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Inger Sites’ Take on Personal Identity

The quest of a stronger and more authentic personal identity is one which many people, in different ways, have pondered over the years. Yet, the theme itself is largely undeveloped as a subject of serious study and pursuit.

I recently received a book written by a friend and colleague of my father titled Inger: A Modern-Day Viking Discovers America (published by Scan-Am Communications, PO. Box 669, Ashland, KY 41105, tel: (606) 326-1667, ISBN 1-931672-38-5, hardcover price $25.00; or go to The author is James N. Sites. Upon reading this book, I realized that it was talking about many of the same issues that this web site attempts to elucidate.

James Sites was a journalist and public-relations man who worked in Washington, D.C. He held important positions with trade associations such as the Association of American Railroads, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers, but is perhaps best known as the public-relations assistant to Bill Simon, Secretary of the Treasury in the Ford Administration.

Simon’s outspoken opposition to big government and support of free enterprise, effectively articulated through Sites’ publicity campaign, laid the foundation for the conservative political revolution associated with Ronald Reagan in the following decade. So effective was this campaign that Simon threatened to overshadow President Ford as a political figure. After Simon agreed to discontinue it, Sites became senior vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers when my father retired from that position.

The book is partly about Jim Sites’ career, but, as the title suggests, it is also about his wife, Inger Krogh Sites. The couple met when, shortly after World War II, Inger traveled across the Atlantic ocean on a merchant ship. Its assistant Third Engineer, stationed in the engine room, was Jim Sites. The two met, fell in love, and married, first settling in Detroit and then in Washington D.C., and had two sons.

Inger Sites is the human counterweight to Jim, the public-relations professional. Daughter of a well-known Norwegian opera singer, she came from a cultured family in a country with a long history and strong ethnic identity. The reference to a “modern-day Viking” in the book’s title tells who Inger was in that sense. But Inger also wanted to know who she was in her adopted land. She was keenly interested in what type of people Americans were. What was their national identity? What was the American spirit?

Therefore, this book about Jim and Inger offers a fresh perspective into themes advanced in this website: First, what is the essential American identity? Second, how do people in general discover and develop their own authentic identity? How do they become autonomous individuals, aware of their own personal history and cultural background and therefore able to withstand the efforts of others to encroach upon that realm (of personal identity) that belongs only to themselves? How do they become strong personalities who are able to exist harmoniously with others?

Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, we should count ourselves fortunate to have the written views of Inger Sites who has thought hard about many of the same subjects and reached certain conclusions. Let her point of view be told through the following quotations from the book, topically arranged.

Inger’s Scandinavian heritage

“Pappa ... had a sure, calming touch .. and even at her Ornery Troll orneryest, Inger became gentle as a lamb around him. She cited him so often as the authority on every conceivable thing that, when anything came up, we would ask jokingly: Tell us, Inger, what would Pappa have said about this?” (page 207)

“Most Norwegians, I’ve discovered, consider Swedes formal and stiff. Yet, Inger and I never found them anything but receptive and helpful ... Danes, we’ve also discovered, are considered pleasant on the outside but hard as granite inside. As Inger’s Mamma could well tell you! And how do Swedes and Danes look at Norwegians? As people who are friendly, naive, somewhat out of date .. and with a wide wild streak. This allegedly comes out in the way they drive (think head-on collisions), charge down ski slopes, race speedboats, drink until all bottles are emptied.” (page 212)

“Inger’s view, repeatedly and aggressively expressed, was that THE HOME AND FAMILY ARE EVERYTHING! Home, she said, was the one and only sure refuge the boys would ever find in an unstable, uncaring world - the one place they could always turn to for help and comfort on an enduring basis. The boys heard this so often they turned it into a ditty, sung loudly and far off every key known to man. That got Inger laughing so hard she broke up in a stream of happy tears. Thus did this fabulous woman-in-our-lives prove daily that a good sense of humor is probably the most important ingredient in a happy marriage.”
(page 185)

What is good about America

“Inger announced that she intended to become an American citizen .. she had come to love America, and especially the American people, despite her rough experiences ... she didn’t feel particularly “ethnic” and didn’t consider herself very different from most Americans ... what really moved her was her perception of the boys’ future here vs. there. The U.S. was big, diverse, dynamically changing, singularly involved with the world and the immense diversity of human strivings. It was a giant stage on which people could play out whatever role they might choose and become whatever their vision, intellect, and will permitted.” (page 103)

