Today during my stint as guest host for the WCRN Morning Show I mentioned a book I received for Christmas: Ships of Oak Guns of Iron the war of 1812 and the forging of the American Navy.
As I took a look at it today I noticed a passage that jumped out at me from the introduction. Charles Francis Adams is giving a speech in 1912 at the American Historical Association answering the question: “Is the United States a ‘world power’ and if so , when did she become one?”
Adams not only says “yes” but dares to specify an exact date and time when the country reached this point:
…To be specific , it was at thirty minutes after six o’clock on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 19th 1812.
It wasn’t Adams quote, but the next two sentences of the author Ronald D. Utt that caught my eye:
Adams did not have to remind his audience what had happened at that specified moment. They all knew, as did every schoolboy in the nation (emphasis mine). That was the moment when the American frigate Constitution shattered and sank the British frigate Guerriere in the first major sea battle of the War of 1812.
That the American Historical Association including former President Theodore Roosevelt knew that date and time is not strange, but that every school boy in the nation would know it is a sentence that might shock and confuse the people of today.
It would not have been a shock to people when I was born. Nor would it be a shock for young boys to know who Alvin York, Davy Crockett, David Farragut James Doolittle, or Anthony McAuliffe were.
I grew up in a time without the internet, without iPhones, and without computers yet any 10 year old boy in America knew who these guys were. Their exploits were taught in schools and celebrated in culture. Yet today most in public school have no idea who these men were nor would it surprise me if their ignorance was shared by their teachers. They are certainly ignored by our culture.
These men were heroes, they risked or gave their lives to the concept of something bigger than they were. Today we no longer celebrate our heroes, the great and brave deeds that made our nation or the men who did them as Powerline reports:
Beyond the tiresome (race, class, gender, zzz…) and the false (big business causes racism), an obvious feature of the new social studies standards is the banishment of any sense of the heroic in American history. If your child should attend public school in Minnesota under these guidelines, he or she will learn a lot more about the Anishinaabe than about James Madison, Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson. Those founders are mentioned just once
A society becomes weak when we no longer are willing to celebrate strength. Rick Rickola served with distinction in Vietnam and died going back into the World Trade Center to save people in his care, Sgt Paul Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq. Marc Allen Lee was the first Navy Seal who died fighting in Iraq and Tyrone Woods died this year fighting to save ambassador in Libya when he could have run.
In my youth these men would be celebrated and known in every schoolroom in America. Memorials would exist of them, movies made about them and boys would dream of matching their bravery. Today a 15 year old boy knows more about Charlie Sheen, Matt Smith, or Kobe Bryant than any of those men. If you say “Eli Manning they will talk sports heroics but if you said the words “Dick Winters” 9 times out of 10 a person under 30 wouldn’t know who he was. Bilbo Baggins they can tell you chapter and verse, Bill Guarnere, forget about it!
A society emulates and it’s children aspire to what it celebrates. A country celebrates greatness, can remain great. A society that celebrates nothing, can’t.
That simple sentence in that book says more about the decline of America than any budget battle or reality show ever can.