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American Spirit

I was listening to the song, “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton the other day. Actually, I like the version with Eddy Albert singing better, but Mr. Horton was a history teacher and wrote several songs (Does anyone have his album?) like this including “The Sinking of the Bismarck” and others. Then I heard “The Ballad of the Green Beret” later on. This was Memorial Day, of course. I can hear snatches of the tunes in my head, “Fighting soldiers, from the sky…” “We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’ but there wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago…”

These are songs about Americans and the American Spirit. Americans are a peculiar bunch, to say the least and fighters and explorers and leaders. (Who has time to talk about Texans individually? Besides, Texans are Americans.) I guess I was thinking about the kind of people that came here in the first place. If you think there is intolerance now, try being burned at the stake for what you believe. “Very well, if you heretics want to have your own little beliefs and teach new things, then go on over to the New World. Get out, don’t come back or we’ll burn more of you at the stake.” I hope it is obvious that I am trying to capture the spirit of the thing, not the accurate historical record.

These are some desperate folks. Okay. Let’s get on a rat-infested, disease-ridden rickety sailing ship and go, then. We know what we believe in is true. September 16, 1620 they left and arrived November 21 to a New England winter.

Desperate folks, that love being able to worship as they will and basically free (as free as the social mores of the time allowed) to do what they pleased. They loved Freedom.

What sort of desperate man would stand up in the face of the strongest empire in the world and say things like, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell and George the Third-may profit by their example.” And “The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; but to the vigilant, the active, the brave…There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry peace-but there is no peace…What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”

What a radical madman! Too bad the founding fathers didn’t know about Ritalin or Prozac. What bunch of lunatics would come up with:

“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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

As a sidenote, when a local newspaper showed the sentence, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…” to people at a mall and asked them if they would sign it, they freaked out. Most people thought this was a radical plot! Well, I guess it was, huh?

I cannot tell all about what kind of people are here. My German Great-Grandfather, serving in the German Army but disagreeing with the Kaiser’s politics. Saving every bit of money he had, when it came time to go on leave, he booked passage on a sailing ship and came here. What if he’d been caught? Why would he take such a risk? We are a nation of risk takers. My Irish Great-Great-Great (I think) leaving a starving land.

I have made kind of a hatchet job this morning of what I meant to be a tribute to the American Spirit. But let us suffice it to say that we are a fiercely independent, fearless lot that believes in democracy and freedom from oppression for all people. We believe in standing up for what is right even though everything may be against us.

Brave men down through our history, even to today, have given all. They have bought for us all and for people that need our help, the God-given rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Good Book says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

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