Friday, August 20, 2010

Americans Overcome the Odds

The American spirit is defined by and thrives in adversity. Rugged, individualist, and pioneering, our forebears forged ahead regardless of the obstacles. Despite hardship, disease, starvation, revolution, civil conflict, and war, the heart of freedom beat on. The nation's founders opposed all those who sought to thwart their spiritual mission to live free or die trying.

That legacy is now threatened. An American generation is now thrust into the crucible of divine fire, testing the mettle of the citizenry to overcome a growing enemy - one that uses fear and lies to turn the state against the people. While the fate of the nation remains dim, the light of truth yet shines brightly. As a people, we must recognize that we have faced dark times before and triumphed over the fiercest of enemies. And God willing, we shall prevail again.

In the year 1620, Captain John Smith presided over a ragged band of settlers who forged a swampy countryside in the midst of heat and relentless mosquitoes to found a colony at Jamestown, Virginia. The ghosts of Roanoke provided sober lesson as to the monumental nature of the task. Savage natives, unclean drinking water, plague, and starvation were the initial rewards for the hardy settlers. But hardship gave way to fortune as the introduction of tobacco marked the beginning of a promising new enterprise; one that would establish a trade so vital for the preservation of life in the colonies. Americans find a way to survive.

Meanwhile, at Plymouth Plantation in later-day Massachusetts, William Bradford lead an exhausted but grateful party onto the shores of America. A devout and pious group, the English separatists known as the Puritans would increase their numerous troubles by adopting common property. The deadly effects of this undertaking are well worth noting:

The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince they [the] vanitie of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte.

The settlement was racked by starvation as long as the socialistic measures reigned. After the adoption of private property, the former year's starvation gave way to bounty. The cornucopia of the first Thanksgiving was replenished for years afterward, a tradition that taught men foresight and humble graciousness. Americans are unafraid to adapt and learn from their mistakes using commonsense and good judgment.

The successes of the colonies at Jamestown and Plymouth would be followed by others, such as those of Providence and Pennsylvania. The trials in the wilderness would prove formative as increasingly better armed adversaries would seek to deprive the settlers of their hard-fought gains. Predatory powers from abroad jostled in the New World to elbow out the resilient upstarts, who had prepared the way for potentially easy-won empire. Americans are not imperialist; they expand liberty at the expense of tyranny.

At the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, near present day Pittsburgh, began the dispute that the Quebecois would call the La guerre de la ConquĂȘte or "The War of Conquest." Americans and Brits would refer to this theater of "The Seven Years' War" as "The French and Indian War." Pitting the French and native American tribes such as the Algonquin, the Ottawa, and the Shawnee against the Brits, their American subjects, and the Iroquois league, the war would rage in sporadic conflict from Virginia to Nova Scotia from 1756-1763. The conflict would leave a deep impression in the minds of many of the United States' founding fathers, such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, and would be marked among the "long train of abuses" in Thomas Jefferson's draft of The Declaration of Independence.

And indeed this declaration was a shot across the bough to tyrants across the world. It would proceed with principled opposition to tyranny, as opposed to the aimless anarchy of today's left, who fancy their opposition to liberty as a continuance of the American tradition. It is not.

In light of the grievances listed in The Declaration of Independence, the British taxes of Americans exemplified by the Stamp Act, the Townshend Act, and of course, the Tea Act, and the imposing fighting force of the British Empire, we can only imagine how uncertain the cause of liberty seemed to those men and women courageous enough to take it up. Their story is one of dedication and inspiration throughout, one best illustrated by George Washington's perseverance at Valley Forge.

Near Mount Misery and Mount Joy, the barefoot and ragged soldiers under Washington's command dug in on the frozen terrain of Valley Forge. It was the winter of 1777. Starving and diseased, the sole comfort these men received came from the scores of camp followers, women and children who provided rations and affection to their brave defenders. Washington's men would fight one of the key battles of the revolutionary campaign; not against the British and their Hessian mercenaries, but against themselves. Their steely resolution to continue on, in the dead of winter and despite interminable hardship, proved the pivotal moment in American history. In this fateful hour, the Continental Army was forged, and the spirit of a nation embodied.

