The history of American use of its military forces, there are some stand out examples of how America considers its military might be a force for good and justice. And the use of military for a just cause can be beautifully illustrated in the way America came to the aid of an ally in the Gulf War of 1991. This war goes under a lot of names including Operation Desert Storm and the Liberation of Kuwait. But whatever title, it was a battle America needed to enter into because of an unjust invasion of an ally and an act of aggression we could not just stand by and let happen.
The United States and the civilized nations of the world had put up with a lot of barbaric behavior from Saddam Husain, the dictator in Iraq for a long time. He was becoming more and more aggressive in his push to test the will and the ability of advanced nations to stop him. But he crossed the line when on August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait on trumped up charges of illegal drilling of oil on border property between the two countries.
It is important to remember that America and it's allies did not launch a full scale attack within days or weeks of the Iraqi take over of Kuwait. There were efforts to negotiate and resolve the crisis by peaceful means. But Saddam Hussein defied the world and continued his plan to absorb Kuwait and then possibly take the attack to the next stage into Saudi Arabia.
The Gulf War was also an important statement to the world that America's allies are important to us and we will defend them if it comes to that. We proved that in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and here in the Middle East. When a country becomes a friend of the United States, it's enemies become our enemies. And in this unthinkable invasion, not only did Iraq directly assault one of America's allies, that hostility showed that Saudi Arabia was at risk which was a very important ally as well.
America also leveraged its ability to depend on it's friends from around the world, rallying a tremendous international force as the preparations for war began to mature. In total, 34 countries sent troops, ships, arms and other military assistance to join with American military power to turn back this invasion.
The other lesson this war taught the enemies of America is the phenomenal effectiveness of the American military. On January 17, 1991, the assault began with a massive air attack that stunned the Iraqis and the world. The ferocity of the bombings and the firestorm that defying the west brought down on the Iraqi military virtually doomed them to ever mount an efficient force to fight back against this overwhelming military response to their aggression.
Following that air attack came one of the most brilliant ground campaigns in modern warfare. Using modern technology, America faced Iraq's impressive army on their home turf and soundly defeated them. The Iraqi strategy was to keep the massive desert behind them because they felt no enemy could ever navigate that desert and find their rear flank. But was a deadly miscalculation as the coalition forces, lead by General Norman Schwarzkopf, used satellite technology and navigation systems to guide their armies across that desert by night and stage a stunning surprise attack on the Iraqi Republican Guard bringing them to defeat with a decisive blow.
The term "Lightning War" could best be used to describe the l ability of the American lead coalition armies to repel this invasion on Kuwait. By early March of 1991, major hostilities were over and Kuwait had been liberated. To defeat an enemy in less than 90 days was accomplishment the world never thought possible. But demonstrated to the world that America was able to defend its allies and stop a ruthless dictator.
Since that war there has been discussions about whether President Bush should have used the advantage we gained by defeating Saddam's armies to capture Iraq as well. President Bush showed great wisdom by sticking to the declared mission and returning Kuwait to Kuwaiti control. H shows that President Bush in 1991 was showing wisdom in his leadership which resulted in Operation Desert Storm turning out to be one of the most successful military campaigns in United States history.
When America Proved That Anything Is Possible
It was one of those moments in American history that the people who were able to watch it for the first time felt like they were in a science fiction movie. But with televisions cameras on every move, the nation and the world watched on July 20, 1969 as three American astronauts landed on the moon.
The project had been in the works for years to be sure. You have to wonder with the phenomenal amount of work, expert engineering and the amazing genius that created the rocket ships and everything that would be needed to make the flight possible, if even those in NASA sat in mute wonder and had goosebumps when "Buzz" Aldren was the first man in history to put his foot on another world and pronounce those famous words -
"That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."
That phrase, which itself was carefully prepared, has a lot of wisdom in it. Sure, touching another world for the first time in human history was a tremendous accomplishment for America. But more than that, it signaled a new era for humankind everywhere. All of a sudden, the moon wasn't a far away myth, full of mystery and magic. All of a sudden, people everywhere felt like they too could touch the stars if they put out their best efforts too.