“Inger’s America came to mean more than its geographic reaches. It was the spirit of the people that really intrigued her. They exuded hope. Here, anything seemed possible. Things might be bad today but just you wait until tomorrow! America was no finished product; it was a becoming, a process - an awesome movement of people from everywhere toward a God-only-knows kind of future. Inger was discovering the awesome secret underlying America’s dynamism - the miracles that can be achieved when people are given opportunity to learn, work and rise through a fluid social structure and become whatever their vision and abilities allow. Even the monumental Union Station right off Capital Hill, she noted, captures the essence of the American spirit, for it was designed by a man who said: ‘Make no small plans! They have no magic to stir men’s blood.’” (pages 178-79)

“Inger was (not) the kind to paper over the USA’s complex problems ... However, she considered these defects to be remedied, not irremediable wounds leading to death. She knew how strenuous effort can radically transform an apparently hopeless personal situation. And that America as a whole has a fabulous capacity to do so, too, and regenerate itself ... despite all the damage our politicians sometimes seem intent on inflicting on the nation and its economy and culture. Above all, she was repelled by whiners and complainers .. and regularly brought them up short by asking not what they thought should be done about problems but what they intended to do about them personally. (page 180)

“One of these (European railroad) men ... opened my eyes to an unusual fact of PR work in the USA with these words: ‘You Americans are lucky to be able to use America in appealing to public opinion. The word, I mean. You can talk about the United States - just as we in Holland talk about the Netherlands - but that’s a geographic entity. America is something else. The very word appeals to the soul. It resounds with echoes of a grand past .. with hope for the future .. with freedom and equality and opportunity .. with the dreams of millions of struggling immigrants. We have nothing like that in Europe.’” (page 192)

Getting at America’s roots

“My schoolteacher mother posed (two missions) upon my leaving Pittsburgh: 1. Search out the real America. 2. Find ‘the ultimate secret of life.’ ... But what, you might ask ... is ‘the ultimate secret of life’? The answer lies right there in the open in the Search and the Secret title itself: The secret is searching.” (pages 319-20)

“From her arrival in the United States and first attempts to find out what makes this unique nation tick, Inger has been fascinated with my own childhood - especially my jarring transition at age 10 from the steep streets of industrial Pittsburgh to a Bible Belt environment immersed in traditional American values. Like hard work, dedication to home and family, strict raisin’, tough schooling, religious devotion, neighborliness and love of country. Wasn’t this the real America? she wanted to know. And if not honored so openly nowadays, weren’t these values the real foundation of present day America - however blurred over by avant garde, permissive, if-it-feels-good-it’s good posturing. (page 318)

Yes, I agreed, she had something there. Uprooted from my urban urchin existence and ‘farmed out’ along with brother Ernie and Sis during the Great Depression ... to our grandfather’s place in the nation’s heartland, I spent the next seven years growing up in a Tom Sawyer-like setting on the north bank of the Ohio River .. at the very juncture of the Midwest, Appalachia and the South. Here, I found myself following those priceless guiding stars of the American epic: the Holy Bible, McGuffey’s Fifth Reader, the Boy Scout Handbook and our historic documents on mankind in a free society. ‘If all this doesn’t add up to the hallmarks of the real America of your fathers and forefathers, what does?’ Inger asked.” (page 318)

“For me it was grand to see my wife getting to know America better than most Americans. And what has impressed her the most? Our TREES! She loved the palms, the magnolias and moss-festooned oaks in the South, the 4,000-year-old sequoias in the Sierras ... Rangers in the Sequoia National Park tell the story that these monarchs of the forest, however huge and seemingly strong, one day simply tilt over and crash to the ground. Even at times when there’s no wind, snow or rain. Why? Their roots weaken and finally give way. Well, Inger latched right onto this, fitting it into her fear that Americans are forgetting and neglecting their national roots - their unique history and resplendent traditions - in favor of an almost total obsession with the clamorous present and the dubious lures of the unpredictable future. So what happens when a whole nation neglects its roots? Like those sequoia monarchs, it crashes!” (page 178)

Some Concerns about American Life

“The boys’ education in this new land probably concerned her more than anything else. From kindergarten on, she watched teachers and their classroom conduct like a hawk, visiting them often to urge tougher lessons, more homework and tighter student discipline.” (Page 182)

“Inger spent a year visiting private schools in the Washington area, finally settling on what she thought would be a tough, no-nonsense Quaker education at Sidwell Friends School in the District ... In time, we discovered that Sidwell wasn’t as tough as we had hoped. But it was better.” (page 183)

