THE AMERICAN HERITAGE
Any politician who wishes to, please feel free to borrow
this article. Just don't forget where you got it
[Polished the text a bit, on 12/29/07]
First published in the Unification News in its May 1993 issue.
Second Edition: April 1998.
In recent months, this author has made many dire statements about American society, and its leadership in particular. This month we'll take a positive turn, and review some of the things that have made this nation great. An earlier version of this article appeared in May 1993.
The United States of America burst upon the world as a new type of nation, deliberately created upon a vast and undeveloped land, by a group of wise and inspired leaders. In all history, no other nation has advanced so rapidly, or influenced the world so profoundly.
In the past, many nations traded widely, and some built Empires through military conquest. Historically, the Greeks and Romans altered the world forever. Today, America's ideals and form of government have already changed everything. Its fashions and culture now pervade the world and, overall, this has been a positive influence.
America has the world's oldest functioning Constitution. Most other national constitutions owe much to the system, rights and responsibilities spelled out in ours. Even the most despotic governments claim to emulate American freedoms and legal procedures.
America has multiple roots. Her founders were educated, well traveled, experienced people. They knew of the written rights of England's Magna Carta, the divided powers government proposed by Montesquieu of France, the religious tolerance of the Dutch, and the independence of the Swiss. Nearer at hand, the Iroquois Indians enjoyed an elected representative government. These, and many others, contributed their wisdom of the ages to the American formula. Most important of all, from Hebrew tradition and Anglo-Saxon common law, came the concept of God given rights.
Recently, the 500th anniversary of Columbus's landing renewed the debate about his legacy. Although he contributed little to America's intellectual heritage, his voyage made its founding possible. Was he a good guy or a bad guy? It's absurd to apply our modern standards of behavior to him. His was a brutal era of powerful Lords and Ladies; of capricious cruelty rendered without appeal. Lucky indeed were those lands favored with a just ruler!
There are many versions of American history; as many as there are historians. Opinions come and go, and popular impressions change. Were Americans the bearers of Manifest Destiny, pioneering the untamed wilderness? Or were they barbarous conquerors, ravaging the land and the peaceful natives? Actually, both--and neither.
Look at the portrayal of native Americans by Hollywood. Originally they were screaming hordes, to be mowed down by brave wagon train riders. Next they were noble savages, destroyed by rapacious cavalry soldiers. Later, movies like Dances with Wolves admitted to both good and cruel soldiers, as well as Indians. Even that portrayal of 'virtuous Lakota' and 'murderous Pawnee' was not without controversy. (Note that the beautiful horses they rode had arrived a mere 300 years before, after they'd lived without them for at least 10,000 years.)
How much does the average American know about history? It's a vast and often controversial subject. Just look at the Kennedy assassination, which is still within living memory.
Most people know that the young George Washington didn't really cut down a cherry tree. But how many know that he didn't have wooden teeth? That little item came from a British smear campaign.
Were the Puritans dourly religious, clad in black, and very "uptight?" (Whether that's considered good or bad.) They were not! They had sexual problems, too--and discussed them openly in their regular church meetings. They had marriage manuals as explicit, and as fun for man and wife, as anything Dr. Ruth has done. (Read Richard Shenkman's Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History.)
How many people are aware that thousands of Blacks, free and slave, fought during the Civil War . . . on the side of the South? Shocking indeed, but true. Modern sensibilities unavoidably color our view of history.
America has combined much evil with its good, yet it is the freest, fairest, and most prosperous nation that has ever existed. Gradually, wrongs (like slavery) were ended, and rights (such as the vote) were extended to all.
A century ago, Jack London and Upton Sinclair wrote about the horrible sweatshops in our emerging industrial centers. London thought that the 'Robber Barons' of early Capitalism would rule the world for ages to come. (Read his prophetic novel The Iron Heel.)
In the event, history took a different course. Unions, often fighting pitched battles with company-hired goons, won better working conditions. (My own grandfather helped found the modern Longshoreman's Union in San Francisco.) The people elected crusading 'Reform' politicians, who broke the stranglehold of the railroads and other industrial giants.