It was also a huge moment for the unity of all people. Few things cause the world population to come together and link arms and be one people, not separate countries. Most of the time, it's a terrible global disaster that makes us all bond together. But this time was different. This time is was a moment so phenomenal that everybody stopped and watched and everybody knew that this was not just a great accomplishment for three astronauts and scientists that put them there. This was a great accomplishment for mankind.
American history is populated with tremendous events, both bad and good. But it's worth a moment to sit back and reflect on what the first moon landing meant and continues to mean for Americans and the American spirit. You have to wonder if any other nation would have had the ability, the creative powers, the powerful minds and the collective will to see this kind of amazing accomplishment through to success.
It's even more amazing when you remember that just a few years earlier, on September 12, 1962 that President Kennedy challenged American to rise to this challenge in a speech at Rice University. It takes a lot to make something as historic and earth shaking as landing on the moon a reality and visionary leadership such as Kennedy showed that day was a big part of why this landing made history.
This amazing achievement points out something outstanding about the American spirit. Americans are a people who dream big. And to land a man on the moon took big dreams. But we didn't just dream to put a man up there, it was not acceptable unless we got everybody home safely as well.
For the most part the American space program has had a phenomenal history of success in breaking through barriers that nobody had every done before. Yes, there have been set backs and tragedies along the way. But Americans are not quitters and through all the struggles we face, we face them together. But we never forget to look up at the stars and dream of the day that yet again we see an American set foot on another world and plant out flag in that soil to be signal forever that America was here!
The Cold War
When we look back over the span of centuries that represents American history, it is easy to call out major military engagements which represent the major wars of this country. From World War II to the Civil War to Korea to World War I, America has been involved in many military engagements and emerged victorious in all but a few of them. But one of the strangest, longest lasting wars that America has entered into was the one that was called "The Cold War".
For many Americas living today, The Cold War was a fact of life for decades. The reason it was a cold war was that there was no battlefield, no armies on deployment, no body counts and no major engagements to report. Instead it was a long period of silent animosity between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from the end of World War II up to the early 1990s.
The strange thing was that the cold war grew out of our relationship with the Soviet Union during World War II which was a relationship of friendship. But the seeds of the "conflict" were in place at the end of that horrible war. With the presence of nuclear technology, the concept of a "superpower" was born. This was not itself a source of tension until the Soviet Union themselves developed the bomb as well and a long cold stand off ensued in which both nations trained thousands of these weapons on each other to warn the other that they must never consider firing those weapons.
It was a staring contest that lasted almost fifty years and created a tremendous drain on both economies. Both countries had to maintain "parity" of their nuclear weapons so neither country got more than the other thus throwing of the balance of power and giving one combatant an unfair advantage. This was a strange logic in that both countries possessed enough weaponry to destroy the earth dozens of times over but still they insisted on "having parity" throughout the cold war.
It was clear that no battle between the Soviet Union and America could ever be tolerated. The potential outcome of engaging those weapons had the power to destroy life on planet earth. But neither country was prepared to lay down their arms and begin the process of making peace with the other. So the weapons continued to point at each other, day after day, year after year, for fifty years.
So instead of conducting battles directly, the two countries fought each other through small wars around the world. The Soviet Unions, working with China happily contributed to the humiliating loss in Vietnam that the United States endured. But the United States then turned around and armed the Afghan Mujahideen which lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union in their occupation of that country. From proxy wars, the space race, and occasional face offs such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War continued for decades testing the will and resolve of both countries never to look away and give the other the advantage.
Finally the pressure on the economies of the two countries took its toll in the early 1990s, particularly in the Soviet Union as the stress of sustaining such an expensive and unproductive war forced the Soviet economy into collapse and the empire broke up. The United States had won the cold war by sheer will to endure and stubborn refusal to give in. This is a seldom spoken of element of the American spirit but it is one that the Soviets learned to their own disaster not to test. Hopefully no other "superpower" will ever think they are equipped to test it again.