‘With its ivy-covered graystone buildings and parklike setting, Haverford looked grand ... but here as elsewhere, Vietnam and the spreading LSD/marijuana/drug mania was raising hob with life on campus. Jimmy knew exactly where Inger and I stood on drugs and drinking ... When a notorious drug-use advocate was invited to speak on campus about the alleged wonders of LSD and other ‘mind-expanding’ drugs, Jimmy tried to organize a boycott of the speech.” (page 184)

“The pounding children’s minds took from TV and other forms of communication in our modern society was considered no laughing matter, however. Long before Haverford, Inger pointed to my seafaring days and lamented that too many people go through life like a ship without compass, rudder or anchor - no sense of direction and no values to anchor themselves to when storms come up. Small wonder you see so many shipwrecks! So we warned the boys to be on guard against today’s Media/Entertainment Complex, which only aggravates these conditions through both subtle and crude influences on the psyche.” (page 185)

“With the normal, the traditional and stable getting short shrift from Media Complex drum beaters, young people especially come to feel there’s something wrong with tried-and-true values ... and are driven willy-nilly to seek out the new and extreme - however wrong they may be - in order not to be deemed ‘square’, old-fashioned or out of touch.” (page 186)

“Our new era’s rampant concentration on self especially bothered Inger. People, she felt, should find out enough about their selves to cope with their selves, then get away from their selves as fast and as far as possible. And by that she meant their ‘greedy, grasping, uncaring, utterly self-centered selves.’ She believed people must ally themselves with something bigger than their selves and live a pervading sense of responsibility to others - to family, friends, community, the nation, the world. She believed that the growing stress on self-centeredness and self-fulfillment is a centripetal force, and that the inevitable end of accelerating self-emphasis within humans, as in physics, is inward collapse. Comparing the situation to the universe, astronomers would say that people are digging themselves into a black hole.” (page 180)

“And then, Inger stated sadly, comes the final irony: ‘The modern psychologists, sociologists and teachers - all the “social engineers” who preach self-fulfillment rubbish - then get full-time employment at fancy salaries treating the victims of their preaching.’” (page 180)

Inger’s Dislike of Pretense and Orthodox Opinion

“Inger abhorred gaudiness and ostentatious display. Her philosophy was that if you’ve got it, you don’t need to flaunt it; and if you don’t have it, flaunting it won’t help.” (page 158)

“Inger was furious over the mention of liberals, dupes, fellow travelers - anyone who swallowed the Communist Party mythology while ignoring the cold reality of its brutal implementation. She contended it wasn’t a political philosophy at all but, rather, a plot by a handful of radicals and thugs to seize and wield power and enslave everyone else.” (page 162)

“Your jackass friends at college go on and on about the glories of different religions ... and races ... and nationalities. And how everyone’s created equal. But no one dares talk about what really counts ... about a person’s development level - how far he’s emerged from the cave ... the jungle. About his standards ... his behavior. If some people - white, black, red, green or whatever - want to live like pigs, they can do so. But not around me ... I’m getting out of this dirty hole .. right now.” (page 84)

“Inger did not pretend to understand economics, but she did know that no family - and she assumed no government - could long live beyond its means. Nor can a nation continually import and consume more than it produces and exports. She tended to shrug off dialectics anyway, seeing society’s gathering problems more in moral terms - as the inevitable end of a people awash in self-indulgence, pleasure seeking and unrestrained greed.” (page 240)

“Government’s impact in ‘people areas’ like the busing of school children was of more concern to her. Almost alone among her friends, Inger felt this distressful development was another miscarriage of ‘social engineering’ .. which amounted to making children pay for the discrimination sins of their parents. She considered court orders on busing a trampling on the sanctity of neighborhood life and the principle of free choice - one that would lead to new waves of cynicism about government as blind and unresponsive to individual needs.” (page 240)

“Inger found it sickening to see how people fawned over and played up to public officials ... Inger, with her unique insight, could not understand how Americans, of all people, could be so obsequious to those in power. Didn’t they realize that they were being fleeced like sheep? Couldn't these lineal descendants of that mighty uprising 200 years ago against George III sense that every tainted breeze from Washington brought rising threats of an insidious new tyranny.” (page 248)

“It was the people in Washington that she (Inger) found most disturbing .. and their political gatherings. Most of those attending were so busy trying to meet the ‘right’ people and work out some personal advantage that it was impossible to hold a normal conversation. A person’s eyes darted around the room even while he talked - then he would bolt away, attracted by an ostensibly brighter star on the distant horizon. The attractive, ambitious, aggressive young women-in-politics flirted flagrantly with any man they thought had influence. And constant whispering went on in every corner about new government appointments.” (page 265)

