The Legacy of Columbus If you thought back to the first things you ever learned about the history of America, the one that jumps out is that Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America is 1492. While the date is correct, we later learned when our study of history became more scholarly that there is some dispute about whether Columbus discovered America at all. So what is the real legacy that this legend of Columbus has given to the American culture that has made him such a revered figure in cultural history? So much of the Columbus story is approximate that, at first review, we would almost relegate the story of how Columbus discovered America to the level of a myth that borders on superhero worship. But Columbus was not a myth. There really was an explorer named Columbus who carried out three bold journeys across the ocean and during those journeys, he did indeed discover "the new world." His ships really were named the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria and he did indeed embark one of those three voyages in 1492. The legacy of Columbus then is more than just the facts of his exploratory journeys and their outcome. There is reason to believe that Columbus's fabled "discovery of America" did not occur on North American soil but somewhat further south of here, somewhere in the Bahamas. But the legacy of Columbus lies in his spirit and the challenge he took on that is part of the American spirit and one we identify with so strongly. Part of the legend was that Columbus embarked on this trip for the new world despite the prevailing "scientific" belief that the world was flat. Now research in recent times have surfaced sufficient documentation to show that sailors of that time never did believe that teaching. Their extensive knowledge of navigation and astronomy, which is crucial for any successful sea voyage, was sufficient for sailors to know that the earth was round and that they would never "fall off the edge." However, the image of those brave men launching out to sea, against the advice of popular opinion, to find something new and exciting so connects with the American spirit of discovery and adventure that this myth persists as part of the legacy of Columbus. Americans do have a tremendous sense of discovery and adventure and a deeply seated need to conquer new lands, to reach out beyond their own grasp and to do the impossible. This was the spirit of Manifest Destiny which gripped the nation long before there was any reason to believe that this meager band of colonists had the resources to settle a great nation. Americans always have had such a firm belief in themselves and a core faith that they could do the impossible. That part of the American spirit is what connects to Columbus's setting out on these bold missions facing certain dangers so he too could discover new lands and have great adventures. The legacy of Columbus also lies in the American desire to explore. Even though the source of the quotation is only a science fiction show, the "mission" of the fictional space ship "The Enterprise" sums up a deep desire in the heart of all Americans. Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Her five year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before. For Americans, the mission of James Kirk is a perfect restatement of the mission of Christopher Columbus. And it is the mission of America which has driven this country and its citizens to discoveries and achievements that have never been done before. It is that spirit of Columbus in all Americans that is one of the things that have made this country great. The Boston Tea Party There are some events that took place during the historic time when America was declaring its independence from England that are so historic, so iconic that they have taken on the status of myth and legend as much as history. And certainly the Boston Tea Party fits that description. This is such a stand out event in American history that it is common to see school children reenact it during elementary school plays or skits. And the participants names including John Hancock, Paul Revere and John Adams have similarly become classic heroic figures in American folklore and history. But the events of December 16, 1776 were not fable or myth but real and important parts of the development of the American Revolution that was crucial to the early foundation of this country. The situation of taxation that was being imposed by Brittan on goods that were coming into the colonies was one of serious stress on the colonists because they had no control over those taxes. And that tax situation was made more extreme with the relationship between the British government and the East India Tea company who was receiving tax breaks for their goods that would place them at a competitive advantage in the Americas. These kinds of preferential treatment only aggravated the already tense relationship between the colonies and Britain and many in leadership over the American states saw the way England was handling the situation as conspiratorial to try to hurt the economy of the growing new country and to impose restrictive rule through taxation on the colonies and the colonists. That is why that famous proclamation "No Taxation Without Representation" became one that is historic for the outrage against the English that took the colonies into revolutionary war that eventually lead to the independence of the American colonies and the beginning of a new country. Finally on Thursday, December 16, 1776, decisive action needed to be taken. And our forefathers were nothing if not known for bold and decisive action in the fact of tyranny. The East India Tea Company had docked the HMS Dartmouth in Boston harbor full of a fresh import of tea for the colonies. It was time for the colonists to make a statement that this unethical and immoral use of taxes on tea was for all intents and purposes an act of war and they were going to treat it as such. Badly disguised as Indians, the brave colonists boarded the HMS Dartmouth and her sister ships, the HMS Beaver and the HMS Eleanor and skillfully and efficiently dumped the entire delivery of tea into Boston harbor. All totaled, over forty five tons of tea went into the water that night. It was a stunning blow. But more than that it was a slap in the face of the British government and a gauntlet laid down that their attempts to rule the colonies b tyranny were not going to be tolerated any longer. This event was pivotal in pushing the hostilities between England and the colonies past the "nuisance" stage and setting forces in motion for war. But more than that, it was such a bold statement of defiance that many colonists were inspired to join the increasing chorus calling for war and independence. For loyal Britains, the idea of separating and forming their own country was hard to grasp. But the leadership of the men who planned and executed the Boston Tea Party demonstrated a new independent spirit. This was the kind of backbone, the sense of pride and independence that was to come to define the American spirit in years ahead. But it took the courage and boldness of this little band of men to demonstrate that being trod on by a foreign tyrant was not something we had to put up with. It made a statement to England and to the colonists at the same time that revolution was possible and they really could think of themselves as free people who would bow to no king. From that time forward the independence of America was inevitable. These visionary leaders showed us an America that gave power to its people, not to kings or governments and the result in how America works and our lives are lived is the direct outcome of bold protests such as the Boston Tea Party. George Washington It is impossible to reflect on the truly great leadership that has been one of the real blessings of this nation without including the name of George Washington in that list. In fact, in almost anyone's "top ten" list of truly great presidents, Washington would almost certainly top the list. His stature in American history is legendary and the respect Americans have for this their first president borders on adoration of myth. In fact, there is a lot of myth and some humor about our first president that reflects the love people have for this great leader. From the many quips about his supposed wooden teeth to the thousands of places around the nation that proclaim "George Washington slept here", to the mythical story of how he threw a silver dollar across the Potomac as a child or his response when he was caught cutting down a cheery tree and responded to the accusation "I cannot tell a lie", Washington's myth is strong in the national memory of this great leader. Washington never set out to become the greatest president of all time or even to be in a position of leadership in the new country he helped to start. He was the one who originated the concept of a "citizen president" and he believed so strongly in that concept that he refused to run for a third term because his time as citizen leader was over. This tradition was sustained with little exception until it was codified into part of our constitution in the form of the 22nd amendment. But before Washington was a great political leader, he showed his tremendous leadership skills on the field of battle. He learned the art of warfare serving honorably in the French and Indian war and his influence and the respect he had earned during that conflict netted him the title of commander and chief of the American Army when the continental congress created that role in 1775. Small wonder when he ascended to the presidency some years later, he carried the responsibility of commander and chief with him to the presidency where it continues to reside today even though few of our modern presidents have the military credentials of Washington. When commanding the troops during the revolutionary war, a famous incident that has been captured beautifully by artists was his decision to cross the Delaware in New Jersey to stage a surprise attack and win the battle against the British. It was yet another brilliant maneuver that showed his firm grasp of military strategy and only served to add to his fame and reputation as an outstanding leader of men. After the war, Washington again was interested in retiring from public life but he was never one to turn away when his nation needed him. And needed him it did as he presided over the Continental Congress to assure the successful drafting of the US Constitution. Of the many great accomplishments of his life, his ability to provide leadership and inspiration to that assembly to produce this masterpiece of American political ligature would certainly be ranked as perhaps his finest hour. George Washington was rewarded for his superior leadership skills when he was given the awesome responsibility of serving as the nations first President of the United States. His wisdom and insight into what the nation needed at east stage of its early development made him the man of the hour for a struggling republic. Few recognize that one of his greatest contributions to the presidency was recognizing that the nation was torn and weary of war. So using his considerable influence and negotiating skills, Washington signed a number of important treaties that resulted in years of peace that were needed to turn the country from thoughts of war to thoughts of building a great nation. Washington never tired of providing leadership for two terms as the first American president and it was he who decided not to serve a third term and returned once again to private life. But his impact on the nation and the world was profound and long lasting. It was the kind of nation shaping influence that truly earned him the title associated to him to this day of "father of the nation." The Declaration of Independence If you had to think of one document other than the Bible that people can most easily quote almost without thinking about it, that one document would be the Declaration of Independence. The comparison to the Bible is apt. Not that the Declaration of Independence is holy in a religious sense of the word. But it has a place of reverence in the hearts of the American people and in the history of the founding of this great nation. While not the first words of the Declaration of Independence, these stirring words have that kind of prophetic power that anyone who hears them in immediately inspired by the beauty, the poetry and the deep truths that were so beautifully expressed in that historic document. