Are you proud of your country? That is the question that thousands of Iowa middle school students answered in a recent essay competition I was invited to judge. The Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW Post 9128 in Bettendorf had the opportunity to judge the nine state finalists. The winner gets to go to the national competition in Washington D.C. in March.
On Wednesday, I sat around a table with the other judges paging through each of the entries. The students all wrote about how proud they were to be an American, even if the country is not perfect. They wrote about the freedom and rights Americans have compared to other parts of the world. As I read why the students were or were not proud of their country, I couldn't help but think of crazy images I had seen on the morning news that day. It was of North Koreans supposedly mourning the death of Kim Jong-il. Did you see it? It prompted a lot of questions over whether the dramatic video was staged. After all, the images of the procession were only made available through state-run media (that's all they have for press in North Korea).
We chose our winner based on the amount of research and facts she used to support her argument of why she is proud of her country. Afterwards, still haunted by the images out of Pyongyang, I thought about how I would answer the question, am I proud of my country? My essay would begin with a yes, for this reason, freedom of the press. We may never know exactly what went on the sidelines of the Kim Jong-il's procession and in the crowds of mourners. There was nobody there to objectivity tell the story. That would never happen in America.