An was facing his final moments on earth, Cpt.

An
old man walks down a path through a row of evergreens. He was walking quickly
but stiff. He was marching forward with great intent and purpose as if he was
hunting down something or someone. His family trailed behind him, but his eyes
showed he was not thinking of his family. They were wide open and fixed. Off to
the left was the shore but he neither looked left or right. His body was
determined about moving forward.

            Then, he turned right into a vast
lawn covered with thousands of white crosses. Here and there a gold Jewish star
was added to one of the crosses. The old mans paced quickened as he walked
through the cemetery with his family struggling to keep up behind him. Then,
James Ryan’s determined march stopped in front of a particular cross, the one
of his captain, John W. Miller, with the date June 13, 1944. His eyed were red
and began to water. His knees gave way and he kneeled before the cross; his
family there to support him. He mumbled he was alright and his family stepped
back. Whatever must happen next involved the question that brought him there
that day; the question that had been on his mind his whole life that he now had
to ask of himself.

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            Decades earlier, Captain and his
squad were ordered to find Private Ryan to take him out of the war to save his
mother from loosing all her sons from the war. When they approached Ryan, he
responded with “no,” he was not going to leave his company, his brothers, to secure
the bridge alone. Frustrated, Cpt. Miller’s only solution was to accompany Ryan
and to fight his war and protect him. When the Germans reached the bridge,
Miller did not let Ryan out of his sight.

            No matter how clever their forces
were, they could not hold off the overwhelming German forces forcing them to
retreat. Cpt. Miller took a shot under a rib and an artillery blast nearly
knocked him unconscious. All hope was lost. To save his men, Cpt. Miller took
his gun and began shooting it at a tank that was coming straight toward him.
But then reinforcements came with aircrafts obliterating the tanks and sending
the enemy back from whence they came. Yet, Ryan was in anguish for his rescuer
was facing his final moments on earth, Cpt. Miller. He was alone with him,
watching him struggle and hearing him with his last words say, “Earn this… earn
it.”

            These memories are what brought
James Ryan to the grave marker of his commander that day. As if speaking to him
in person, he tells his captain that everyday he remembered the conversation on
the bridge, of his dying words. He tells him he tried to live the good life and
that he hoped he had “earned it,” that his life was worthy of the sacrifice
Cpt. Miller made. However, he felt that the question was unanswered and asked
his wife “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” Confused and
flustered but not wanting to delay in her reply, she told him yes. And with
that before they left, Privat James Ryan stood at attention and saluted his
fallen comrade good bye. (Colcon, Charles 3-7)

            What is the Good Life or the
American Dream? The answer is different for everyone; there is no
one-size-fits-all answer. But there is a general standard for what the Good
Life/ American Dream looks like. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary,
the American Dream is “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans
as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working
hard and becoming successful. With good jobs, a nice house, two children, and
plenty of money, they believed they were living the American dream.”
(Merriam Webster) This concept revolves around the search for truth; whether
the dream is accessible or out of reach; whether or not it builds up or
destroys us. The real question is “what is good about life” and “what is life
worth.” The American Dream has become a pie in the sky we can hardly reach; a
striving toward an unrealistic utopian mirage.

            “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of
Happiness” (Declaration of Independence). This is what the Founding Fathers
wanted our government to protect. The Dream of America that can be supported by
the government. The Dream of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That
is what our Founding Fathers intended for the government to do; provide a way
for everyone to work towards the goal of their dreams. It was not a guarantee
of having a good life (Kimberly, Amadeo). It also means, that to strive for
happiness is not self-indulging but rather creative and ambitious for a better
life (Kimberly, Amadeo). This is what drove our economy. We sought to do better
than the generation before us.  The
adage, “necessity is the mother of invention” is the basic force that drove the
industrial revolution. The American Industrial Revolution took that motto to a
whole new level and moved our rural society up to a consumer economy. “The
American Industrial Revolution announced the arrival and predominance of
capitalism, an economic principle that Adam Smith theorized in “Wealth of
Nations,” and that Karl Marx elaborated upon in his magnum opus, “Capital.” (Matus,
Douglas) We were becoming an economic power and our culture was a mix of
traditional and modern progress. This changed American lives. (Matus, Douglas)
Our nation made the shift from the simple ideal of freedom and opportunity to
the dream of personal wealth and power.

In
1849 came the California Gold Rush. As more and more people “rushed” west for
gold, some found a rare source of income, the mining industry boomed, and work
was needed. Mining was no longer individual. Millions of dollars were collected
through mining, once again growing our economy but with an element of personal
and corporate greed. (History) It would be a short-lived surge followed by the
devastation of the Civil War. Many people thought the dream had died but slowly
we emerged like a phoenix from the ashes and rebuilt into a new century.

