Monday, January 08, 2007

The Glorious Cause of America

I watched a speech last night that David McCullough gave at BYU back in September 2005 called "The Glorious Cause of America." McCullough is one of my favorite authors, having read John Adams and 1776 and being part way through Truman. I think that 1776 should be required reading for all American citizens. It beautifully shows the sacrifices made by our Founding Fathers to create this nation. 1776 was not a good year for anyone. America was losing badly, soldiers were dieing from exposure and starvation. Yet there were men and women who bravely gave all they had for the cause of liberty and justice. These people are rarely remembered and little understood by so many of us, myself included, that hurry about using the freedoms we take for granted. As McCullough told the BYU students:

We are taught to honor and celebrate those great men who wrote and voted for the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. But none of what they committed themselves to—their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor—none of those noble words about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, about all men being created equal, none of that would have been worth any more than the paper it was written on had it not been for those who were fighting to make it happen. We must remember them, too, and especially those who seem nameless: Jabez Fitch and Joseph Hodgkins; little John Greenwood, who was all of 16 years old; and Israel Trask, who was 10 years old. There were boys marching with the troops as fifers or drummers or messenger boys, not just Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox and John Glover and George Washington. And they were in rags—they were in worse than rags. The troops had no winter clothing. The stories of men leaving bloody footprints in the snow are true—that’s not mythology.
The sacrifices of the revolutionary men and women were real. We need to develop a greater appreciate for them and their sacrifices.
I hope very much that those of you who are studying history here will pursue it avidly, with diligence, with attention. I hope you do this not just because it will make you a better citizen, and it will; not just because you will learn a great deal about human nature and about cause and effect in your own lives, as well as the life of the nation, which you will; but as a source of strength, as an example of how to conduct yourself in difficult times—and we live in very difficult times, very uncertain times. But I hope you also find history to be a source of pleasure. Read history for pleasure as you would read a great novel or poetry or go to see a great play.

And I hope when you read about the American Revolution and the reality of those people that you will never think of them again as just figures in a costume pageant or as gods. They were not perfect; they were imperfect—that’s what’s so miraculous. They rose to the occasion as very few generations ever have.
I highly recommend McCullough's talk and books to all Americans. I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about 9/11 and how quickly we have forgotten the patriotism and unity that was so abundant in the weeks following the terrorist attacks. I certainly do not always agree with our nation's leaders, but I hope that we can move on from some of the partisan bickering that seems to cover everything going on right now and move on so that we can once again stand united and strong, just as our fathers did.

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