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. This one statement from that famous declaration so beautifully demonstrates some core principles that show why this document has such a deep impact on the American mind and heart. The statement that the truths in this document were indeed truths is a profound statement in its own right. The Declaration of Independence does that suggest that what is being declared in those pages are theories, possibilities, even political ideology. These are truths which puts them on the same value as statements of values as often taught in a religious setting. Truths are eternal values and values that are not changed by circumstances, by whomever or whatever is handling the government of the land or by the whim of lawmakers. These truths exist above those temporal earthly ideas and live on that plain of the eternal. "Self evident" is a powerful phrase and it reflects on the founder's belief in what was called natural law. Natural law is the belief system that there are laws that are part of our natural state of existence and that they cannot be taken away (inalienable). These laws are our rights as creations of the almighty and any government system must recognize these laws because they are above government. It is a basic belief system of the American system that ALL people are entitled to these rights and that they cannot be taken away. The mention of a creator in the declaration of independence is very important because there are those who would maintain that the separation of church and state tells us that the government is at heart a secular institution. Clearly the founders did not lay the foundation of our country on that groundwork. They saw the inheritance we as Americans have in our rights and freedoms to be part of our legacy from God and as such, above the government and something the government must back off and leave alone as well as prettiest and defend. The Declaration of Independence is truly an amazing document especially when you consider the "primitive" state of the nation when it was written by Thomas Jefferson and signed on July 2, 1776 to become the backbone of our American system of government. It became an often referenced and quoted document, even becoming a part of President Lincoln's famous inaugural speech when he said with such deep conviction: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Because these words are such a deep part of our American heritage, American history and the American spirit, they are often a crucial center part of any study of history in the schools in this country. That is why school children in every state are so familiar with these words. But it would do us all well to take some time once a year or so and take our copy of the Declaration of Independence and read it either as a private moment of reflection nor with our families. What a wonderful fourth of July tradition that would make. Then as you watch the fireworks celebrating the birth of the country and its independence, you will have those words fresh in your heart to remind you that it was our creator that gave us our freedoms and independence and nobody has the right to ever take them away. The Bill of Rights We as Americans have a tremendous regard and respect for the framers of our Constitution because it was they that laid the foundation stones for the greatest country on earth. But on top of the many amazing aspects of the Constitution, one stands out as an act of wisdom and foresight that made sure the Constitution would remain a living document for centuries. That was the provision of the Constitution that allowed for the addition of amendments. It was not long after the Constitution was ratified that the first ten amendments were indeed organized and became law. That those ten amendments have become as central to the American system of government as the Constitution itself. They have come to be known as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights are so deeply engrained in the American consciousness that they are often referenced in conversations about issues, how Americans work and live together and our relationship with the government. The true genius of the Bill of Rights was the work it did to severely limit the ability of the government of the United States to ever interfere with the fundamental rights of its citizens. This is a stunning achievement at a governmental level when you think in terms of legal systems of governments throughout history and around the world. These ten amendments assure that the rights of citizens in this country are forever protected from any move by any administration to take those rights and give them to the government itself. As such, the government is forever banned from getting too strong and it relegates the government to a servant role in society which so often is not the case in governmental politics elsewhere in the world. The ten amendments to the Constitution cover the core rights of Americans including: 1. Freedom of Religion, free speech, freedom of the press and the fundamental right of assembly without fear of harassment from the government. Also the right to petition the government to seek relief for grievances caused by the government. 2. The right to bear arms. 3. Protection from the forced habitation of troops in civilian homes in a time of conflict. 4. Protection from unreasonable search and seizure as part of a criminal investigation. 5. The right to due process when being accused of a crime. 6. The right to a jury trial, to be allowed to cross examine your accusers and other rights of accused to assure Americans cannot be "railroaded" by the legal system. 7. The right to civil trail by jury 8. Protection against cruel and unusual punishment and the right to bail. 9. Protection of rights not specifically spelled out in these ten amendments. 10. Protection of states rights. Of these rights, the ones listed in the first amendment are most often quoted and most cherished by Americans. The original authorship of the Bill of Rights is credited to James Madison. These basic rules of order for how the government will respect its own citizenry set in place and entitlement of rights by American citizens that has fundamentally shaped this country and how Americans come to expect its government to behave. It endowed the citizenry of the land with an expectation that the rights of the citizens of the country at a very basic level are more important than the rights of the government and that the government "works for us" which is a phenomenal change to the way societies have been organized throughout history. As such, The Bill of Rights is one of the many reasons that America can be regarded as the most unique country in the world and the country that many citizens of other nations wish their own counties would emulate. Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson is one of those almost mythic figures from early American history that stand tall as one of the great heroes of the revolution and the early definition of what this country was going to become. Sometimes it's easy to look at a figure that stands so tall in history and think, perhaps some of that is myth. But when you look at the history of the times, he was every bit as great as our adoration of him suggests he was. Thomas Jefferson's service to the new American union lasted over fifty years. He not only contributed to the core philosophical underpinnings upon which our democracy I based, he served in a variety of offices and made some phenomenal contributions to the developing country including: * 1775 -- Served in the Continental Congress * 1776 -- Wrote the Declaration of Independence * 1779-1781 -- Governor of Virginia * 1783 -- Elected to Congress * 1784-1789 -- Commissioner and minister to France * 1790-1793 -- America's first Secretary of State under George Washington * 1797-1801 -- Served as Vice President of the United States * 1801-1809 -- Third President of the United States * 1803 -- Approved of and helped launch the Lewis and Clark Expedition * 1803 -- Purchased the Louisiana Territory for the United States * 1815 -- Launched the Library of Congress * 1825 -- founded the University of Virginia This phenomenal record of achievement is virtually unmatched in any public service record of comparable public servants. But Jefferson's contribution were more than just offices served, he was one or two or three key philosophical thinkers of his time that laid the ideological foundations of America. It is impossible to overemphasize the accomplishment he writing the Declaration of Independence. This document has taken on such a central position in American history that it is viewed with the reverence usually reserved for religious documents. It so eloquently communicates the beliefs and the values of the American system of government that Jefferson can be seen as a true minister and prophet of those ideals. Thomas Jefferson also believed strongly in Manifest Destiny and the westward expansion of the country as far as the Pacific Ocean. He provided the inspiration, the funding and the political muscle to launch the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition that was responsible for discovering vast new lands and treasures in the heartland of America and providing inspiration to a country to "go west young man" and to achieve that dream of becoming a nation that stretched "for sea to shining sea". Jefferson had a thirst for knowledge that was virtually unquenchable. He passed that passion for learning on in the building of the University of Virginia. But his contribution to education that has made such a huge mark on American society was the building of the American library system by which citizens of any community can have access to large volumes of information at no cost. It was an amazing experiment in public education. But today few of us can imagine a world where we cannot at any time just "go check it out at the library". Libraries have become that central to the American way of life. It seems that Thomas Jefferson made an impact on every aspect of society