We are the land of the free for one reason and one reason only — because we are the home of the brave.
— Peter Collier author, Medal of Honor
Bravery. Courage. Gallantry. Intrepidity. Valor. These words have a shared meaning, and they point to the highest aspect of the warrior spirit: heroism.
But what is heroism? In an age when pop culture worships rock stars, athletes, politicians, and entertainment celebrities as heroes, the word is often misunderstood and devalued.
You might think that defying a powerful government, convening an illegal Congress, and signing one of liberty’s most lyrical documents would be exciting enough for anyone. But no. Over the decades, folks have embellished the history of the Declaration of Independence and its signers. They’ve neatened the chronology: Congress approved and signed the text on the Fourth of July, then read it publicly that evening while gentlemen removed their tricorns, ladies wept, and fireworks lit the skies. They’ve written quips for the ever-witty Ben Franklin, who certainly needed no help in that department. And they’ve invented heartbreaking fates for the signers at the hands of the vengeful British.
On October 29, 1929, the world turned upside down. For more than a month, stock prices, which had risen to giddy new levels throughout the decade now known as “the Roaring Twenties,” had been faltering. Since early September, when stock prices peaked, the market had lost about 17 percent of its value, and the previous Thursday, October 24, the decline turned into a free fall, prompting leading U.S. financiers like Thomas Lamont to place bids substantially higher than market prices on large blocks of blue-chip stocks in a last-ditch effort to restore confidence and stave off a market meltdown.
Long ago, during the darkest chapter of the 20th century, a movie was released entitled Hitler’s Children. While the film is virtually forgotten, I cannot forget a certain scene involving some words a Nazi official uttered to a dissident, a heroic Catholic bishop. Dripping with contempt, the officer said (I’m paraphrasing), “In a few years, the churches will be empty.” It was a thought he obviously relished. Ah, Hollywood and its fiction … or, is this a snapshot of history, a rare case in which Tinseltown’s art imitated life?
The United States has embroiled much of the world in its War on Terror, occupied Iraq since 2003, and bombed Afghanistan — all to “spread liberty.” Karl Rove alleged in 2006 that George W. Bush “is committed to something no past president has ever attempted: spreading liberty to the broader Middle East.” Bush himself insisted last January that “our strategy is to spread liberty.” Apparently, freedom spreads around as easily as peanut butter.