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While American exceptionalism is a lightning rod issue, we may be able to find some common ground asking simply, "what makes America great?"

The US Naval Academy class of 2002 was the first class to graduate from that institution following 9-11. They've recently published a book which Tom Brokaw has says is a "must read for all Americans"

The title of the book, "In the Shadow of Greatness", alludes to several ideas:

1. The Greatest Generation and American veterans who have gone before us have cast a great shadow. We continue to be inspired by them, honor them and remember them. We endeavor to live up to their example, to stand on their shoulders and do great things for our own generation and the next.

2. The events of 9-11 brought the cause of our generation into focus - a war on terror - but this proved to be a shadowy war, unlike the black and white distinctions of World War II. We've been struggling to act heroically in the face of uncertainty. The stories in "The Shadow of Greatness" capture this hope and will inspire others to do likewise.

3. When we headed off to college, we shrugged off the generalizations about Gen X and Millennials having ambivalent attitudes and short attention spans. We wanted to cast our own shadow. We have, and you have.

Now that the book is complete, the class would like to encourage a serious dialogue about the enduring qualities that make America great.


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  • Sep 6 2012: Robert, TED Lover, Fritzie,

    Thanks for engaging the question. I am one of the editors and contributors for the book, and I suggested the title. To answer TED Lover's question, we would love to hear feedback from a pacifist. You might even find even find a resonant voice in the book.

    What do you guys think of this video clip from HBO? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h__uutzcQXc

    The Greatest Generation is a label that was given to that generation as an honor, in addition to other labels that were not quite so flattering. It is hyperbole, no doubt, as most honorifics are. The concept that I am trying to grapple with in this thread with your noble minds in company, is specifically what qualities that generation had which were great, and whether those same qualities endure in America.

    The Greatest Generation, as some call them, exhibited bravery, resolve, strategic skill, and a certain moral code. When they returned from war, many educated themselves and became leading members of local communities. Both of my grandfathers are in this group. Both of my grandmothers were war brides, married at 16. Both couples, in my personal story, cast a long shadow despite and personal failings they might have had.

    A different issue, but an interesting one, is the valuation of certain national pride exports. Should we say that the thing that makes Belgium great is its waffles or beer? Should America be the great exporter of fast food and Hollywood? Some would argue that these exports are a great aspect of every country, and that the relative greatness of a country is related to the greatness of their products. We are a nation of innovators, and despite falling metrics in so many fields, we continue to score high in patents. Does this say something about the American spirit and future?

    The website for the book is www.shadowofgreatness.com
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      Sep 6 2012: Graham,

      Great clip! I'm a big fan of the series!

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