Standing Down Hitler
If you were to ask anybody in this country what was America's "finest hour", you might find many different answers. For most of us, we think of a handful of incidents where the true spirit of what it means to be an American comes forth. And to some, you might hear the answer "America's finest hour is still ahead of it", and that may be true. Nobody can tell that right now.
But in terms of American history, without a doubt when America linked arms with it's allies and stood down the terrible threat Adolph Hitler's Germany was posing during World War II would have to represent the finest show of strength, national resolve and honor in the history of the nation. And that is because during these difficult years, America did not just use its vast resources to save Americans and American interests. It is not an overstatement that by standing down Hitler, America saved the world.
World War II was without a doubt the most devastating war in the history of the world. The death toll worldwide from this conflict reached over sixty million people. The aggression of the axis powers seemed to know no limitations which only makes more dramatic the brave stand that America, England, France and the other allied powers showed to stand in the face of a well armed and ruthless enemy and deny them the world domination they sought.
Its easy to look back now on how the greatest generation, as they often have been called, found the will, the determination to risk everything to stop Hitler's armies. But we forget that at the time, there was no way of knowing if the allies were going to prevail. Early in the war, Hitler seemed unstoppable as he occupied Poland and the invasion of Europe spread to England, France, Norway and beyond giving Germany more and more leverage to spread the war to Africa, into Russia and across Asia as well. By the time the full allied force was assembled and ready to strike back, Hitler's advances were so deep and the spread of the war so far reaching that at times it seemed impossible to turn back this evil tide of military hostility that threatened to engulf the globe.
As often is the case, it was when America entered the war that the allies began to see a hope to stop the horror of what Hitler was trying to do. It took the bombing of Pearl Harbor to put the American population on alert that the isolation of the American continent did not mean that they would be spared the spread of the war to their homeland unless something was done. By attacking America's ships at harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, the Japanese brought the most potent military machine in the world into the war against the axis powers which eventually spelled doom for the cause of Hitler and his allies.
America's battles on the many fronts of World War II is filled with dozens of stories of courage and strategic brilliance that finally began to turn the war to the favor of the allies. It took courageous decision making at the very top levels of command to make that decision to use the most devastating weapon man had ever known to strike Japan and speed the end of conflicts. The toll of dropping nuclear weapons on Japan was horrific but America's president knew that by ending the conflict, tens of thousands of American lives would be saved. Only that made it a justifiable attack. But that attack alone did not bring Hitler to his knees. The turn of fortunes began on D-Day on June 5, 1944. This massive assault on the beaches of Normandy France caught the German defenders by surprise. Nevertheless, the cost in lives was tremendous as American and allied troops staged that massive invasion to begin to bring the Nazi war machine down.
We can only look back with gratitude to the brave men and woman who fought to keep America and the world free from Hitler's plans of world domination. And by stopping him, we can truly say, this was America's finest hour.
The American Cowboy
Americans have a unique vision of themselves and their role in the world. Unlike perhaps any other peoples in history, Americans see themselves as people of destiny and a people who were put here to do something phenomenal and something significant for history and for all peoples of the earth. This unique self-concept, sometimes perceived as arrogance, is deeply grounded in a set of archetypes that Americans use to form their vision of themselves in the world. And no other archetype is as powerful in the American psyche than that of the cowboy.
The actual American cowboy was indeed a unique individual. While probably not as noble and ruggedly handsome as the images created of him in the movies, they were unique types of men who carved out a civilization from the rugged wilderness that was the American west in the years before the turn of the last century.
Some of the reasons that the image of the cowboy sometimes includes elements of the outlaw and the loner is that much of the legend of the cowboy came from stories of refugees from the broken southern army who took to the life of the cowboy rather than attempt to integrate into a society that included making peace with "the Yankee". And that type of individual certainly did account for many of the outlaws who went on to become the stuff of legend and stories even to this day.
