There is no single concept of what "The American Dream" is, of course. It is different from one generation' to a succeeding generation. And, the Dream is different from one individual to another.
I dab a bit into history, especially family history. Recently I had occasion to write about my two grandfathers, one of whom was a Civil War veteran from Ohio. He died four years before I was born.
Anyway, after that war, he married and in 1867 horses-and-wagon made his way to Nebraska, where he acquired farm land by occupying it five years as per the Homestead Act.
I don't know that he and wife had a special dream, except probably to survive and live a "good life."
But, consider the opportunity factors: readily available land, various on-farm production possibilittes, and an expanding population that became an increasing market.
My other grandfather was not a war veteran. He was an immigrant Englishman whose farm experience rather paralleled those of the other g-father.
The war veteran raised crops (probably corn and wheat), some cattle and probably more than a few
pigs. Our family yarn is that when the nearby railroad was built (probably in early 1890s) he proceeded to ship his pigs via railroad to the meat packers in St. Joe, Missouri, with good monetary returns.
Both grandfathers retired our small Nebraska village, and their $$$-successes enabled them to
found the small-town bank, in 1901. Whatever their earlier dreams might have been, what they achieved surely must have been epitomes of what others might envy.
Consider the circumstances as they followed pathways toward realizing "American Dreams," as compared
with the challenges USA young people and families in 2011. Easily acqired property today? No. Opportunities to exercise one's self-reliance and self-achieve, today? Minimum. A rather small-scale
social environment that encouraged good family life? Today is different -- pressures of today are virtually
unmeasurably greater than in yester-century. The world is smaller, our USA population rather compacted, and the pressures to achieve any sort of personal "American Dream" can be tremendous, especially as technologies keep changing the cultures.
The grandfathers' era coped with the "demon rum" and alcoholism -- in big cities but not in the "rurals." Today's era repeats that, plus the burdens of potential drug addiction -- everywhere, city and rural.
As to wars, the Cuban fracas was minor, and WWI was a quarter-century in the future. Comparison
with the recent and present warfare that cost us human lives and mountainous financial debts. WW II,
Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya (?).
Define "The Amrican Dream" of 2011? Whatever -- for each of our citizenry, one element of it surely has to be "mere survival," doesn't it? Perhaps that is somewhat negative, but it is realistic, too, in this age
of potential nuclear warfare.
On the positive side, surely we all must help plant seeds of hope and nurture them. How? Well, emphasis on education must continuie. The competitive spirit must be encouraged, but with full respect for the dignity and 'belief systems of our fellow man, regardless of whether they are our local neighbors or citizens in a far-off nation.
What's nost important here? As "The American Dream" is being shaped by our young, they absolutely must establish the self-confidence that they can and will succed, as have their forebears.
Merely a hope for survival ? Well, that, of course -- but much, much more !!
-- Paul Dinnis