from the educational systems of the growing country to government and even making his viewpoints on religious freedom an important part of how America approached this crucial topic. The entire concept of "separation of church and state" was one that Jefferson championed. It should be noted that in his writings it was clear that the separation of church and state works because it is there to restrict government from illegally restricting the religious rights of citizens. Sometimes we misinterpret Jefferson's concepts that this governmental restriction is there to limit religious freedom when in fact, it is there to encourage all the religious freedom that the citizens of America need to honor and worship with complete openness and to never fear that the government will hinder who, what, when, where or how they go about expressing their religious ideas. It's important to look back at the genius of this man, Thomas Jefferson and be grateful that he was the man of the hour for such an important time in the development of the great nation of the United States of America. Thanksgiving Each year America has a holiday in November that has taken on almost a religious reverence which we call Thanksgiving. We give this holiday so much honor that it ranks with us along with Christmas and Easter as an important holiday in the hearts of family and as a nation. But this holiday, so rich with tradition, has it origins in the earliest days of the founding of this nation. The early years of the explorers to come to the American continent were difficult ones indeed. Those explorers, we now call The Pilgrims, faced harsh weather, unpredictable relations with the natives, disease and other challenges as they carved out homes from the wilderness they found here. Because their earliest homestead were in the northeast, the winters were harsh and their ability to build houses that could keep them warm and to find sufficient food was a constant worry to the men and women trying to raises families in America. So anytime they received help from the native population, it was viewed as a gift from God and accepted with the greatest of joy and celebration. A Native American chief by the name of Squanto saw the plight of these new neighbors and saw to it his tribe helped these young families to survive. Besides providing food and wisdom about how to build structures that could keep them safe in the winter, Squanto taught them to fish, how to prepare eel and other strange sea creatures they harvested and how to farm. This act of friendship was the origin of our revered holiday of Thanksgiving. The Virginia Colony established the tradition of holding a day of collective prayers of thanksgiving, and that tradition continues today. Except it is not just a day of thanksgiving for the kindness and generosity of Squanto to our forefathers. We take advantage of this day of reverence and thanksgiving to be grateful for all the good things that God has blessed this nation with. The foods we use to celebrate Thanksgiving were ones that the pilgrim travelers found native to this country and the foods that, with the help of Native American teachers, they learned to capture, harvest and prepare to feed their families and prosper in their new home. Turkey was a game foul that was in ample supply to the pilgrims once Squanto showed them how to hurt the bird with reliable success. The vegetables we love to have on our traditional menus also had their origins in the early lives of the pilgrims. Potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes, green beans and all the rest were vegetables that the pilgrims had to learn to harvest, farm and prepare from natives of the land. So in many ways, our modern holiday, despite the dominance of football games and the upcoming Christmas holiday, retains the atmosphere of those early celebrations. And the meaning of the holiday, despite commercialization, has been retained. Americans have much to be thankful for. The abundance of the land, the health of the most prosperous economy on earth and a society that is free and able to encourage freedom in other cultures are just a few of the things we celebrate at this holiday time. But for most of us, it is a time to gather family and friends near and be thankful to God for our health, for the blessings of jobs and for the privilege all Americans share to be able to live in the greatest nation on earth where opportunity is ample that any of us can make it and do well if we work hard at our chosen area of expertise. And these are things truly worthy of giving thanks for. Benjamin Franklin Sometimes when a country is just getting organized, its citizens are considered to be uneducated, out of touch or primitive. But exactly opposite was the truth when the great American experiment began to take shape. The world did not see America as provincial or simple and that is due to a large part to the work of the man many that many have called "The First American". That man was Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin stands out amongst those we would call "The Founding Fathers" because he was neither a military man nor a politician. He was one of the few we think of a one of our nation's fathers that never served as president. But that does not mean that his contributions to the start of this great country were not profound and far reaching. Benjamin Franklin could easily be described as what was popularly known in his day as a "renaissance man". He was truly proficient in many fields of discipline and he had a mind that was fascinated with all areas of study and knowledge. As such he brought to the discussions with his fellow founding fathers a knowledge of political theory, an awareness of history and an ability to speculate on the perfect union that was crucial to the laying the conceptual foundation of what America would come to be when it blossomed into reality. For many, we remember Benjamin Franklin as a great scientist and inventor. And to be sure he qualified in that realm as well. Every school boy or girl has that image of him flying that kite to capture electricity to test his theories that is so popular in our mythology of his accomplishments. But these images are no myth for Franklin was truly a great inventor contributing to the world such important innovations as the lightning rod, swim fins, the catheter, the harmonica and bifocals. In that way, Benjamin Franklin had as much in common with Michelangelo as he did with Thomas Jefferson and indeed he was in good company if listed with either. But it was a political theorist and a philosopher that Franklin made huge contributions to the development of the American experiment in its early formations. It was he who was able to envision the concept of a new American nation. But his talents did not end at his ability to use his powerful mind to envision the future so well. He was also a talented communicator, writer and teacher so he was able to use his eloquence and magnetic personality to promote the idea of an American nation both within the colonies and internationally. Benjamin Franklin was truly a citizen of the world as he was as comfortable in the courtyards of France as he was in the pubs of Boston. In fact, he was so popular on both sides of the Atlantic that he served as America's first ambassador to France and therein lies one of his greatest contributions to the independence of the new country. He was able to use his vast popularity and his trained powers of persuasion to cause the French to enter the battle on the side of the colonies against the British which was a major contributor to the success of the revolution to free America from English control and launch the independent American nation. Franklin's writings have become treasured documents among the archives of this important time in American history. But just as much as his written work, his influence as a thinker, an intellectual and an international diplomat set the standard for others to follow after him and truly established America as a member of the international community of nations. The 22nd Amendment On February 27th, 1951, the 22nd amendment was ratified which made permanent a tradition that has profound influence on the philosophy of government in the United States of America. This amendment may not be the most well known amendment but its place in the fabric of American history cannot be overstated. That is because the 22nd Amendment mandated that: No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. The limitation of service as President of the United States to two terms was one that up until the 22nd amendment was more a matter of custom than law. It began when George Washington refused to run for a third term. But by making the limitation of power in the presidency in the 22nd amendment, the American people made a bold statement about how their government would be run. One of the most unique aspects to how the United States of America organized its government was the concept of citizen rulers. This concept was born in the very halls and pubs where the founding fathers gathered to discuss this new country that was just getting started. By reducing the idea of a "career politician", especially at the presidential level, the 22nd amendment dealt a deadly blow to the concept that America would ever be ruled by a king or a "president for life." This was clearly a reaction by America to the abuses that had witnessed by the pilgrims and immigrants that make up this great country in their homelands. They reacted strongly and negatively to the deification of kings and the virtually unlimited powers that too many times systems of royalty tended to give to their leadership. This was one of the central themes that caused so many to flee Europe, Central Asia and other parts of the world to seek a land where it was the people who were the center of the governments will, not the arbitrary ideas of a king who was cut off from the real needs of the people he served. The way America set up its presidency was in every way an attempt to "fix" the flaws and abuses of the European models and refocus the center of power in government on the electorate rather than on the elected. Another aspect of the American federal system that was put in place deliberately to limit the ability of those in power to abuse that power is the system of checks and balances. This system assures that none of the branches of government, The Congress, the Presidency or the Supreme Court could dominate the other or take complete power and rule without challenge. By insuring that all in power had to answer to the opposing party and be prepared to answer to the American people for what they did and even said, this completely eliminated that chances that one part of the government would stage a "coup" over the other. Accountability is a word that is not very exciting but it is the concept that has kept the American system of government healthy and in service to its people rather than putting them in service for over 200 years. In addition to these several highly innovative methods the founding fathers gave to this young country to eliminate the abuses of past governmental systems, they also put a system in place that assured the orderly transition of power. The system of elections every two years stopped two evils, the occurrence of a