John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State in the administration of President James Monroe, offered a toast to his native America on July 4, 1821. The Republic was yet young, just 45 years after declaring its independence of Great Britain. The glories of its destiny were mainly to come. But the glories foreseen by Adams, the son of America’s second President and destined to be its sixth, were not triumphs of conquest, but rather the majesty of a nation leading truly by the force of example instead of the example of force.
John Stark was a genuine hero of the American Revolutionary War or, if you prefer, America’s War for Independence. That he is not generally known beyond the borders of his native New Hampshire is hardly surprising. After George Washington, not many Americans can name a general of that war. And New Hampshire has made General Stark so much its own that his famous saying, “Live Free or Die,” has been adopted as the state motto and been engraved on all the state’s noncommercial license plates since 1969, replacing the word “Scenic.” The motto has not been universally appreciated, however, and one citizen’s insistence on taping over it became a legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Why is it that so much of the world seems mired in hatreds, violence, slavery, and pain? The reason is not complex: Most of the Old World is a patchwork of empires. America was founded, specifically, to create a republic of ordered liberty and to reject the poison of empire. The British Empire, which America's early settlers had left, was one of the more benign. The Commonwealth democracies of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have separated from the United Kingdom gracefully and stayed on good terms with it. Still, would not everyone in Canada have been better off if the French in Québec had been left alone or, now, simply allowed — even encouraged — to form their own nation or a semi-independent polity?
Schoolchildren learn of the crucial and timely role played by France in the American victory over King George III’s redcoats. The personification of the invaluable Gallic assistance to the American cause of liberty is none other than the Marquis de Lafayette.
Several landmark documents from English history have contributed significantly to our own Constitution bulwark of liberty. One of these documents just celebrated a birthday.
In the year 1930, the city of Tiflis (now Tbilisi) was a captive capital. The ancient city in the heart of the Caucasus, with its mountain scenery and splendid architecture, was enduring, with the rest of the Soviet Union, the onset of Stalin’s reign of terror. As elsewhere in the Soviet Union, ordinary people had become practiced in the arts of sullen self-preservation. Perhaps that was why no one offered to help the men working to extricate one of their party from an overturned car before the badly damaged vehicle burst into flames. The men wore business suits and spoke English, though few of the passersby recognized the unfamiliar tongue. The man trapped in the car, on the other hand, was a feral-faced communist “handler,” a man with considerable clout in the Soviet government.
Even in peacetime, government lies are so commonplace as to hardly be news. During wartime, however, the government fib fabricator goes into overdrive — as does the coverup machinery. Decades may pass before wartime lies are exposed, and even more time may elapse before the government admits to having deceived the public.
When Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States on March 4, 1801, there was but a fleeting hint of warning in his Inaugural Address about dangers to the young Republic from distant forces abroad. America would pursue “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none,” he proclaimed. But he also asked for “that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.”
In 1914, when the Old World was at war, the New, unaware of the designs of its political and financial leaders, expected to stay out of the latest European upheaval. American public opinion was firmly opposed to violating in any way our neutral posture, which meant that America’s young men were still graduating from high school, going to college, and finding gainful employment. One such crop of optimistic youth was enduring a philosophy class at the University of North Carolina, an exercise in sophistry taught by the venerable but insufferable Horace Williams. Professor Williams’ class, we may imagine, was typical for the time: a couple dozen well-groomed young men and a few young women sitting at buckling wooden desks made in the previous century, trying to grasp the contradictory axioms imparted by the tweedy, subversive Williams.
The popular narrative surrounding the life of Osama bin Laden is filled with questions, intrigue, and misinformation. Though he ultimately became one of the most loathed figures in the American psyche, it’s important to remember that bin Laden was once a good friend of the U.S. government. In many ways, he can even be considered a creation of American officials and their allies. His Mujahedeen, or Islamic warriors, were even armed, trained, supplied and financed by America and some of its allies.
Questions about President Obama’s ever-changing narrative on Osama bin Laden’s reported assassination and rampant speculation that at least some Pakistani officials may have been involved in hiding the terrorist leader have been swirling around the internet in recent days. But there’s another important angle that has received less attention: Assuming bin Laden really was killed over the weekend — his death has been reported on numerous occasions by credible sources since 2001 — how could it take so long for the most powerful governments in the world to find one man?