I considered holding off posting this until September 11th but decided that it was equally apropos for July 4th. It may be a bit idealistic, but I hope you will find it as affirming and inspiring as I do.
If the immediate horror of 9/11 has dissipated, the attack nevertheless served as a profound reminder that buildings, however symbolic they might be, are nothing more than concrete and steel. The precious human lives they contained testified, by their loss, that what remains are ideas. Intending to shatter the ‘materialism’ of the United States, Osama bin Laden’s terrorists merely reminded the world of the supremacy of the intangible over the physical, of the spiritual over the temporal. Focusing Americans’ thoughts once again on freedom — and its enemies — terrorists united a nation seriously divided by an election and elevated a president under fire to a position of historical greatness.
The fatal flaw of bin Laden — like Hitler, Stalin, and even the nearsighted Spaniards of five hundred years ago — was that they fixed their gaze on the physical manifestations of the wealth of the West, failing to understand that wealth is a mere by-product of other, more important qualities: initiative, inventiveness, hope, optimism, and above all, faith. The people who had set foot in Virginia and Massachusetts almost three centuries ago often arrived poor, usually alone, and certainly without lofty titles or royal honors. After they plowed the fields and founded their enterprises, it was not the farms alone that made Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia flourish, nor trade alone that breathed life into the Boston of John Adams. Mere plantations did not produce George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, nor did a legal system spawn Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln. American determination and drive, vision and commitment came not from acquisition of material things — though the freedom to acquire things was a prerequisite. Rather, greatness came from an all-consuming sense that this was, after all, the ‘city on a hill,’ the ‘last, best hope for mankind.’ The United States was, and is, a fountain of hope, and a beacon of liberty.
American democracy flowed from the pursuit of opportunity, governed by respect for the law. American industry burst forth from the brains of Carnegie and Weyerhaeuser, Vanderbilt and Gates, most often coming from those owning the least in material goods. And American strength came from the self-assurance — lacking in every other nation in the world by the twenty-first century (or what Bush called liberty’s century) — that this nation uniquely had a charge to keep, a standard to uphold, and a mission to fulfill. In the end, the rest of the world will probably both grimly acknowledge and grudgingly admit that, to paraphrase the song, God has ‘shed His grace on thee.’ Knowing perfection is unattainable, Americans have not ceased in its pursuit. Realizing that war is unavoidable, Americans have never relented in their quest for peace and justice. But understanding that faith was indispensable, Americans have, more than any other place on earth, placed it at the center of the Republic. The American character, and the American dream, could never be disentangled, and ultimately the latter would go only as far as the former would take it.
— Conclusion to A Patriot’s History of the United States (2004), by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
To my fellow Americans, Have a Safe and Blessed Independence Day Weekend!!