot. We are a refuge for the downtrodden. I love this nation, and I would give all my life to defend her.

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