politician who served for life without accountability and a system wherein the only way to loose your job in government was by violent overthrow. As a result the American system, albeit contentious and argumentative, has been and continues to be one of the most peaceful and orderly systems of federal administration in the world and indeed in the history of the world. American Inventions The history of how America emerged as the premier superpower in the world is about more than just a great military or a homeland so rich in natural resources that we were able to become the breadbasket of the world. There are many forces that combined in the American experiment that has made this country so great. One of those great forces is the phenomenal inventive minds that have graced America virtually since its inception. Starting with the powerful mind of Benjamin Franklin, the history of inventions that started in America and transformed the world is lengthy indeed. The computer has become so much a part of our lives that we forget that it was once invented. The history of the development of this "futuristic" device is long and filled with genius. The actual first prototypes of the computer were developed by the Defense Department, which is oddly the source of a lot of the great innovations in American history. But it was the early PC developers including Steve Wozniac, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates that took the computer to the level of familiarity we know it to be now and made computers a part of our everyday lives. Most world changing inventions have a profoundly positive influence on mankind's quality of life. But an invention that did not improve life but destroyed it is also an American invention that changed the world. That invention, of course, is the Atomic Bomb. Developed by the fabled "Manhattan Project", this bomb changed everything about war, diplomacy and the way nations relate to one another. And to find a positive amongst all the death the bombings in Japan brought about, that bomb may be one of the key elements that brought an end to a horrific war, World War II. And in the long run, that is a conflict that the world breathed a sigh of relief when it came to an end. There is a joke that makes its rounds frequently during political jesting that "Al Gore invented the internet." If he had invented it, he would be a world changing inventor for sure. But it is not out of line to declare that America invented the internet. Again, the original primitive retypes for what became our modern internet was the work of the American Defense Department as a measure to insure that America's computer security was guarded by decentralizing the network. From this simple goal, the vast World Wild Web has emerged that has transformed everything about how we look at communication, information and knowledge. We have American ingenuity to thank for that. But of the thousands of American inventions that have done so much in the fields of medicine, technology, research and communications, none can compare to an invention by a brilliant thinker by the name of Henry Ford. That invention, obviously, is the automobile. Just like with some of the other inventions we have talked about, we can hardly imagine a time where there was no such thing as an automobile. Mr. Ford's amazing invention literally transformed society not just in America but around the world. From it came the freeway system and an overhaul to how cities and towns are organized and linked together. And while there are downsides to the widespread use of automobiles, it has been a huge leap forward for America and civilization as a whole. And Mr. Ford, like any of the inventors we have talked about and thousands we have not, would see the betterment of mankind as their greatest calling. America has hosted this great calling for centuries and will continue to produce brilliant inventors such as these for a long time to come. The Cornerstone of American Law There are just a few truly great documents that represent the foundation stones upon which the American system of government was built. One is the Declaration of Independence. Another is The Bill of Rights. But when it comes to the legal girding that we always go back to in order to test if a law in this land can stand or fall, it is the Constitution of the United States of America that is that backbone that defines right and wrong for us. Indeed you might even say that the sole reason we have a Supreme Court is to have a living body that is here to decide on, interpret and enforce constitutional law. And what is the worse accusation anyone can make about any act that is in question from a government agency? "That's unconstitutional" is that accusation. That is how powerful this document is in American life, legal definitions and culture. The historical context of the signing of The Constitution was The Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia. That city witnessed many such historic events which enshrine its place in the history of the country to be sure. The framers of that Constitution would have to be considered without question the most intelligent and well educated men certainly of their time and maybe of any time. That document was so well crafted that it has lasted as a legal standard for over 200 years with no signs that its power will diminish for hundreds of years more. But in that context, the Constitution is the oldest document of its kind in existence in the world and the original is carefully protected but on display in Washington DC. The Constitution reflected the best of some of the oldest legal documents of similar intent that went back hundreds of years into history. As such the Constitution includes ideas drawn from the Magna Carta, the French political philosopher Montesquieu, The Code of Hammurabi, the law of the Old Testament, ancient Greek political ideology from such writers as Polybius as well as Common Law from England. So while the core ideas of the Constitution draw from some of the greatest systems of government and ideologies from history, the outcome is a unique format for governing a people that was so untried that it was considered to be "The Great American Experiment." The Constitution is divided into seven "articles" each of which discusses one of the divisions of government. Articles one through three discuss the three branches of government including the legislative, the executive and the judicial. Article four goes into depth about the rights and powers reserved to the states. It is clear to see that the framers knew the importance of leaving much of the power of governing at the local and state level and that those rights needed to be preserved at the foundational document of the society, The Constitution. Other articles discuss the ratification process and federal power. But the wisdom of the framers of The Constitution lie in article five which outlines a process of amendments which leaves room for additional work to be done to keep the Constitution up to date to changes that need to be made. As such the Constitution has remained a living document for all of these years and will continue to be seen in that light for many decades and centuries to come. America Conquers the Air If you ask any student even in elementary school why the town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina is significant to American history, they will know the answer immediately. They will know that this was the place that Orville and Wilber Wright made the first working airplane and discovered that man could fly. Today, with thousands of airplanes taking to the sky at any given moment and the experience of flying high above the earth as common as riding a bicycle, it seems that a world where men did not fly is as far away as the ancient Romans. But we have to travel in time back to the days before the Wright brothers made their phenomenal discovery and the invention of the first aircraft when there was a time when it was firmly believed that man would never fly like a bird and indeed, man was meant to never fly but always be a terrestrial being. We can be grateful that the Wright brothers did not hold to that belief. The date of that first successful flight was December 17, 1903. It was on that fateful day that Orville and Wilber successfully flew the first controlled, powered, heavier than air airplane. This break through ranks as one of the greatest inventions of American history and in truth, one of the great inventions of all time as man had been dreaming of being able to fly as far back as we have primitive drawings illustrating that dream. The Wright brothers were well suited to go through the tedious research to finally create a machine that could accomplish this feat. We all know that great inventions are often the results of hundreds or thousands of failures and tests by which the inventor refines his ideas and makes new discoveries that take him step by step toward that final break through. That was certainly true of the Wright brothers. Our reference to flight becoming as common as riding a bicycle is well chosen because it was the Wright brothers vocation as mechanics repairing printing presses, motors and bicycles that gave them the knowledge of the inner workings of such machines that was needed to create a machine that could sustain flight. Their work to perfect the design of the common bicycle lead them to believe that conquering flight was not a question of providing sufficient power to the aircraft as it was providing mechanisms of control and balance to properly keep the aircraft steady with sufficient consistency that it could take to the air. Long before that first successful flight, the Wright brothers conducted their research. Using their bicycle shop as a makeshift laboratory, they first experimented with gliders and unmanned aircraft to refine their theories and their designs. But finally on December 17, 1903, they achieved their dream of manned flight, even if only for a short time. Orville Wright's account of that first flight is scientific and understated. "Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred feet had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds." Little did the Wright brothers know that an entire new industry would be built around these simple experiments. Moreover, they had achieved a dream man had dreamed for centuries, to actually be able to fly above the ground and come back safely. It is truly one of the great accomplishments of American history.
