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5.0 out of 5 stars Praise for Heart of the Nation!, December 15, 2011
This review is from: Heart of the Nation: 9/11 & America's Civic Spirit (Paperback)
Heart of the Nation, 9/11 & America's Civic Spirit by John M. Bridgeland provides a compelling insight into the human condition of the United States after the tragedy of 9/11. A senior official under the Bush administration, John Bridgeland served as Assistant to the President, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Director of the USA Freedom Corps. In Heart of the Nation, Bridgeland offers an in depth analysis on the impact of 9/ll and how it has affected the call to serve in America. Throughout the Heart of a Nation, Bridgeland argues for civic service as a vital necessity for America's prosperity as a nation and a society. He passionately defends civic service as an innate feature instilled in each person, and it must be kept alive through active involvement in the community.

Bridgeland introduces the audience to the call to serve by harboring a tragic memory know and felt keenly by each American, 9/11. In his introduction entitled, "Take off your shoes and run", Bridgeland opens the theme of love after loss, out of tragedy, a community is born, as he states, "In the process, we can help ourselves discover the true meaning of the pursuit of happiness." The goal of Heart of Nation is to provide for America with Bridgeland's recollection of 9/11 and how that devastating day would shape policy on civic service there after.

In the first chapter Bridgeland vividly relives for the audience what happened in the White House as the nation was under attack on 9/11. As the nation was experiencing a crisis, Bridgeland explains that he was undergoing a transformation as well. He reveals, "I would find myself at the leading edge of a push to help keep alive a new spirit that was emerging in American culture." Later on in the chapter the author continues to provide an account of the joint effort of the White House staff who were gathered together looking for solutions, including Joe Allbaugh, director of FEMA at the time, and Josh Bolten, White House Deputy Chief of Staff under president Bush. During this time for Bridgeland he focuses on how he anticipated the uprise in civic service that would occur as a response to 9/11. He states that, "The attacks changed the mood of the nation and how we viewed our obligations to each other." Brigdeland begins Heart of a Nation with 9/11 in order to provide the audience with a foundation to build on as he continues to discuss the impact of civic service in the country. He uses 9/11 as a catalyst for the surge of community engagement and service that would come about as a result as the call to help another would be at its peak.

After 9/11 Bridgeland brings to mind the collective efforts to help alleviate the pain felt by the victims, "The reaction was largely spontaneous, and it cut across the city's class lines as New Yorkers of all backgrounds tried to respond. A surprising number of stockbrokers, shopkeepers, artists, and others got involved." The setting for civic service was in place and Bridgeland uses this to introduce the president's pivotal order to the audience that shapes the rest of this book. He describes the day he was summoned by the president who told him, "I want an initiative that will foster a culture of service, citizenship, and responsibility. Get to work." With those words, Bridgeland would arise to a challenge of character, heart, and purpose.

When analyzing the state of service in the nation Bridgeland shares insightful thoughts on service including "A democracy not only depends on active citizens who understand issues, vote, and keep public officials accountable, but also relies on active volunteers who do most of the work of civil society, meeting needs in compassionate ways that no government bureaucracy is ever equipped to meet." Bridgeland wanted to create a policy where community service opportunities were accessible to the community. After conducting research with others, "USA Freedom Corps" was created. The author explains that; "We wanted a `corps' to signify that this was something you could actually join. We wanted to connect it to something larger and meaningful to the times- to reinforce that maintaining our freedom requires some sacrifice. And we wanted to tap the patriotism of Americans in support of a movement for service, citizenship and responsibility." From USA Freedom Corps different sections would branch out including Citizen Corps and Medical Corps, all of these being different opportunities for community service. For Bridglenad, USA Freedom Corps was the remedy to cure the hurt felt by all Americans due to the tragedy of 9/11.

After revealing the plan of USA Freedom Corps Bridgeland discusses the importance of community service for the good of humanity. When interpreting what the founding fathers meant by, "the pursuit of happiness", Bridgeland explains that happiness was not merely felt as a result of receiving or a product of instant gratification. Instead, in the time of the founding fathers happiness was achieved through service. He argues this by offering John Adams' account of what is happiness, "Adams valued public and private charity as the core of a happy life." The author defends the idea that true happiness was in giving to others rather than receiving which why Bridgeland states that "the Declaration of Independence s an argument for self-government, an argument for citizens to be engaged with their government and in the lives of their communities to serve the public interest and to protect the freedoms they are entitled by God to enjoy." With this chapter Bridgeland delves deeper into what it means for Americans to be happy and how the founding fathers intended us to use our liberty through service to others.

In his chapter, "Uncle Sam Wants You", Bridgeland offers a historical context for community in the United States. From Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, John F. Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton to George W. Bush, Bridgeland discusses their programs and policies on civic service and how they impacted the nation. The author discusses the pros and cons of the programs implemented by the presidents, including President Clinton's "AmeriCorps". Bridgeland explains to the audience the controversy that arose out of AmericCorps as it was accused of playing volunteers to work by paying tuition for college students. With these examples Bridgeland is able to state that national service programs even in the face of opposition, it does not have to be costly, funding through nonprofit organizations is more efficient than "having the government create service positions", and lastly, using federal money gives Americans a greater incentive to partake in volunteering efforts.

Towards the end of the book, Bridgeland discusses the end of USA Freedom Corps due to the economic crisis of 2008 and the lack of federal funding available. Bridgeland takes time to meditate on President Bush's impact of civic service on the country after 9/11. Bridgeland defends Bush against the "go shopping myth" made by Frank Pellegrini in his article, "The Bush Speech: How to Rally a Nation", stating that, "he made community and national service a top priority of his administration." Bridgeland ardently refutes Pellegrini's "go shopping myth" by elaborating to the audience President Bush's strong resolve in improving the nation through service. The author also states that while it is the president's duty to the country to strive for excellence in civic service it is also the responsibility to keep it alive themselves through their own participation.

As a final note, Bridgeland leaves the audience with words of support and optimism for America. He strives for America to remain active and involved in the community. Bridgeland states, "Service to others, rallying the armies of compassion, engaging citizens in the maintenance of the health of their Republic, and waking people up to care about the poor and needy are all fundamental to the health and vibrancy of our democracy and are the heart of our nation." Through a dedicated service Bridgeland believes that our nation will fulfill the mission of our founding fathers to a life in quest of the pursuit of happiness.
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