No less a miracle occurred after the Revolutionary War, than the series of improbable victories that defined it throughout. The Constitutional Convention was marked by innumerable compromises, reached after prolonged wrangling, not only over the interests of the thirteen colonies, but over the key questions of American history: The institution of slavery and the power of the national government.

Northern and southern colonies sowed the seeds of future enmity by compromising on the status of slaves; though rightly the Constitution banned the importation of slaves, the ratifiers as a whole would not allow the document to declare in full voice the citizenship of all men. Those who came to be called the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists struggled over the crucial question of the relative power of the national government vis-a-vis the states. Both dilemmas would be resolved in the bloody affair known as the War Between the States.

Yet the climax that would settle those contradictions would be forestalled by more immediate considerations. Most pressing was the raging Napoleonic Wars in Europe, which would engulf the United States due to its close relationship with France. The dethroned Great Britain would seek vengeance in America, as well as the reestablishment of its lost trade, as France embarked upon an expedition to embroil Europe in flames.

Truly, Washington and Jefferson foresaw the danger of foreign entanglements, though practical considerations made them impossible to avoid. Trade proved a more troublesome matter than anticipated as warring powers viewed any assistance to their adversaries with hostility.

The period between the Constitution's ratification and the War of 1812 was one of lost innocence and the disabuse of naivete. The suppression of Shay's Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the establishment of a central bank by the Federalists, threw down the gauntlet to the heroes of the American Revolution who fought to remove oppression from our shores. Creeping tyranny had been established in the shadow of the glorious Founding.

The War of 1812 would expose the soft underbelly of the American experiment, as the lack of a standing national army made it vulnerable to attack. The British would send the ragtag outfits of the states into a scramble as it invaded and proceeded to cut a swathe to the nation's capital. In August of 1814, the country's defenders embarrassed and fleeing, the British occupied Washington and burned down the public buildings in a pretentious and vindictive orgy.

Yet their vainglorious display of renewed dominance would prove short-lived. General Andrew Jackson, earning his nickname of Old Hickory, would lead a campaign to return the British menace to their foreign shores. Harassing the red coats interminably, the American troops would push the invaders down the Mississippi river to the Brits' demise at The Battle of New Orleans. Other nations pick fights with the United States. Americans end them.

As the British were driven south and out of the states, settlers were heading westward into the wild frontier. Following the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark led the way for Americans to fulfill the Manifest Destiny of a country straddling the earth between the shining seas. Along with the intrepid souls seeking land and fortune in the West, came cattle, ox, and horse-driven carriages. The harsh terrain claimed many victims from exposure and disease, but in the course of two generations, all foreign powers were either pushed out or their territories annexed. The power vacuum that attracted imperialist ambition from Europe had been filled, at the tragic price of the loss of many Native Americans' and settlers' lives. But Americans moved forward.

The haul by land of supplies from east to west proved slow and exhausting, spurring innovations in transportation like the steam locomotive, which was put into service in America in the 1820s. Within fifty years a railway line would be built predominantly by Americans and Chinese immigrants that spanned from New York to San Francisco. The golden spike marrying the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad was driven home at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869. Coast-to-coast travel in a matter of days, rather than months, was now a reality. Americans see through their visions to the end.

Industrial forces transformed America further, accentuating the cultural divide between north and south. While the southern states remained agrarian and slave-owning, the northern states grew urban, cosmopolitan, and liberal. Abolitionists struggled fiercely to see the establishment of rights for all Americans come to fruition. The Underground Railroad provided a passage to freedom for those blacks willing and able to escape. All Americans yearn to breathe free.

Resentment of the North grew, and every compromise, including laws that sought to cordon off the institution of slavery, seemed to delay the inevitable clash. Secession had been a watchword in the air since the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798-99, which were a response to federal overreach. Written secretly by Jefferson and Madison, they provided legal and principled rationale for state oversight of federal law and the non-enforcement of unconstitutional laws known as "nullification." Slavery was far from the only wedge that divided the northern and southern states.