“Inger was under no illusions about the Mating Game ... She viewed men as driven creatures - driven to make money and achieve power and prestige. And driven by nature, like beasts in the forests, to beat out other males and capture the most attractive females. And women? Inger viewed them as driven too - driven to capture men with money and power and prestige, whether attractive or not. While my wife turned up her pretty nose at people’s acquisitive drives, she had too much Danish blood in her to be wholly dismissive toward money ... For good or bad, money has become the West’s ultimate measure of status.” (page 265)

The Bad Influence of Television

Inger “predicted sadly that the Media/Entertainment Complex’s avid promotion of the shrill new world of permissiveness, pornography, perversion and promiscuity will yield only heartbreak for people ... and disorder and decline for Western society.” (page 103)

“TV was singled out as Culprit No. 1 (for there it stood right in the middle of the living room!) She needed no polls, tests or ‘depth research’ to tell her what kind of impact TV’s frequent airing of sex, crime, and violence has on children ... She was further appalled by the way TV cameras bored into the very souls of people caught in tragedy; program producers made public sport of private grief, threatening to make modern peoples incapable of feeling anything at all. Topping it all off, giving yourself over to TV and becoming a ‘couch potato’ seemed to Inger to completely flatten out the human personality, turning people into veritable zombies. And those TV ads! A half-dozen continually popped up, clamoring for attention, after each couple minutes of programming ... hawking a happier home and love-life, improved eating and drinking and appearance, better health, taste and smell, a more comfortable car, etc., etc. All constantly intruding on the consciousness, fragmenting attention and threatening to create a nation of nitwits.” (page 186)

“Well, Inger had a name for television trash: Trashevision ... This led to a decidedly unpopular home front ruling: No movies except those cleared by the censors (Inger and me). And as for Culprit No. 1, it was decreed that the boys could watch TV for one hour each school day, two hours a day otherwise. This produced torrents of protests, wheedling and pleading. Especially from Erik, who, I believe, could have spent the rest of his life watching ‘Star Trek.’ But Inger made it stick, saying ‘either that or the TV goes.’” (page 187)

The Four-Dimensional Human Being

“Inger could not understand why so many men and women rely on sex as the mainstay of their relationship, instead of simultaneously building a uniting web of common interests and activities. She knew instinctively that sex alone cannot support such a load ... Most disturbing of all sexual negatives for Inger was the American culture’s concentrated drum beating on the subject of sex and its close relative - personal appearance. As though the wrapping on a package is more important than its contents. Contents like character and what Inger saw as the four dimensions of the truly developed human being: knowledge, cultural awareness, spiritual depth and considerateness toward others ... The Four-Dimensional Human Being! ... What if ... instead of succumbing to the siren lures of commercial interests - all those selling sex, luxury and pleasure in all its forms - what if every person had this primary goal in life: To become a 4-D human? To become an informed, cultured, spiritual, considerate person? Think of how different people would be!” (page 101)

“Inger wasn’t about to give up on her aim of making our sons into four-dimensional human beings ... She went on to say that what we are, and what we hope to become, seemed to her to work together like the two sides of a 2-by-4. The 4-D’s represent one side - tomorrow. Another 4 represent all those yesterdays. Thus, she said, all of us stand today as the product of the genetic structure inherited through our parents - our genes - as well all the oppdragelse or raising received in our home, our experiences in life, and the education we’ve had pounded into us. Like a 2-by-4! She noted, too, that Americans don’t like to emphasize genetic inheritance in analyzing personal problems; they flail away, instead, at the other three factors. As though this is the more democratic thing to do!” (pages 182-83)

"Then came the crucial point of our remarks ... Inger’s grand, futuristic concept of the Four-Dimensional Human Being. The graduates had spent some 16 years of their lives acquiring knowledge. But, I said, if they failed to move beyond this one area, important as it is, they would wind up as one-dimensional people .. So I expressed that hope ... that they would move on to explore the rewarding wonder-world of art and culture and become culturally aware. Then, that they would absorb the inspiring world of religion and morals, ethics and philosophy .. and acquire spiritual depth. And after immersing themselves in these three areas of self-development, move on into the critical 4th dimension - and develop an abiding concern for others. For only by practicing such concern can the world’s people finally overcome history’s ugly legacy of exploitation, hatred, terrorism and war .. and begin to live together in harmony. And only by your broadening your life goals to include all these four dimensions can you become a fully developed, truly civilized human being.” (page 252)

“The 4-D Human was posed as an incomparably superior alternative to the narrow, job-related objectives of an increasingly crass, technology-driven, commercialized, entertainment-obsessed age.” (page 320)

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