Abraham Lincoln We would like to think all of our presidents of the United States were truly great men and to be sure, just handling the awesome responsibility of the presidency takes a special kind of individual. One of the unique and great things about the system of government in America is the concept of citizen leadership. This is the idea of an ordinary citizen rising up and becoming president for a while and then returning to private life. But of the handful of men who have held that office, a few have stood out for their great achievements and leadership in a time that changed the country for ever. And one of these truly great presidents was Abraham Lincoln. Probably more than any other president, Lincoln had to handle an internal civil war that was far more than shouting and name calling. This was a dispute that could have torn the country in half and starting a rupturing that could have resulted in dozens of small weak independent states instead of the powerful nation we know as America today. It was Lincoln's leadership, his commitment to values and his strong moral fiber that made it possible for America to find its way through that war and then to begin the healing process that would eventually lead the nation back to unity once again. Lincoln's term of service from 1860 until his death was one of considerable challenge. If he only had the problem of dealing with the attempt by the south to succeed from the union and his ability to keep those states as part of the American national territory, he would be lauded as a great American indeed. One of the little known leadership styles that Lincoln used to his advantage in the organization of his presidency was his appointment of talented national figures from opposing political parties to be part of his cabinet. Lincoln felt that he needed to have close advisors from the opposing viewpoint to keep from having his presidency become insulated from the American people and one sided. By gathering members of the "loyal opposition" into his trusted inner circle, Lincoln was always aware of both sides of every issue which made him a stronger leader. But that is not even his greatest accomplishment or the one that we remember him for the most. His bold and unchanging opposition to slavery is without any doubt his greatest contribution to the history of America and indeed to world history as well. When he was willing to put everything on the line to stop this barbaric social sin, Lincoln made a stand, against the popular opinion of the time in many cases that he would be the figure to bring slavery to an end. It was not a stand that came without cost. The civil war was one of the bloodiest and costliest in the nation's history if for no other reason than all casualties; on both sides were casualties of America. It would take many decades for the ravages of that horrible war to be repaired. The schism between north and south continued for decades and is still a part of our national personality in this country. But the end result was what Lincoln wanted to be his legacy. By issuing the Emancipation Proclamation to make the end of slavery permanent, Lincoln followed that up with the passing of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments which made permanent the freedoms that were hard fought and won in the Civil War. The freedom that was won for so many black Americans in that war permanently enshrined the memory of Abraham Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents in the hearts and minds of all Americans. Small wonder the monument honoring him on Washington's national mall is one of the most revered spots in the nation and one that thousands flock to each year to give respect for this great president that made liberty and freedom a reality for all Americans, not just a few. And his face on Mount Rushmore is well deserved so the very mountain itself shouts out, this is one of the greatest leaders in the history of this great country. The Civil War America has been part of some devastating battles over her long history. World War I and World War II were tremendously difficult conflicts and ones that taxed the nation's resources to the maximum. But none of those conflicts can compare to The Civil War not only for the brutality and devastation of human life but in the damage to social fabric that was caused by that terrible conflict. America is proud that it has never had a battle on its native soil. Other than Pearl Harbor and 911, we have never even been attacked on our own soil. So it took a war of brother against brother, American against American to make even the possibility of war within the borders of America even possible. The war's statistics are staggering for a relatively short conflict. The war started on April 12. 1861. It was the confederacy that drew first blood attacking Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The battles of the Civil War and legendary. We have come to honor the dead of both sides of this bloody conflict by preserving many of those historic battlefields even to this day. Throughout the war, the North was at an advantage in preparation, equipment and supplies. But General Lee, who commanded the confederate army, was a brilliant strategist and the battles often resulted in massive casualties on both sides. When the final tally was drawn up, over 970,000 American citizens died from the Civil War. While that may not compare numerically to the huge losses in the two world wars later to come, this figure represented 3% of the American population at the time. And since the huge majority of the war dead were from America's youth, the hope for her future, the set back this war had on the development of America's economy was truly remarkable. In modern times we look back on the Civil War as a titanic battle to bring an end to the horrors of slavery in this country. And to be sure, the Civil War is and will forever remain a central part of black history and the beginning point of the civil rights movement in America. But the causes of the Civil War were complex and diverse which only made negotiation and resolution of the war more difficult in advance of conflict. Part of the issue that was being fought out was the rights of states for self determination as balanced with the rights of the federal government to determine affairs in the individual states. On the surface, this may seem trivial compared to ending slavery but put in context, it was a critical relationship to iron out in light of our not very distant memory of our revolution against England for trying to impose unreasonable controls on the colonies. American's are fiercely independent people and that independent spirit was born in the battles of the revolutionary war where America stated firmly that they would no longer bow to a king or let the centralized government have such sweeping control over individual lives. The outrage over how England tried to put the colonies under servitude was the foal that caused the explosion known as the Revolutionary War. And much effort was made to assure there was language in the constitution and other critical documents to assure that the federal government would be severely limited from interfering in the lives of its citizens. Beyond that the preservation of the union as one country was also in contest in the Civil War. But it was the moral issue of slavery that made the Civil War such an emotional issue and one that caused people to fight with such ferociousness to defend their side. In the end, even Abraham Lincoln made slavery the central rational for the war and determined that the end of this barbaric practice would be the legacy of this horrible conflict. But one thing that also was a legacy of the Civil War was the determination that we, as Americans, would never turn our war machine on our own citizens again. The war tore families apart and literally caused brother to war against brother. Since reconstruction and the union of America, the country has had a bruise in its national psyche over this war and that bruise reminds us that we are one people and we would always be one people devoted to the causes of truth, justice and the American way of life. The American Cowboy Americans have a unique vision of themselves and their role in the world. Unlike perhaps any other peoples in history, Americans see themselves as people of destiny and a people who were put here to do something phenomenal and something significant for history and for all peoples of the earth. This unique self-concept, sometimes perceived as arrogance, is deeply grounded in a set of archetypes that Americans use to form their vision of themselves in the world. And no other archetype is as powerful in the American psyche than that of the cowboy. The actual American cowboy was indeed a unique individual. While probably not as noble and ruggedly handsome as the images created of him in the movies, they were unique types of men who carved out a civilization from the rugged wilderness that was the American west in the years before the turn of the last century. Some of the reasons that the image of the cowboy sometimes includes elements of the outlaw and the loner is that much of the legend of the cowboy came from stories of refugees from the broken southern army who took to the life of the cowboy rather than attempt to integrate into a society that included making peace with "the Yankee". And that type of individual certainly did account for many of the outlaws who went on to become the stuff of legend and stories even to this day. The renegade and loner image combined with the rough life of an actual cowboy whose job it was to guide those huge herds of cattle along trails such as the historic Cumberland trail where they could be sold to become the steaks, leather and other goods that were sold in rustic American stores of the time. This was a difficult life and the stories of the trail make up many history books for sure. But far more of the stories of the trail are glorifications of that lifestyle that must have been difficult indeed. But the image of the cowboy was also something that grew larger than what the actual lifestyle of those simple but rugged men must have lived in the American west. It was an image that pulled together heroes as far flung as the Australian Gaucho cowboy, the Japanese Samurai and a knight in King Arthur's court. It was an image of a man who demonstrated the rugged individualism that all Americans consider to be one of the central unifying traits that makes America great. The cowboy image is one that even has its influence as high in the social strata of America that it influences the presidency. It is said that there is a tradition for any president when he first is elected and comes to Washington to begin learning this big new job. Tradition holds that each president has as part of their early duties to sit down and watch the movie High Noon. They say that President Clinton watched it dozens of times in his early years. If this is true, it accounts for how often a new president seems to grow and change in the office and becomes his own version of the great American hero that is depicted in that movie. The American cowboy defends the virtue of the weak and helpless. He is a staunch defender of families and those in society who are trying to carve out a home in a difficult world. As such, the American cowboy fits with the "superhero" image that also appeals to the American system of justice and morality and values. Even the star wars epic films were fundamentally grounded in the legend of the cowboy. The cowboy concept grew up from a history of our country that included the settling of a big land and the settling of a wilderness that pit the god given will and intellect of man against God's creation. And it was the will of man that prevailed. That is why American's admire the cowboy because he represents their own struggles for greatness, for success and to be a heroic figure at least for their families, home towns and churches. And that desire so deeply rooted in the culture of American history will always be what makes America and Americans great. The Great War The history of America is decorated