The election of 1860 brought to power Abraham Lincoln of the newly formed Republican Party, which had split from the Whigs over the issue of slavery (but not much else) and had combined with "Free Soil" Democrats. By Lincoln's inauguration, seven states had already declared secession. The divorce would not be amicable.

Lincoln declared the secessions "legally void," invoking the familiar rationale of forming a more "perfect union." Though he stated that he would not invade the South, or end slavery, he would rightfully reclaim "federal property" if necessary. Needless to say, southerners bristled.

Years of miserable war wracked the conscience of a nation; children orphaned, fathers killed and maimed, and families torn apart. Sherman burned his way through the South, slaughtering thousands, while southern dispatches scrambled to re-form into a cohesive army. The moment of truth for a nation, entailing southern submission or the freedom of the slaves, was fast approaching.

On July 1, 1863, Confederate troops approached Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to seize much-needed supplies, including shoes for their bare and aching feet. Because Gettysburg was an important thoroughfare for supply lines, the Union troops under General Mead moved hastily to cut off the Confederacy. The armies would collide, sparking the pivotal battle of the Civil War.

After two days of intense fighting, the fate of a nation hanging in the balance, Lee gambled on a desperate maneuver to collapse the middle of the Union army. One account sums the last push for the South:

Thinking the Union center had weakened from these attacks, Lee decided the next day to hit it first with artillery, and then an infantry charge led by George Pickett's division. Stuart's late-arriving cavalry was to come in behind the Union center at the same time, but they were held off by Union cavalry led by a young General George Custer. After an hour's duel, Union artillery deceived the Confederates into thinking their guns were knocked out. Then 13,000 Rebels marched across the field in front of Cemetery Hill, only to have the Union artillery open up on them, followed by deadly Federal infantry firepower. Scarcely half made it back to their own lines. In all, Lee lost more than a third of his men before retreating to Virginia. Meade, a naturally cautious man, decided the loss of one-quarter of his men had been enough, and only feebly tried to pursue Lee, missing an opportunity to crush him.

The Confederacy would fight on, surrendering nearly two years later on April 9, 1865. A war that had been in doubt for the Union prior to Gettysburg, had become a triumph. Five days later, an American president would die along with the South's cause. Americans fight to the end.

Though the South's defeat was a consequential day for the freedom of slaves, it gave the North nearly unlimited powers to dictate terms to the defeated. Reconstruction would be marked not only by the prodding of the South to turn slaves into freemen, but by the placement of a national yoke on all states who sought escape from the Union. The United States had become a nation, for better and for worse.

The second founding of the United States would concentrate the power that most of the original founders thought so dangerous. The ambitious and power-hungry flocked to the epicenter of politics and economy, seeking to wield influence over their presumed inferiors, as the vanquished Anti-Federalists had predicted. Freedom was on the run, though American power was on the rise.

The United States weathered a series of painful global depressions ranging from 1873 to 1896. By the turn of the century, the crucial elements of the modern state as we now know it were present. The South now consolidated, the intellectual opposition to statism eroded under governmental control of education. Powerful trusts forged ties with corrupt politicians for both influence and protection, pulling the strings for tariffs, subsidies, and even adventurism. The Progressives would develop the intellectual and moral justification for unlimited state intervention; indeed, under the rubric of protecting the consumer, particular monopolies developed and a central bank was formed. And then came World War I.

President Woodrow Wilson had promised not to enter the European war to Americans as one of many campaign pledges he would break. After stalling for three years, the U.S. was pulled into the fray in 1917 by a combination of understandable German hostility to U.S. trade with Britain and an elaborate propaganda campaign undertaken by the Wilson administration. American sailors and doughboys would charge off to foreign shores, striking decisively against the Germans and Austrians and helping to end the bloodiest war in world history. The victory would establish America as a great power for the next century.

Despite an immediate depression upon the termination of the war, America quickly recovered and a post-war boom ensued. Fueled by fantastic technological innovation and an easy money policy, the 1920s would roar towards a devastating crash in 1929. State interventionists like Hoover and FDR were quick to seize upon the opportunity to orchestrate the economy's "recovery," which would not come for another decade. Americans suffered famine, drought, and rampant unemployment, ending only with a catastrophic war foisted upon them by the imperialist Japanese.