            The Great Depression propelled us into another downhill
spiral. The stock market crashed, and the economy went down. “We forgot how
extreme that crisis was for those who lived it. Asked whether there had been
anything like the Great Depression before,’ John Maynard Keynes replied, ‘Yes,
it was called the Dark Ages, and it lasted 400 years.’ Democracy itself was in
the dock, the American Dream a seemingly failed idea.” (Meacham, Jon) This is
where the seeds of the original American Dream began to take root again, but
they sprouted in a different direction. America was in a situation where the
dream that they had continually sacrificed and worked for had been snatched
from them by circumstances beyond their control. Our economy was in such a deep
hole, and the people felt that we couldn’t reach the surface and that the
American Dream was gone. But there was a glimmer of
hope. Franklin D. Roosevelt knew the people could not do it by themselves but
with some incentives and government work projects, they could regain their
morale and be able to make a new start. (American Radio Works). “We have
come to a clear realization of the fact… that true individual freedom cannot
exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free
men. People who are hungry, people who are out of a job are the stuff of which
dictatorships are made.” (American Radio Works) Through government aid, the
nation was able to create a new dream. They were headed in a new direction; a
direction that expected the government to get them to their dream (Meacham,
Jon). There was going to be a need to “”strengthened the Dream to protect
America from Nazism, socialism
or communism.”(Amadeo,
Kimberly)

            “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life
should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each
according to ability or achievement.” (Amadeo, Kimberly) But that dream for
everyone actually did not include everyone. The Civil Rights Movement brought out the difference of race and who deserved the
American Dream/Good Life. There was a struggle between races about the
definition of equality and the rights of American citizens. Martin Luther
King Jr. once said, “This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the
South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of
despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the
jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With
this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle
together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing
that we will be free one day.” (UShistory.org) This inspired the dream of
equality as a community. To reach a state in which all men are truly created
(and treated) equally. It wasn’t until 1964, when the government enacted the Civil Rights Act that ended segregation between race,
sex, color, religion, or national origin. (History.com)

            The American Dream has now taken a different turn. For
example, education in America. The Dream of Education no longer guarantees the
success of the former generation. 61% of students are taking out student’s
loans because they cannot afford college (Snyder, Michael). This is due to the
fact that one, more and more students are coming from low income homes (ibid)
and two, most graduates do not have the basic knowledge of how to finance (M.
Carter, Shawn). “Approximately 53% of all U.S. college graduates under the age
of 25 were either unemployed or underemployed last year” (Snyder, Michael). This
privilege as Americans is slowly becoming difficult to grasp.

            The American Dream of having a good supporting job is
becoming hard to grasp as well. Rising costs and government spending makes
workers insecure about their financial future. 
Jessica Dickler said, “More Americans also credit determination and hard
work as the most important success factors in their financial well-being than
in the report’s recent history.” However, we find that 54% of people would say
they are financially unstable compared to 45% who would say they are stable
(Dickler, Jessica). “Approximately one out of every four part-time workers in
America is living below the poverty line” and only 47% of adults in America are
working full-time (Snyder, Michael). As I previously mentioned, there are more
and more low-income homes and because of low income 42% of Americans are living
paycheck to paycheck. From the years 1969 to 2009, a study showed that the
wages for men between the ages 30 to 50 shrunk to 27% (Snyder, Michael). We
have been promised something that not all of Americans can receive.

            Along with the American Dream was promised the American
way of living. But that “white picket fence” is no longer a reality. A survey
revealed that 40% of Americans do not own homes and 50% of Millennials rent.
“According to the survey, owning a home remains a vital goal. Two-thirds of
millennial renters view homeownership as important to the American Dream.
Millennials are 29 percent more likely than baby boomers to see a home as an
achievement that reflects hard work” (M. Carter, Shawn). However, achieving
that goal has become arborous. 48% of Americans are either low-income families
or families living in poverty. Americans living in homes with at least one
person receiving Financial benefits from the government has come to 49.1%.
Americans are at the point where they are relying too much on the world because
they cannot provide for themselves.

            One thing the American Dream depends on is the
Government. But is the Government paving the way or paying the way for the
Dream? “At this point, more than 49 percent of all Americans
receive benefits from the federal government each month.  The percentage
of Americans that cannot financially take care of themselves is rising every
single year, and our independence is being whittled away as we become
increasingly dependent on the government” (Snyder, Michael). The number of
people on food stamps has increased since 2000. It has gone up from 17 million
to more than 47 million people. About 82.4 million people in America are
enrolled in Medicaid (ibid). The percentage of Americans collecting financial
aid from the government is at 49.1% (ibid).

            We have come to the idea that the American Dream/ Good
Life is either lost or dead. “Fewer than one in five Americans feel like
they’re living the American Dream, according to Hearth Insights’ 2017 State of
the American Dream Report, which surveyed 2,000 people” (M. Carter Shawn).  When it comes to the dream, Baby Boomers are
more likely to feel like they are living the American Dream than Millennials
because of the state of the economy then versus now (Snyder, Michael).  This is due to the fact that the increase in
inflation does not meet with the pace of income. It is harder to live the
American Dream because we cannot afford it.

            Debt has become acceptable in society. Because so many students
are taking out loans, it has become a social norm to do so which leads to
student debt. “Fifty-seven percent of those polled said easy credit encourages
people to spend beyond their means, ultimately burdening them with high levels
of debt and years of interest payments, compared to just 36 percent who said it
makes it possible to pay for college, start a business, buy a car and purchase
a home” (Dickler, Jessica).