Commentary: Is America still great?

One would think asking if America is still “great” would be a “no-brainer” but some candidates for president virtually choke on the question if not outright denying it. Several prominent politicians have recently stated, “America was never great…” I beg to differ.

In the 1820s and at the end of the second Great Awakening (a nationwide Christian revival) visiting French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville commented:

“America is great because she is good. If American ceases to be good, America will cease to be great…Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.”

Looking further back into our history we hear Ben Franklin state that the Republic the Founders created was designed for a “moral and religious people” and when it ceased to be either our Republic would be in danger of falling.

Is America truly good? One need only look at the national response during any disaster when fellow Americans travel great distances at their own expense, opens the doors to their homes and their wallets to assist fellow Americans in distress. So too will the peoples of the world attest that it is Americans who most often show up first with the most during times of national crisis to aid the stricken and fallen. Our armed forces respond so often to alleviate the misfortunes of others outside our borders that they’ve even developed a medal (The Humanitarian Service Award) for members of the armed forces who respond to natural disasters to render humanitarian on the ground, by air and by sea. As a nation, Americans give more to charity annually than virtually any other nation or combination of nations every year.

Americans don’t simply give money or engage in humanitarian assistance, they’ve routinely offered up the lives of their sons (and now daughters) to preserve freedom and human dignity around the world. Their dedication and selfless service often go unsung and unnoticed by their fellow countrymen as “uncommon valor is often a common virtue” among those who wear the uniform of our nation.

From the founding in the Revolution, self-sacrifice has been the hallmark of the American soldier.  On a bitterly cold Christmas night, soldiers of the Continental Army, 2500 strong, all that remained after six months of retreat and bitter defeat by the British and their hired mercenaries, crossed an ice-choked Delaware River in longboats to attack a mercenary regiment at Trenton. Many of the Continentals were barefoot, all wore threadbare uniforms and suffered terribly from the cold; two of them froze to death during the nine-mile overland march to Trenton. Yet they persevered, surprised the Hessian garrison and defeated them in 15 minutes of battle. They went on to harass British winter positions for days; their bold attack and courage saved a Revolution and reignited a fire for liberty among a disillusioned civil population.

During the Civil War hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their lives in a quest to right the wrong at our founding and to end slavery in America. Joshua Chamberlain, a professor of rhetoric and theology at Bowdoin College, Maine, joined the 20th Maine Regiment of Volunteers and commanded them on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Under Chamberlain, the 20th Maine’s valor on Little Round Top halted the Confederate advance, setting up the Union victory at Gettysburg the next day. Had the 20th faltered, Gettysburg might have been lost and the quest to end slavery defeated. Chamberlain was wounded seven times between Gettysburg and the Confederate surrender in 1865.

The American character, formed in our churches and schools strives to produce men and women who strive to live up to our ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence in lives of selfless service.

In Bosnia, an American Army Reserve Major walked alone on the streets of Brcko, a heavily contested and mined city to resolve the disputes between Serb, Croat or Bosnian. Without the threat of force or fear, he gained the confidence of locals who knew that an American was trustworthy. When American soldiers were seriously injured in a HUMVEE that rolled down a cliff through a minefield, Bosnians risked their lives to help rescue them. Bosnians carried our troops hand-over-hand through the minefield to a local hospital. They told us “because we were Americans, they knew we were trying to help them and they loved us for that.”

Throughout our history, Americans have stepped up at great personal sacrifice. The character of America and its’ soldiers exemplifies its ideals of patriotism, courage, self-sacrifice and mercy. Over and over again we witness enemy soldiers seeking solace from Americans as they know we will show mercy where none is deserved just as today we witness caravans of thousands of people seeking sanctuary in America from whatever terror they flee.

Whether it’s courage in fierce combat or humanitarian assistance after a battle or disaster, Americans are always at the forefront in the defense of liberty or rendering of mercy to their enemies. Children flock to Americans for protection under every circumstance in peace or war.  Always, absolutely always, when people are in harm’s way, they run to the American Flag. That is what makes America great, even if some politicians can’t see it or say it.


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