The Great Depression was the proving grounds for innumerable social and economic engineering schemes, which exacerbated America's problems. The Alphabet Soup became the alphabet soup kitchen, conditioning Americans to become accustomed to paternalistic government. And re-elect the first father of the country, FDR, is what they did time and time again, apparently not knowing any better. There was not the example of the demise of a Hitler or a Mussolini or a Stalin to teach Americans the danger of concentrated state power. But fortunately for the nation, World War II would acquaint millions of Americans with the hard reality of fascism; the defeat of the Nazis, the fascists in Italy, and the imperial Japanese developed American patriotism as well as an antipathy for virulent nationalism and socialism. Americans oppose tyranny when they see it.

The statists, not dissuaded in the least by the experience, would nonetheless have to conceal their designs on America. Keynesianism, a brand of Fabian socialism, was taken worldwide as a result of the Bretton Woods conference. The Marshall Plan not only helped millions of Europeans, it locked them into dependency on America for aid and security. The rise of the USSR would provide a bi-polar foil to the freedom-loving USA that would rule out the promulgation of naked socialism out-of-hand.

The sacrifice of heroic Americans for the sake of themselves and their European allies would not be appreciated for long overseas. The "greatest generation" had shown tremendous heart and determination, and inspired countless other countrymen; but in Europe, they were all but taken for granted. America stood for freedom in the world, even as the Europeans turned its shoulder on the notion.

In addition, the U.S. faced the task of rebuilding war-ravaged Japan, which it had bombed into submission. The examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were seared into the minds of America's adversaries, and deterred others from utilizing the unconscionable weapons. The nation felt that the least it could do was get the mostly brave country back on track, even in light of the cowardly act at Pearl Harbor. After America kicks an enemy down, it offers a hand back up.

When the communist armies of the northern territory of Korea invaded the south, a U.N. resolution was quickly dispatched; but it was assumed that America would do the bulk of the fighting. And fight it did. For three long years, Americans fought on a strategically irrelevant peninsula for the freedom of millions. When the North Koreans pushed, Americans fought on. When the Red Chinese entered the war, Americans fought on. And having pushed back the combined armies to the 38th parallel, America drew a line in the sand and made a promise to defend it. It does to this very day. When Americans came back from this "Forgotten War," they didn't speak of it again. Not only are Americans brave, they are humble.

The height of the Cold War brought fierce competition between America and the communists; a deadly arms race and an equally significant space race was launched in the 1950s. The Soviets had shocked Americans not only with its first nuclear bomb test in 1949, but by beating them to space with Sputnik in 1958. It would take an endeavor of immense proportions, entailing dedication, imagination, and courage for an American to reach space with Apollo 8 in 1968. In the face of numerous setbacks and even a number of astronaut deaths, the U.S. would land a man on the moon with Apollo 11 in 1969. America's pioneering spirit had reached a new zenith.

But along with this unbeatable high came unremitting lows. The Vietnam Conflict would become one of the longest gut-wrenching episodes in American history. Pulled in by a combination of French weakness and principled opposition to communist expansion, America was entrenched over the course of years in highly intense pitched guerrilla warfare. Tens of thousands of soldiers would face nauseating heat, stifling humidity, and relentless insects, even when not fighting the merciless Vietnamese. After twenty years of escalating warfare, without the forceful impetus from the political elite to win the war decisively, the United States withdrew. Vietnam War vets came home without parades or fanfare. In light of America's history of victory at all costs, this must have sown undeserved shame and guilt in the steely veterans' hearts. The determination of the troops was not matched by the resolution of the establishment. The heart of America was being severed from its political head; the fortitude of the citizenry was unmatched by political courage from its nominal leadership.

The 1970s was a time of tremendous uncertainty and anxiety. The oil embargo, stagflation, and the prostrate regime of Jimmy Carter would culminate in humiliation at the hands of Iranians and the growing scourge of international terrorism. It would take a return to principle to steady the nation, and that is exactly what a former actor and governor of California named Ronald Reagan did.