Fairness and prosperity grew together. Henry Ford and his men developed the moving assembly line, enabling mass production of a cheaper, standardized product. In a fateful decision, Ford raised his worker's pay to five dollars per day, far above the usual "starvation wages." Thus he increased his own market, because afterwards his workers could afford their own Model T cars. Other companies followed suit, and the American standard of living shot through the roof.
Ever since, whether it's refrigerators, radios, or the newest computer, goods have come to market, fallen in price, and spread into every household. An affluent middle class appeared. As far back as Aristotle, scholars have written that it's these stalwart citizens who bring stability to a nation. The rest of the world has followed suit, where their leaders were wise enough to allow it. [As I write this update, the ongoing chaos in Pakistan illustrates that lack.]
Critics of Imperialism claim that America's prosperity is illegitimate, looted from our "economic colonies." Was wealth really sucked out of the Third World, leaving it in long term poverty? The answer is mixed.
Marxists will cry "exploitation," but it was their own inept, corrupt rule that threw so many newly independent nations into ruin. [Zimbabwe is perhaps the worst example.] There certainly was exploitation in the 'banana republic' domains of American businessmen, including Hawaii. Smedley Butler, an embittered former Marine Corps General, said, "Al Capone ran three districts of Chicago. I ran three countries for United Fruit."
There is another side to the story. A respected Idaho farmer, a man in his nineties, once gave this author his personal testimony. Decades ago, he and his partners bought a plantation in Central America. The local's pay was one coin per day--about 50 cents. Aware of the "evil Yanqui" criticism being voiced even then, the new owners doubled these peasant worker's pay. The result? The locals started showing up for work only half the time! They declined an opportunity to prosper.
Little of America's wealth came from there. (Read the CAUSA manual on Imperialism.)
Many see God's Hand in the founding of America. Rev. Moon speaks often about the Pilgrim's dedication to God. (Manuel and Marshall's book The Light and the Glory documents our amazing history of worship and revival.)
America prospered because of her people's freedom and self-reliance. Inspired ministers and inventors changed her, and the world, forever.
Children could be children, with many years to learn and play, instead of being conscripted as junior workers. For the first time in history, an entire national populace was free from starvation. And even the humblest worker could enjoy free time. (Read The Mainsprings of Human Progress by H. G. Weaver.)
Americans are a religious people. Much of their free time is spent in church. In fact, attendance has steadily risen over the past 200 years. The charitable generosity of her people has increased every year, through good times and bad.
Some of the fieriest historical arguments are about the Founding Fathers. Did George Washington "smoke dope," as the hippies claimed? No, but he did grow it, for hemp fiber. Did Jefferson have children by a slave? Historians still aren't sure. Most important, were they Christians? Did they intend to establish a Christian nation?
Whatever one labels the Founders, they did believe in a creator God, and in the Fall of Man. This understanding was crucial to what they wrought. They affirmed our God-given rights, which no human can annul. An immortal soul has infinite value, far above any social object, or any passing ruler or government. (Thus her citizens ought never fall victim to some dictatorial ruler's 'killing fields.')
We hear a lot of talk about "putting government in the hands of the people." That's not what the Founders had in mind! In their writings, they did not use the word 'democracy' at all. Rather, they insulated the leadership, as with the (originally State-appointed) Senate. This is because people are fallen: often selfish, impulsive, and short-sighted; sometimes mean-spirited. Leaders, too! That's why the Founders wanted 'citizen leaders,' elected frequently, and held in check by a balance of powers.
These brilliantly realistic insights lead the Founders to write the Constitution as they did. And that's the basis for it's unprecedented survival through two very turbulent centuries. Hopefully, Americans will always bear this in mind.
America's heritage offers great hope to the world--if we ourselves don't bury it. The parallel between modern Russia and our old Continental Congress is remarkable. They too need unity, and centered on Godly principles, rather than communist guns. [Seems they do prefer 'strong leaders,' by whatever title, that's for sure!]
Administrations come and go, but America endures. Her people's life expectancy and living standards are steadily improving. Its houses of worship continue to fill each Holy Day.
Twenty years ago, Rev. Moon told us that we need to take one more step: a quiet revolution from selfishness to unselfishness. Actually living by the Golden Rule would transform American society beyond the fondest hopes of her Founders. Thus our third century will progress far beyond the first two.
© 1999 by Paul Carlson
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