The renegade and loner image combined with the rough life of an actual cowboy whose job it was to guide those huge herds of cattle along trails such as the historic Cumberland trail where they could be sold to become the steaks, leather and other goods that were sold in rustic American stores of the time. This was a difficult life and the stories of the trail make up many history books for sure. But far more of the stories of the trail are glorifications of that lifestyle that must have been difficult indeed.
But the image of the cowboy was also something that grew larger than what the actual lifestyle of those simple but rugged men must have lived in the American west. It was an image that pulled together heroes as far flung as the Australian Gaucho cowboy, the Japanese Samurai and a knight in King Arthur's court. It was an image of a man who demonstrated the rugged individualism that all Americans consider to be one of the central unifying traits that makes America great.
The cowboy image is one that even has its influence as high in the social strata of America that it influences the presidency. It is said that there is a tradition for any president when he first is elected and comes to Washington to begin learning this big new job. Tradition h olds that each president has as part of their early duties to sit down and watch the movie High Noon. They say that President Clinton watched it dozens of times in his early years. If this is true, it accounts for how often a new president seems to grow and change in the office and becomes his own version of the great American hero that is depicted in that movie. The American cowboy defends the virtue of the weak and helpless. He is a staunch defender of families and those in society who are trying to carve out a home in a difficult world. As such, the American cowboy fits with the "superhero" image that also appeals to the American system of justice and morality and values.
Even the star wars epic films were fundamentally grounded in the legend of the cowboy. The cowboy concept grew up from a history of our country that included the settling of a big land and the settling of a wilderness that pit the god given will and intellect of man against God's creation. And it was the will of man that prevailed. That is why American's admire the cowboy because he represents their own struggles for greatness, for success and to be a heroic figure at least for their families, home towns and churches. And that desire so deeply rooted in the culture of American history will always be what makes America and Americans great.
In the annals of American history, there may be no other country name that evokes such emotion as the country of Vietnam. The history of this conflict is more than just a military struggle. The impact that the Vietnam conflict had on American culture and foreign policy for many decades to come makes it a truly watershed war in the life of a relatively young country.
Vietnam was not, on the surface as clearly a moral battleground as World War II or the Civil War had been. That in itself made it more difficult for Americans to understand and become patriotic about as they had been in prior wars. Yes, as in past conflicts, we found ourselves defending our allies, the South Vietnamese against the attacks of a communist neighbor to the north. And in that way, it became a struggle to assist an ally, a military objective that America had long embraced.
But the war was not just with the North Vietnamese. To a very large extent, the war was against the Chinese and the Russians who were using the theater in Vietnam to wear down the American fighting force. It was a war that had been going on for many decades before the Americans got involved as a regional battle.
Many foreign powers had gotten involved and left defeated so when America entered this conflict, it was a very different kind of war than we had been used to. The armies mixed with the population. There were no uniforms and formations and battle theaters as battle could occur anywhere at any time. Combine that with a hostile jungle setting and the complete absence of any battle protocol and you had a formula for failure if not a very difficult road to success.
Vietnam also is a watchword for the tremendous resistance movement that rose up on American soil to try to stop the conflict. This resistance movement became deeply entangled with a huge change to the social fabric in the rise of the youth movement, the hippies and the fast moving surge of the civil rights and the woman's rights movements. This made the era of the late 1950s through the early 1970s tremendously difficult to navigate as a nation.
Vietnam did follow somewhat of a predictable path of invasions, major battles, set backs and regrouping of our forces. But the military faced a huge challenge in facing the many new war scenarios this difficult combat setting presented. As the casualty count grew, without a clear cut definition of victory and with very few clear victories to demonstrate to the American people our superiority, the ability of civilian leadership to sustain the support for the war effort became jeopardized.
Vietnam very much represents a transition in how America viewed conflict. We came out of the huge successes we had seen our military bring in battle. The defeat of Hitler and the axis powers in World War II gave America a sense of confidence, of divine calling to prevail militarily and the concept that we are the good guys and we will always win. But we did not win in Vietnam and that was and is a hard lesson to learn.