with some of the great conflicts that have ever been fought by civilizations and for great ideals. This was never truer than in World War II which was sometimes called the Great War. As is so often the case, it was not a war that America wanted to become part of. So often, it is when aggressors bring war to America that she is forced to respond. But in all cases when America responds, it is with a fury that her enemies will seldom forget. When you think about it, the very idea of a world war is terribly frightening. And in every way, World War II was a world war because it caught up virtually every country and every continent in a global conflict that went on for years. The enemies of America and her allies were well armed, intelligent, determined and powerful. But America was up to the challenge and it will be up to the challenge again if the likes of Hitler dare to threaten civilization like this again. World War II was also virtually a textbook case of flawless collaboration with our allies. Working together with them almost like we were one country and one army we deployed our forces across multiple theaters of combat from Europe to Asia to Russia and across the globe. We had to fight more than one enemy. Hitler's Germany alone was a frightening enemy as it spread its evil influence across Europe capturing country after country and threatening to swallow up the continent whole and then move on to capture lands in central Asia and even America. But we also had powerful enemies in German's allies, particularly Japan. When this frightening enemy struck our forces at Pearle Harbor, it was a blow to America that could not be ignored. For Japan, they had hoped to cripple the American military and remove all hope from the American heart to be able to strike back or become part of the conflict. They got exactly the opposite as every man, woman and child in America rallied to build the kind of war machine that would bring the Axis powers to a crashing end, no matter what the cost. But the most important thing that America said to the world when it took on Hitler's armies and defeated them was that totalitarian rule of free peoples would never be tolerated. Hitler had dreams of world domination like the great kings of ancient Rome of the early Germanic empires. But America had thrown off dictators when we founded this country and declared that we would not become the pawn of kings or tyrants. We were not going to turn over that hard fought freedom to a madman while there was a fighting will left in this country. It was not an easy battle or one without cost. Thousands of America's youth gave their lives to preserve the freedoms that had been won by our forefathers. Our leaders had to show a resolve and a unity that they would not blink in the face of a challenge and they would not let down the brave American soldier or the civilian population that stood behind them until Hitler and his allies were in defeat. The world saw what America was made of in that great conflict. It saw that a country that was gifted with great wealth and prosperity was also willing to turn those resources to defend its borders and defend its allies. It was a stern lesson for our enemies to learn that America was not a country to be trifled with in combat. But then we showed that we were not a vindictive country when, even in defeat, we reached out to Japan, Germany and other defeated peoples and helped them rebuild from that awful war. This too is a testimony to the American sprit and the American sense of fair play. Let's hope that an enemy never rises up again to test that will because they will find as Hitler did, that America would not fail to respond to the call to battle or the call to honor which is her legacy. Standing Down Hitler If you were to ask anybody in this country what was America's "finest hour", you might find many different answers. For most of us, we think of a handful of incidents where the true spirit of what it means to be an American comes forth. And to some, you might hear the answer "America's finest hour is still ahead of it", and that may be true. Nobody can tell that right now. But in terms of American history, without a doubt when America linked arms with it's allies and stood down the terrible threat Adolph Hitler's Germany was posing during World War II would have to represent the finest show of strength, national resolve and honor in the history of the nation. And that is because during these difficult years, America did not just use its vast resources to save Americans and American interests. It is not an overstatement that by standing down Hitler, America saved the world. World War II was without a doubt the most devastating war in the history of the world. The death toll worldwide from this conflict reached over sixty million people. The aggression of the axis powers seemed to know no limitations which only makes more dramatic the brave stand that America, England, France and the other allied powers showed to stand in the face of a well armed and ruthless enemy and deny them the world domination they sought. Its easy to look back now on how the greatest generation, as they often have been called, found the will, the determination to risk everything to stop Hitler's armies. But we forget that at the time, there was no way of knowing if the allies were going to prevail. Early in the war, Hitler seemed unstoppable as he occupied Poland and the invasion of Europe spread to England, France, Norway and beyond giving Germany more and more leverage to spread the war to Africa, into Russia and across Asia as well. By the time the full allied force was assembled and ready to strike back, Hitler's advances were so deep and the spread of the war so far reaching that at times it seemed impossible to turn back this evil tide of military hostility that threatened to engulf the globe. As often is the case, it was when America entered the war that the allies began to see a hope to stop the horror of what Hitler was trying to do. It took the bombing of Pearl Harbor to put the American population on alert that the isolation of the American continent did not mean that they would be spared the spread of the war to their homeland unless something was done. By attacking America's ships at harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, the Japanese brought the most potent military machine in the world into the war against the axis powers which eventually spelled doom for the cause of Hitler and his allies. America's battles on the many fronts of World War II is filled with dozens of stories of courage and strategic brilliance that finally began to turn the war to the favor of the allies. It took courageous decision making at the very top levels of command to make that decision to use the most devastating weapon man had ever known to strike Japan and speed the end of conflicts. The toll of dropping nuclear weapons on Japan was horrific but America's president knew that by ending the conflict, tens of thousands of American lives would be saved. Only that made it a justifiable attack. But that attack alone did not bring Hitler to his knees. The turn of fortunes began on D-Day on June 5, 1944. This massive assault on the beaches of Normandy France caught the German defenders by surprise. Nevertheless, the cost in lives was tremendous as American and allied troops staged that massive invasion to begin to bring the Nazi war machine down. We can only look back with gratitude to the brave men and woman who fought to keep America and the world free from Hitler's plans of world domination. And by stopping him, we can truly say, this was America's finest hour. Manifest Destiny America is a vast country covering thousands of square miles of land that traverses tremendously diverse climate and landscape. From high and majestic mountains, to wide deserts to vast fruitful plains that seem to go on forever, the sheer size of the physical landscape of America is breath taking. Obviously, this was not always the case. When those earliest settlers landed on the east coast and carved out their stark settlements, they had no idea of huge expanse of land that lay to the west. It took the bold explorations of surveyors such and Lewis and Clark to report back how stunningly huge the amount of physical space that was available for America to inhabit. At first, the very idea of becoming a nation was seemingly impossible for the early settlers to grasp. They came here to escape persecution, tyranny or to make a new home for their families. If they could have looked a few hundred years down the line into the future and seen the powerhouse of a nation that would grow up from their work in those early years, they would have been stunned that this country grew to be such a world force. So the earliest challenges of settlers and early leaders of the citizens of the young America was to grasp the scope of what they were about to set about to achieve. But grasp that scope they did. It seemed that the physical majesty of what was to become the nation of America inspired a concept that was just as grand as the land itself and that was the concept of Manifest Destiny. Manifest destiny was the force that drove those settlers and explorers to drive their wagon trains across sometimes impossible terrain through difficult weather conditions and facing many dangers from animals and Native Americans alike to build a nation that spanned form the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. This was the dream of the early settlers of this country. They did not just see a new nation but one of importance, of an almost holy calling to become a virtual utopia of democracy and opportunity. And part of that utopian vision was the idea of a nation that spanned ocean to ocean and from Mexico to the Canadian border as well. When you think about it, its phenomenal that a people who did not have space photographs of a landscape or high speed travel such as is common today to get a vision of a unified nation of such vast size and scope. But it was more than just physical size that spoke to the hearts and souls of those early Americans. Manifest Destiny spoke to a vision of greatness for America that was birthed in the hearts of even these early citizens. The size of the country was to be a reflection of the majesty of the human spirit and the magnificence of the American experiment to build a nation built on freedom, the will of the people and on democracy and opportunity. Today such concepts seem ordinary and for that we can thank the early founders of this country for catching that dream together and making it a reality. Many have criticized Manifest Destiny as greed or empire building. And to be sure, mistakes were made and many people died or had their individual destinies hurt in the wholesale rush to the west that America experienced in its early decades. But what is not diminished is that sense of calling and that sense that America was put here for something great. That calling lives still in the hearts of all true Americans as we find out how we too can help our country fulfill its Manifest Destiny to be a voice for freedom and liberty in the world. Let's hope Americans never loose their sense of calling and destiny. Because if that dies away, something holy and magnificent will die with it. Vietnam In the annals of American