Let us not, on this Independence Day weekend, dwell on the political pretenders to patriotism rushing to out-proclaim their love of country. Nor let us pay heed to the sneering movie directors and journalism pooh-bahs allergic to red, white and blue.
Instead, I'd like to share a bit of a special interview with a true Hollywood freedom-lover. Last week, my friend Melanie Morgan of Move America Forward and I co-hosted a special Internet telethon on Ustream.tv to raise money for care packages to send to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The effort yielded more than $1.1 million, thanks to thousands of generous donors across the country. Among the special guests who contributed time and resources was musician John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting.
New Yorkers have a special place in their heart for Ondrasik's work. His poignant song "Superman (It's Not Easy)" became an anthem for the first responders on the frontlines during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Military families across the country have adopted his song "Freedom Never Cries" as their own anthem. Ondrasik, who has participated in several USO tours, has produced and donated thousands of CDs for the troops -- as well as supported several pro-military charities through his website, www.whatkindofworlddoyouwant.com.
Plain-spoken and humble, the multi-talented Ondrasik told us why he was motivated to get involved in supporting American troops: "I think it's as important now to recognize our troops now that they're kind of off the front page and not the main story. I think whether it's wartime or peacetime, we have to constantly recognize their efforts, their families' efforts -- and music is one way to do that."
Where did his sense of patriotism come from?
"I have no family members who are in the military and not a lot of friends who've joined the military. Frankly, to me, it's just common sense. In our business, we make a living off liberty and freedom of speech. The world my children are going to grow up in, their opportunit[ies], their lives, their safety, are dependent on folks like our soldiers and their families. It's common sense to me. They provide us with everything that we take for granted a lot in this country. You know, that "Freedom Never Cries" video, I think the message of that video, at least for me, is that look, freedom is not free. There is a price that is paid for freedom, and we have to constantly acknowledge that. If we accept that freedom is free and that it's no big deal, I think we're in trouble. And I do think there is some of that mentality pervasive not only in the United States, but in Europe as well."
Ondrasik spoke frankly about anti-Americanism in Hollywood:
"To be honest with you, at times, I'm embarrassed to be part of this industry. There are people [who] do support the troops. A lot of them are under the radar. You don't hear a lot about them because they're going over to Iraq without a camera crew, and they're doing the right thing. Go down the line -- Gary Sinise, Kelsey Grammer, Patti Heaton, folks like that. But as an industry, I do think there's a lot of shame to be left at the doorstep of Hollywood. They make films that disparage the troops. Which is their right. Our troops are very stoic. They understand that. But they're human beings, too. And the art that comes out of Hollywood, the music, affects our perception in the world."
"People across the world are seeing films being made about troops that disparage them, and they're going to think, 'Hey, if they're saying that about themselves, it has to be true.' And I wouldn't be so bothered about it if there were the counterarguments -- you know, films basically showing the good side. You don't see that, and it's frustrating. I think it's to our detriment. And I think we pay a price for that ... I think people do take our troops for granted. They take our freedom for granted. I don't think we have the clarity we need as a country going forward."
Speaking as an American entertainer, Ondrasik talked about his duty to express gratitude for his country and those who defend it: "It is our job, our obligation. We can't pick up a gun, can't drive a tank or fly an aircraft, but I can write a song, and I can speak up, and I think it's important for people to do that."
Hear, hear. Happy 232nd birthday, America. For every blessing of liberty secured by our forefathers and defended by our men and women in uniform on the front lines, we thank you.
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