America demonstrated its devout dedication to the concept of supporting an ally in a warring situation when it committed troops to the Vietnam conflict. But there were many lessons to be learned about preparation and going into a conflict with a strategy that had a high probability of success. In wars to come in later years such as Grenada, the Balkans and the Liberation of Kuwait, we demonstrated that America had learned those lessons going in with a massive force and achieving victory before we got bogged down in a long civil conflict.
So we can applaud the bravery of our troops and the willingness of our leadership to learn from a tough war like Vietnam. The lessons to be learned from Vietnam are still being worked out. But in the end, we will be a better nation and a stronger nation because we put ourselves on the line for a friend, even if the outcome was not the desired outcome.
When Everything Changed
American history, or really history in general is not always marked with outstanding events, stunning personalities or remarkable speeches. Much of the history of a great nation is slow steady improvement, set backs and then how a people recovers from those set backs. But in the context of American history, there are a number of truly phenomenal moments when everything changed. These are not just one day events, although some are that sudden. But these are events that once they transpired, Americans thought of themselves, the world and their place in the world completely differently. And it's worth noting what those events were and how they changed Americans forever.
Obviously the revolution itself and the founding of the country changed a small group of colonies who thought of themselves as Englishmen far from home. When the independence of America was done, that vision of ourselves was completely different. We were now a proud new nation, a new type of nationality that had its own view of the world and its own hopes and dreams as well.
World War II was the kind of event that once we underwent the tremendous trial, struggle and victory that such a war demands of a people, we never could go back to seeing ourselves again in the same way as we thought before the war. Our victory against Japan, Germany and their allies gave us tremendous confidence that we could affect world history for the better. But it also gave us a tremendous sense of responsibility. When we dropped those bombs on Japan, everybody on the planet began to understand the horrible power that was now in the hands of mankind, for a season in the hands of America and the huge responsibility for the fate of mankind that came with that kind of power.
Pearl Harbor while part of World War II deserves its own mention because of the fundamental change to how America viewed itself in relation to the world. Prior to that attack, America considered itself invulnerable. Like a teenager that thought they could never be hurt, we had never been attacked on our homeland before. But Japan proved that they not only could attack us but that they could hurt us very badly. Yes, we responded with a fury but from that moment forward, we knew that we, like everybody else in the world, were vulnerable and we had to start behaving differently in a world full of both friends and enemies.
Outside of the military world, the famous I Have a Dream Speech by Dr. Martin Luther King at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 did not just change the black community forever. Yes, that speech had a mighty impact on the way the African American community saw their future and it gave inspiration and hope to a struggling civil rights movement that spurred it on to victory. But it also affected all Americans because we started to see ourselves as a community of many cultures, many races and many orientations. It was the beginning of acceptance in this country. But that is a process that is far from over.
In modern times, the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 had a drastic effect on the minds and hearts of America and indeed on the world. We are still learning how that effect will finally show itself as the ripples of shock, fear, anxiety and reprisals are still going on. But to be sure, as with Pearl Harbor, the effects on our feelings about our place in the world and our vulnerability were certainly be changed forever.
America Conquers The Air
If you ask any student even in elementary school why the town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina is significant to American history, they will know the answer immediately. They will know that this was the place that Orville and Wilber Wright made the first working airplane and discovered that man could fly.
Today, with thousands of airplanes taking to the sky at any given moment and the experience of flying high above the earth as common as riding a bicycle, it seems that a world where men did not fly is as far away as the ancient Romans. But we have to travel in time back to the days before the Wright brothers made their phenomenal discovery and the invention of the first aircraft when there was a time when it was firmly believed that man would never fly like a bird and indeed, man was meant to never fly but always be a terrestrial being. We can be grateful that the Wright brothers did not hold to that belief.
The date of that first successful flight was December 17, 1903. It was on that fateful day that Orville and Wilber successfully flew the first controlled, powered, heavier than air airplane. This break through ranks as one of the greatest inventions of American history and in truth, one of the great inventions of all time as man had been dreaming of being able to fly as far back as we have primitive drawings illustrating that dream.