history, there may be no other country name that evokes such emotion as the country of Vietnam. The history of this conflict is more than just a military struggle. The impact that the Vietnam conflict had on American culture and foreign policy for many decades to come makes it a truly watershed war in the life of a relatively young country. Vietnam was not, on the surface as clearly a moral battleground as World War II or the Civil War had been. That in itself made it more difficult for Americans to understand and become patriotic about as they had been in prior wars. Yes, as in past conflicts, we found ourselves defending our allies, the South Vietnamese against the attacks of a communist neighbor to the north. And in that way, it became a struggle to assist an ally, a military objective that America had long embraced. But the war was not just with the North Vietnamese. To a very large extent, the war was against the Chinese and the Russians who were using the theater in Vietnam to wear down the American fighting force. It was a war that had been going on for many decades before the Americans got involved as a regional battle. Many foreign powers had gotten involved and left defeated so when America entered this conflict, it was a very different kind of war than we had been used to. The armies mixed with the population. There were no uniforms and formations and battle theaters as battle could occur anywhere at any time. Combine that with a hostile jungle setting and the complete absence of any battle protocol and you had a formula for failure if not a very difficult road to success. Vietnam also is a watchword for the tremendous resistance movement that rose up on American soil to try to stop the conflict. This resistance movement became deeply entangled with a huge change to the social fabric in the rise of the youth movement, the hippies and the fast moving surge of the civil rights and the woman's rights movements. This made the era of the late 1950s through the early 1970s tremendously difficult to navigate as a nation. Vietnam did follow somewhat of a predictable path of invasions, major battles, set backs and regrouping of our forces. But the military faced a huge challenge in facing the many new war scenarios this difficult combat setting presented. As the casualty count grew, without a clear cut definition of victory and with very few clear victories to demonstrate to the American people our superiority, the ability of civilian leadership to sustain the support for the war effort became jeopardized. Vietnam very much represents a transition in how America viewed conflict. We came out of the huge successes we had seen our military bring in battle. The defeat of Hitler and the axis powers in World War II gave America a sense of confidence, of divine calling to prevail militarily and the concept that we are the good guys and we will always win. But we did not win in Vietnam and that was and is a hard lesson to learn. America demonstrated its devout dedication to the concept of supporting an ally in a warring situation when it committed troops to the Vietnam conflict. But there were many lessons to be learned about preparation and going into a conflict with a strategy that had a high probability of success. In wars to come in later years such as Grenada, the Balkans and the Liberation of Kuwait, we demonstrated that America had learned those lessons going in with a massive force and achieving victory before we got bogged down in a long civil conflict. So we can applaud the bravery of our troops and the willingness of our leadership to learn from a tough war like Vietnam. The lessons to be learned from Vietnam are still being worked out. But in the end, we will be a better nation and a stronger nation because we put ourselves on the line for a friend, even if the outcome was not the desired outcome. John F. Kennedy In the life of this great nation, a few of its presidents have emerged from the pack as truly historic and memorable even more than others. Of course, the presidents from the generation of the founding fathers certainly fit that bill including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. And presidents that served the country in times of great crisis also are deeply honored in memory. But in recent memory, there probably no other president that brings up emotions of respect and admiration as much as that of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy seemed to capture the hearts of the American people in a way that was unique in presidents before or since. Part of it may have been the era in history that the country was in when he became the President of the United States. The historic time between 1950 and 1970 was a time when the largest generation of youth, now known as the "baby boomers", was coming of age. With them a new youth movement brought a sense of optimism, a "can do" attitude and to some extent a sense of revolution. They were looking for new ways of seeing things, a new vision of the future and new leadership and John F. Kennedy was the perfect man of the hour to provide that leadership. So much about Kennedy's presidency has an aura of romance and almost a fairy tale excitement of it. From the naming of his family estates "Camelot" to the love affair that the public had with the strikingly beautiful presidential couple, Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy. That touch of magic extended to everything he did and virtually everybody in his family including his younger brother Robert who was idolized as well and almost certainly would have served as president had he not been tragically assassinated during his early bid for that office. But this was not to say that Kennedy was not a phenomenal leader. He faced serious challenges. The Cuban Missile Crisis may have been one of the most frightening show downs between a nuclear Russia and a nuclear America that has ever happened in history. When it became clear that Russia was beginning to build bases in Cuba and arm them with those terrible weapons, this was no time for a weak president. Had Russia been able to bully Kennedy or intimidate the young president and put those missiles in Cuba, it seems certain that the outcome of the cold war would have been one of failure rather than success. But Kennedy was not bullied or intimidated and using the power of his office, Kennedy stood his ground and stood ground for all Americans and forced the Russians to remove those missiles. But this was not the only great accomplishment of Kennedy's administration. It took a leader who had great vision and ability to inspire a nation as nobody else than John F. Kennedy could to set the sights of the nation on landing on the moon. But Kennedy put that desire and that high calling in the hearts of his people and the nation rallied to finally see that man step out on the moon and declare, "This is one step for man, a giant leap for mankind." That was one of the proudest days in American history and it was Kennedy who inspired us to that kind of greatness. As much as the life and leadership of John F. Kennedy perfectly exemplified the optimism and youthful zeal of a generation, his tragic assignation changed the country forever as well. On that sad day of November 22, 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down America's beloved president, the hearts of Americans changed forever. This was one of those days that almost everybody who was alive at the time, from school children to grandfathers remembered where they were when they heard the news. Since we laid to rest this great leader, the presidency itself has never been the same. While Americans will always respect their presidents, that sense of adoration for the man in the White House disappeared forever. But the thing that did not disappear was the ongoing adoration of the man, John F. Kennedy, who inspired a generation and a nation to look forward to greatness and in the famous words of his inaugural address in 1961: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." The Cold War When we look back over the span of centuries that represents American history, it is easy to call out major military engagements which represent the major wars of this country. From World War II to the Civil War to Korea to World War I, America has been involved in many military engagements and emerged victorious in all but a few of them. But one of the strangest, longest lasting wars that America has entered into was the one that was called "The Cold War". For many Americas living today, The Cold War was a fact of life for decades. The reason it was a cold war was that there was no battlefield, no armies on deployment, no body counts and no major engagements to report. Instead it was a long period of silent animosity between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from the end of World War II up to the early 1990s. The strange thing was that the cold war grew out of our relationship with the Soviet Union during World War II which was a relationship of friendship. But the seeds of the "conflict" were in place at the end of that horrible war. With the presence of nuclear technology, the concept of a "superpower" was born. This was not itself a source of tension until the Soviet Union themselves developed the bomb as well and a long cold stand off ensued in which both nations trained thousands of these weapons on each other to warn the other that they must never consider firing those weapons. It was a staring contest that lasted almost fifty years and created a tremendous drain on both economies. Both countries had to maintain "parity" of their nuclear weapons so neither country got more than the other thus throwing of the balance of power and giving one combatant an unfair advantage. This was a strange logic in that both countries possessed enough weaponry to destroy the earth dozens of times over but still they insisted on "having parity" throughout the cold war. It was clear that no battle between the Soviet Union and America could ever be tolerated. The potential outcome of engaging those weapons had the power to destroy life on planet earth. But neither country was prepared to lay down their arms and begin the process of making peace with the other. So the weapons continued to point at each other, day after day, year after year, for fifty years. So instead of conducting battles directly, the two countries fought each other through small wars around the world. The Soviet Unions, working with China happily contributed to the humiliating loss in Vietnam that the United States endured. But the United States then turned around and armed the Afghan Mujahideen which lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union in their occupation of that country. From proxy wars, the space race, and occasional face offs such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War continued for decades testing the will and resolve of both countries never to look away and give the other the advantage. Finally the pressure on the economies of the two countries took its toll in the early 1990s, particularly in the Soviet Union as the stress of sustaining such an expensive and unproductive war forced the Soviet economy into collapse and the empire broke up. The United States had won the cold war by sheer will to endure and stubborn refusal to give