For the first time in three generations, an American president spoke of freedom and actually meant it. Reagan was thus loved by the heart of the country and despised by the head. The Great Communicator spoke to the nation's passions and identity in a way that few presidents did. Americans see themselves as capable and resilient, the political leadership had grown used to defining them as dependent and obeisant. President Reagan breathed fresh air into stale politics and made Americans feel good to be themselves again. When America was given the latitude to get back to work, the greatest economic boom in the nation's history developed.

But Reagan would mark his place in history not only for his wisdom in unleashing the American spirit to create and build, but for engaging a long-time adversary - not just with weapons but with morality itself. The "Evil Empire" in a rotten, decaying state, President Reagan knew that a combination of military-economic pressure and moral challenge would accelerate the communist union's demise.

On June 12, 1987, after two terms of vigorous and principled opposition to socialism at home and abroad, Reagan issued a moral demand:

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Gorbachev would not need to tear down the wall, the Berlinners would do it for him. Reagan had struck a great blow for freedom. The political elite shrugged and planned its next subterfuge. Americans rejoiced, for they had helped to liberate their fellow men.

Reagan's principled opposition to statism would not last for long. Although President George H.W. Bush served under Reagan, he was not a fan. Initiation of the First Gulf War would become Bush's most memorable decision, and a tremendous victory for the country's fighting forces abroad. Millions were spared death, mutilation, or rape at the hands of the genocidal Saddam Hussein. But again political courage failed to resolve the matter while the capability of the American military was demonstrably sufficient to do so. Afraid to upset regional powers, Hussein remained dictator and was allowed to flaunt peace terms for another decade. It would take a national emergency of unprecedented proportions to cast new light on the lingering danger of the Iraqi regime.

September 11th, 2001 is quite possibly the darkest day in American history. The nation's psyche was so shaken that a profound sense of unease penetrated all spheres of life for several years. But the country would struggle not only with an invisible menace named terrorism, but with the precarious nature of freedom itself. The War in Afghanistan brought a pledge from George Bush to bring the evildoers to justice, providing some salve to the injury. Yet this just war combined with a war that would sully the image of America in the minds of the citizens. The Iraq War, for better or for worse, would test the limits of people's patience.

The U.S. military was thus under assault not only by ruthless enemies overseas, but by hostile press at home. They fought in unimaginable conditions with less than first-rate equipment. In sand, wind, and heat they continued on. They hunted down the most despicable and cruel of men and brought them to justice. They protected women and children, helped build schools, provided food and medicine, and no doubt comforted as many as practicable. The living hell of war was made that much more unbearable by scorn and ridicule of their very mission. Liberation was no longer a worthy cause for the elite, belying their own shallow valuation of freedom.

Yet American troops fought on, plugging away in the face of daily casualties. The picture in Iraq appeared bleak, by all media accounts. When President Bush proposed a surge to quell the stubborn insurgency, the left balked. Future president Obama would question the wisdom of the plan, and voted against it. Bush deprived the Democrats of a quagmire along the lines of Vietnam, which had given the left so much political capital. The success of the surge demonstrated that when Americans are allowed the freedom to take action, they win, regardless of the odds. If the Democrats allow the troops in Afghanistan to win, they will.

The challenges that our country faces today are immense. Massive debt, intrusive government, and an openly seditious president are among the obstacles that are placed before us. The Roman senator Cicero, who lived during the collapse of the Roman Republic, and who opposed the rise of Caesar, describes the nature of the traitor, in terms vividly appropriate for President Barack Obama:

A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.

But President Obama is just one man. Removing him from office would be a resounding success, but would signal only a long and arduous process to restore freedom. A powerful cadre has infiltrated the halls of government to establish itself as a ruling elite who will dictate terms to a permanent underclass, in flagrant disregard of our Constitution. We must fight to preserve America's place in history; we must act like historic men.

Will we be so cowardly to cede the lamp of liberty to those who would snuff it out, casting the world into darkness for a thousand years? This is surely our fate should today's political elites prevail. It is time to take up the mantle of our forefathers and become the champions of liberty. After all, we are Americans. It is our job to overcome the odds.

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