The Wright brothers were well suited to go through the tedious research to finally create a machine that could accomplish this feat. We all know that great inventions are often the results of hundreds or thousands of failures and tests by which the inventor refines his ideas and makes new discoveries that take him step by step toward that final break through. That was certainly true of the Wright brothers.
Our reference to flight becoming as common as riding a bicycle is well chosen because it was the Wright brothers vocation as mechanics repairing printing presses, motors and bicycles that gave them the knowledge of the inner workings of such machines that was needed to create a machine that could sustain flight. Their work to perfect the design of the common bicycle lead them to believe that conquering flight was not a question of providing sufficient power to the aircraft as it was providing mechanisms of control and balance to properly keep the aircraft steady with sufficient consistency that it could take to the air.
Long before that first successful flight, the Wright brothers conducted their research. Using their bicycle shop as a makeshift laboratory, they first experimented with gliders and unmanned aircraft to refine their theories and their designs. But finally on December 17, 1903, they achieved their dream of manned flight, even if only for a short time. Orville Wright's account of that first flight is scientific and understated.
"Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred feet had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds."
Little did the Wright brothers know that an entire new industry would be built around these simple experiments. Moreover, they had achieved a dream man had dreamed for centuries, to actually be able to fly above the ground and come back safely. It is truly one of the great accomplishments of American history.
The Declaration Of Independence
If you had to think of one document other than the Bible that people can most easily quote almost without thinking about it, that one document would be the Declaration of Independence. The comparison to the Bible is apt. Not that the Declaration of Independence is holy in a religious sense of the word. But it has a place of reverence in the hearts of the American people and in the history of the founding of this great nation.
While not the first words of the Declaration of Independence, these stirring words have that kind of prophetic power that anyone who hears them in immediately inspired by the beauty, the poetry and the deep truths that were so beautifully expressed in that historic document.
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.
This one statement from that famous declaration so beautifully demonstrates some core principles that show why this document has such a deep impact on the American mind and heart. The statement that the truths in this document were indeed truths is a profound statement in its own right. The Declaration of Independence does that suggest that what is being declared in those pages are theories, possibilities, even political ideology. These are truths which puts them on the same value as statements of values as often taught in a religious setting. Truths are eternal values and values that are not changed by circumstances, by whomever or whatever is handling the government of the land or by the whim of lawmakers. These truths exist above those temporal earthly ideas and live on that plain of the eternal.
"Self evident" is a powerful phrase and it reflects on the founder's belief in what was called natural law. Natural law is the belief system that there are laws that are part of our natural state of existence and that they cannot be taken away (inalienable). These laws are our rights as creations of the almighty and any government system must recognize these laws because they are above government. It is a basic belief system of the American system that ALL people are entitled to these rights and that they cannot be taken away.
The mention of a creator in the declaration of independence is very important because there are those who would maintain that the separation of church and state tells us that the government is at heart a secular institution. Clearly the founders did not lay the foundation of our country on that groundwork. They saw the inheritance we as Americans have in our rights and freedoms to be part of our legacy from God and as such, above the government and something the government must back off and leave alone as well as prettiest and defend.
The Declaration of Independence is truly an amazing document especially when you consider the "primitive" state of the nation when it was written by Thomas Jefferson and signed on July 2, 1776 to become the backbone of our American system of government. It became an often referenced and quoted document, even becoming a part of President Lincoln's famous inaugural speech when he said with such deep conviction...
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Because these words are such a deep part of our American heritage, American history and the American spirit, they are often a crucial center part of any study of history in the schools in this country. That is why school children in every state are so familiar with these words.
But it would do us all well to take some time once a year or so and take our copy of the Declaration of Independence and read it either as a private moment of reflection nor with our families. What a wonderful fourth of July tradition that would make. Then as you watch the fireworks celebrating the birth of the country and its independence, you will have those words fresh in your heart to remind you that it was our creator that gave us our freedoms and independence and nobody has the right to ever take them away.
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