Jewish World Review Dec. 21, 2001 / 6 Teves, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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Consumer Reports

'American Patriots': Book
That's a Gift for All Seasons -- IN our nation, we maintain a dynamic relationship to reality. We keep tinkering with what was handed to us. Our nature as a society is to aspire to order on the one hand but, on the other, to challenge convention when we are convinced that the way we are living is not up to certain ideals about democracy and fairness.

So we keep trying to figure out which way we should go, based upon what we now know.

In that regard, I have been looking at Gail Buckley's "American Patriots," a book that I think those of you who believe in giving books as presents might consider. It celebrates our nation while questioning its shortcomings. There is a special grandeur to it, and a seriousness that rises above any kind of superficial sense of our lives and our history.

"American Patriots," as the subtitle says, is the story of "Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm." In today's climate of national affirmation, that title has particular resonance, because Sept. 11 woke a number of black people up. This was especially true of those who were narcotized by ethnic narcissism and all the half-baked hostilities passed on to them by others within their group who have made claims based on Negroes "not being Americans" or being "Africans lost in America."

Buckley will have none of that. Nor will she pretend that the racial conventions of American life - through slavery, segregation and everything else that blocked complete access - did not exist. She lays it down like it was but perceives the role of black people in America's military as a heroic one, a role forged in the flame of battle. It is a role that demanded another level of discipline from people who were not treated fairly for quite some time.

In that respect, Buckley lets us know that black Americans not only had to fight their way into the Constitution, but that every right that eventually was achieved was earned with blood, courage and will. No other group, she makes it clear, has more of a right - or should be more proud - to call themselves Americans.

For all the terrible stories told about black military experiences, one does not end up feeling sorry for the people she singles out. A reader comes to understand, yet again, the long heroic lines that define black Americans at their very best. One may come to see in the details just how unfairly they may have been treated, but one also watches them inching their way up, from outside to inside to the top of the inside when Gen. Colin Powell heads up the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In this holiday season, with so much to think about and, perhaps, so many challenges yet to face, this book is an essential addition to our collective identity as Americans. Pick this one up for your friends, for your children, for you.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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11/29/01: Modern-day abolitionists need help
11/27/01: bin Laden has exposed hard truths
11/20/01: Facing the hard truth about Africa & slavery
11/13/01: Let military run security for air travel
10/23/01: The media, where threats to flesh and blood have little meaning
10/17/01: Red, White Blue, black and white
10/11/01: We stand armed with compassion
10/05/01: Drawing the line on racial profiling
09/14/01: Let's rise above worst instincts
09/07/01: HBO's now big shaper of culture
08/21/01: Is Sharpton a changed man?
08/03/01: A writer misuses the great Louis Armstrong
07/20/01: When murder is justified
07/06/01: America's democracy has a music to it
06/29/01: The soul and pluck of women are to this nation's development
06/22/01: This history is music to my ears
06/08/01: A School Succeeds, A Union Fails
06/05/01: Sharpton's rise and fall
05/25/01: Third World Unity? Sorry, It's Just a Dream
04/13/01: Two murderers, two twisted fantasies
04/06/01: The problem with art is artists
03/16/01: Bush still has some pretty serious image problems he better address ASAP
03/09/01: Of gangsters, gangstas --- and spin

© 2001, NY Daily News