The Home of the Brave: why I still believe in America

1901-2-3 Bombardment of Fort McHenry by Alfred Jacob Miller      On the night of Sept. 13, 1814 Francis Scott Key watched the British lay siege to Ft. McHenry from a British prison vessel in the Baltimore harbor. Inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying atop the fort, illuminated by cannon fire, Key penned a poem titled The Defense of Ft. McHenry. Years later, the poem was set to music, and adopted as our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. Washington D.C. had been sacked and burned, and it appeared that Baltimore, and the nation, were soon to follow. Out of this, our nation’s darkest hour to date, came something beautiful. That theme is consistent throughout American history. Our darkest hours result in our greatest work. On this Memorial Day, things look bleak for the United States of America. Our nation is as divided as it has been since the 1860s. Our national debt is now over twenty-one trillion dollars. We are engaged in several international entanglements that don’t appear promising. Today, as we remember the sacrifices of those who paid in blood for our liberty, we should also examine their responses to darker hours than this, and learn how we too might overcome.

There has never been a country like America. America has done more for liberty worldwide than any other institution in history. The Eiffel Tower is not the Axis Tower today, because of American sacrifice. Kim Jong Il’s tyrannical reign only extends to the 38th parallel, because of American selflessness. For the only time in the nation’s history, the people of South Vietnam once had hope for a society free of foreign overlords and crippling poverty, because of American grit. To see what makes America great, one must first look outside her borders. Flanders field, the beaches of Normandy, Ardennes, Belgium and the once foreign ground of San Antonio, Texas are the altars to American excellence. The motives of the authorities who sent our soldiers to fight in these places may be questioned, but the impact and sacrifice of the soldiers cannot. Thousands of Tennessee Volunteers didn’t follow Davy Crockett to the Alamo for fame and glory. They did it for freedom and grace. Thousands more like my grandfather didn’t lie about their age to enlist in the fight against the Nazis for the paycheck. They did it for love of country, and the love of liberty. The capacity for selflessness found in this European backwater, this melting pot of outcasts, is unmatched in the course of human history. One can question the motives of the powers that be, but they were not the ones who time and time again did the deeds, jumped from the planes, marched through the swamps, and took up arms to fight for those they had never met, and never would meet. Britain was a powerful empire, but the British never fought to liberate another nation. The Roman Empire’s place in history is unmatched, but there are no accounts of Roman merchants leaving behind families and businesses to fight for the Saxons. America was born of all nations, and thus is now the most powerful benevolent force in human history.

I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. It was not until I went into the churches of America, and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness that I discovered the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good. If she ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Some will read the quote above and scoff. They have come to believe that the Kardashians are the new face of America. Some decry all Millennials as snowflakes, all republicans as heartless, and all democrats as lazy. That certainly is the easy story to believe, but it is lazy. Its easy to stereotype, to write people off. It doesn’t help that we have a media that actively promotes division and shines light on all that is ugly and wrong within our borders. When I look at America, I see a different picture. Individuals will always be fallible. Al people are imperfect, naturally selfish, and sometimes foolish. Some people are rotten to the core. But the People, are different. Throughout history, We the People, knit together and guided by Providence, have proven to be worthy of their role as protectors of the torch of liberty. Every test this nation has faced has been no match for the united efforts of an informed, moral populous devoted to God and country. However tall the task, history testifies that the American people are up to it.

Many great speeches or letters end with a thought provoking question, but I know of only one song that does. “Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?” What was Key really saying when he wrote this? He was saying the flag may be tattered and charred, blown about by winds of controversy and division. It may only be visible through the glimmer of heavy fire from formidable opponents. Perhaps the odds of its survival until morning are poor. But, as long as that Star Spangled Banner yet waves, as long as there is one proud and God fearing American left standing, the book will never be closed on the United States of America.

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