in. This is a seldom spoken of element of the American spirit but it is one that the Soviets learned to their own disaster not to test. Hopefully no other "superpower" will ever think they are equipped to test it again. Saving Kuwait The history of American use of its military forces, there are some stand out examples of how America considers its military might be a force for good and justice. And the use of military for a just cause can be beautifully illustrated in the way America came to the aid of an ally in the Gulf War of 1991. This war goes under a lot of names including Operation Desert Storm and the Liberation of Kuwait. But whatever title, it was a battle America needed to enter into because of an unjust invasion of an ally and an act of aggression we could not just stand by and let happen. The United States and the civilized nations of the world had put up with a lot of barbaric behavior from Saddam Husain, the dictator in Iraq for a long time. He was becoming more and more aggressive in his push to test the will and the ability of advanced nations to stop him. But he crossed the line when on August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait on trumped up charges of illegal drilling of oil on border property between the two countries. It is important to remember that America and it's allies did not launch a full scale attack within days or weeks of the Iraqi take over of Kuwait. There were efforts to negotiate and resolve the crisis by peaceful means. But Saddam Hussein defied the world and continued his plan to absorb Kuwait and then possibly take the attack to the next stage into Saudi Arabia. The Gulf War was also an important statement to the world that America's allies are important to us and we will defend them if it comes to that. We proved that in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and here in the Middle East. When a country becomes a friend of the United States, it's enemies become our enemies. And in this unthinkable invasion, not only did Iraq directly assault one of America's allies, that hostility showed that Saudi Arabia was at risk which was a very important ally as well. America also leveraged its ability to depend on it's friends from around the world, rallying a tremendous international force as the preparations for war began to mature. In total, 34 countries sent troops, ships, arms and other military assistance to join with American military power to turn back this invasion. The other lesson this war taught the enemies of America is the phenomenal effectiveness of the American military. On January 17, 1991, the assault began with a massive air attack that stunned the Iraqis and the world. The ferocity of the bombings and the firestorm that defying the west brought down on the Iraqi military virtually doomed them to ever mount an efficient force to fight back against this overwhelming military response to their aggression. Following that air attack came one of the most brilliant ground campaigns in modern warfare. Using modern technology, America faced Iraq's impressive army on their home turf and soundly defeated them. The Iraqi strategy was to keep the massive desert behind them because they felt no enemy could ever navigate that desert and find their rear flank. But was a deadly miscalculation as the coalition forces, lead by General Norman Schwarzkopf, used satellite technology and navigation systems to guide their armies across that desert by night and stage a stunning surprise attack on the Iraqi Republican Guard bringing them to defeat with a decisive blow. The term "Lightning War" could best be used to describe the l ability of the American lead coalition armies to repel this invasion on Kuwait. By early March of 1991, major hostilities were over and Kuwait had been liberated. To defeat an enemy in less than 90 days was accomplishment the world never thought possible. But demonstrated to the world that America was able to defend its allies and stop a ruthless dictator. Since that war there has been discussions about whether President Bush should have used the advantage we gained by defeating Saddam's armies to capture Iraq as well. President Bush showed great wisdom by sticking to the declared mission and returning Kuwait to Kuwaiti control. H shows that President Bush in 1991 was showing wisdom in his leadership which resulted in Operation Desert Storm turning out to be one of the most successful military campaigns in United States history. When Everything Changed American history, or really history in general is not always marked with outstanding events, stunning personalities or remarkable speeches. Much of the history of a great nation is slow steady improvement, set backs and then how a people recovers from those set backs. But in the context of American history, there are a number of truly phenomenal moments when everything changed. These are not just one day events, although some are that sudden. But these are events that once they transpired, Americans thought of themselves, the world and their place in the world completely differently. And it's worth noting what those events were and how they changed Americans forever. Obviously the revolution itself and the founding of the country changed a small group of colonies who thought of themselves as Englishmen far from home. When the independence of America was done, that vision of ourselves was completely different. We were now a proud new nation, a new type of nationality that had its own view of the world and its own hopes and dreams as well. World War II was the kind of event that once we underwent the tremendous trial, struggle and victory that such a war demands of a people, we never could go back to seeing ourselves again in the same way as we thought before the war. Our victory against Japan, Germany and their allies gave us tremendous confidence that we could affect world history for the better. But it also gave us a tremendous sense of responsibility. When we dropped those bombs on Japan, everybody on the planet began to understand the horrible power that was now in the hands of mankind, for a season in the hands of America and the huge responsibility for the fate of mankind that came with that kind of power. Pearl Harbor while part of World War II deserves its own mention because of the fundamental change to how America viewed itself in relation to the world. Prior to that attack, America considered itself invulnerable. Like a teenager that thought they could never be hurt, we had never been attacked on our homeland before. But Japan proved that they not only could attack us but that they could hurt us very badly. Yes, we responded with a fury but from that moment forward, we knew that we, like everybody else in the world, were vulnerable and we had to start behaving differently in a world full of both friends and enemies. Outside of the military world, the famous I Have a Dream Speech by Dr. Martin Luther King at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 did not just change the black community forever. Yes, that speech had a mighty impact on the way the African American community saw their future and it gave inspiration and hope to a struggling civil rights movement that spurred it on to victory. But it also affected all Americans because we started to see ourselves as a community of many cultures, many races and many orientations. It was the beginning of acceptance in this country. But that is a process that is far from over. In modern times, the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 had a drastic effect on the minds and hearts of America and indeed on the world. We are still learning how that effect will finally show itself as the ripples of shock, fear, anxiety and reprisals are still going on. But to be sure, as with Pearl Harbor, the effects on our feelings about our place in the world and our vulnerability were certainly be changed forever. When America Proved that Anything is Possible It was one of those moments in American history that the people who were able to watch it for the first time felt like they were in a science fiction movie. But with televisions cameras on every move, the nation and the world watched on July 20, 1969 as three American astronauts landed on the moon. The project had been in the works for years to be sure. You have to wonder with the phenomenal amount of work, expert engineering and the amazing genius that created the rocket ships and everything that would be needed to make the flight possible, if even those in NASA sat in mute wonder and had goosebumps when "Buzz" Aldren was the first man in history to put his foot on another world and pronounce those famous words... "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." That phrase, which itself was carefully prepared, has a lot of wisdom in it. Sure, touching another world for the first time in human history was a tremendous accomplishment for America. But more than that, it signaled a new era for humankind everywhere. All of a sudden, the moon wasn't a far away myth, full of mystery and magic. All of a sudden, people everywhere felt like they too could touch the stars if they put out their best efforts too. It was also a huge moment for the unity of all people. Few things cause the world population to come together and link arms and be one people, not separate countries. Most of the time, it's a terrible global disaster that makes us all bond together. But this time was different. This time is was a moment so phenomenal that everybody stopped and watched and everybody knew that this was not just a great accomplishment for three astronauts and scientists that put them there. This was a great accomplishment for mankind. American history is populated with tremendous events, both bad and good. But it's worth a moment to sit back and reflect on what the first moon landing meant and continues to mean for Americans and the American spirit. You have to wonder if any other nation would have had the ability, the creative powers, the powerful minds and the collective will to see this kind of amazing accomplishment through to success. It's even more amazing when you remember that just a few years earlier, on September 12, 1962 that President Kennedy challenged American to rise to this challenge in a speech at Rice University. It takes a lot to make something as historic and earth shaking as landing on the moon a reality and visionary leadership such as Kennedy showed that day was a big part of why this landing made history. This amazing achievement points out something outstanding about the American spirit. Americans are a people who dream big. And to land a man on the moon took big dreams. But we didn't just dream to put a man up there, it was not acceptable unless we got everybody home safely as well. For the most part the American space program has had a phenomenal history of success in breaking through barriers that nobody had every done before. Yes, there have been set backs and tragedies along the way. But Americans are not quitters and through all the struggles we face, we face them together. But we never forget to look up at the stars and dream of the day that yet again we see an American set foot on another world and plant out flag in that soil to be signal forever that America was here!
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