July 4th: Beating the Odds

This post’s title could be about anything, but it’s about how remarkable and surprising it is that the American Insurgents (as the French like to describe the colonialists) were able to defeat the world’s strongest military to establish these United States of America. On this side of the Atlantic, it seems as though there’s always been a presumption of inevitability by those of us who live here now that, of course, Geo. Washington & Co. would win, but nothing could be further from the truth. We forget (or are never taught) that the Founding Fathers (and their families) literally put their lives on the line when they signed those documents declaring the United States as a sovereign nation, free from British rule. Take a moment and think about this. If they were caught by British troops, death by hanging was a certainty.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, reading about the wicked violence that has gripped so much of the region as part of an epic struggle over what sort of rule (civilized or not) will control these impacted populations, I feel tremendous concern for the families who are caught in the cross fire, and am reminded of the risk and violence that is at stake for freedom fighters everywhere. So what follows is a v brief history lesson. It’s worth keeping in mind that the establishment of these United States only succeeded because we received help from powerful allies, most significantly France.

As a result of lobbying efforts by Benjamin Franklin, King Louis XVI agreed to support this untested band of colonialists (both secretly and then openly), in their war against Britain. The French Court poured so much money into the effort that the government nearly bankrupted itself (fyi, one of the underlying causes of the French revolution of 1789). Additionally, a 19 year old La Fayette served as a major general in the Continental Army under General Washington. He served with distinction at the Battles of Rhode Island and Yorktown and was instrumental in securing additional aid for the war. His assistance has never been forgotten. In 1917, as the US prepared to engage in WWI, General Pershing arrived in France with his American Expeditionary Force. One of the first places he visited was La Fayette’s tomb to repay the favor. “Lafayette, we are here.” France was not our only ally during the Revolution, but it was our most powerful.

This historical recap is relevant because as we watch warring factions struggle to gain supremacy over their countrymen, we must be cognizant of just how precarious and difficult it is to launch a new form of government (let alone that most fractious of forms, a democracy). Remember, ours was able to take root only because it was born in a rarified, hothouse climate. A nascent democracy would not have withstood the harsh winds we see in Washington today. (For a parallel, think of how coddled and protected a newborn must be before it gains the strength to begin to crawl.) What comes as a surprise to most Americans is that not everyone across the globe believes democracy is the highest form of government (as imperfect a system as it is). So as we sit here, safe on our own, mostly peaceful continent, we have the luxury of asking questions without direct fear of the rockets’ red glare. Who should we help in these struggles? What is our moral obligation and to whom? Will our help be effective or even welcome? How do those of us who have inherited a stable democracy behave when faced with the sorts of armed and aggressive chaos that exist only a plane ride away? And what do we do when we cannot agree?

Don’t forget, stakes equally as high as this were at issue when the Founding Fathers were establishing a structure for the nascent United States. Dramatic, furious debates about the rights of the individual versus the needs of a centralized government raged. They were as passionate then as we are today, but they found a way to compromise. They had to in order for this to work. What about us, now? Where is that bottom line commitment to making our democracy work? Whether it’s government shutdowns, conveniently missing emails, or recess appointments—petulance or supreme frustration is no excuse for a dereliction of honor and duty. Ever. Whether it’s the avarice of an unbridled Wall Street or the yoke saddled by the Politically Correct, we cannot let these malevolent forces continue. They undermine our sense of country and inflict harm upon us all. We must all do our part to face the fray and repair our eroding fabric of national unity.

As we celebrate our Independence Day and all the different ways we can be Americans, we need to remember that none of this was ever a given. The greatest experiment in democracy the world has ever seen was no sure thing. They beat the odds—for us. We need to revere their courage and sacrifice, and work hard to ensure that our democratic form of government remains honest and vital for all those who rejoice in the American spirit.

It’s a big deal…what we have.


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