Monday, November 10, 2008

Veterans Day: The American Idea, The American Ideal

Since uncounted and unnamed battles fought in the years before the May 18th, 1754 Battle of Jumonville Glen in western Pennsylvania, "Americans" have been fighting for America, for the idea of America, and for the ideal of America.

The American Revolution put a name to that ideal in July of 1776, calling it the United States of America.

Twenty-two years later the United States began a naval war with her greatest ally, France, to protect United State ships that were being taken from the high seas by French Privateers, and fourteen years later another naval war was fought with Great Britain for stopping US ships and pulling US citizens from them to serve on British ships. When Britain got the idea they could beat us and take back the colonies, they invaded, and captured Baltimore MD, and Washington, DC, burning the White House. They sent troops ashore in recently acquired Louisiana, where a future president defeated them with the help of Gulf of Mexico pirates.

People became more and more caught up in the greatness of the American Ideal, and in the late 1840s, fought the nation's first unpopular war, making short work of neighboring Mexico, all in the name of Manifest Destiny.

A dozen years later, festering business left unfinished by the Founders and the Framers, burst into a full rebellion that, when it ended, redefined the meaning of the American Ideal, and reinstated the American Idea of 1776 once again.

Over the next thirty three years the United States fought battles on the Great Plains of the American West and in the hills and deserts of the American Southwest, defeating the indigenous Native American tribes into deep submission.

In 1898, the Nation went to war with Spain to remove their influence and presence from the Americas, and in the process, liberated the peoples of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands from European Monarchy rule.

A brief incursion into Mexico to police the banditry emanating across the border into the US from there in 1916, gave the Army an opportunity to develop itself, to practice maneuvers, and to develop modern tactics on the eve of the First World War, the Great War. Presidential promises to keep us out of the war in Europe gave way to rising anger over the opening of unrestricted submarine warfare in late 1916, and the US entered the war in April of the following year. Much of Western Europe had democratized by then, even while retaining their monarchies, but Eastern Europe was a tangled web of alliances, and animosities between small states and large. The American Ideal had grown up and become a World Power. We entered the war, yet barely fought for another year, while the Allies fought the Central Powers to an exhausted standstill in eastern France, and the Bolshevik Revolution made a compromise with the Germans. But when we fought, we won. Belleau Wood was where the US Marine Corps earned the sobriquet "Devil Dogs" with defensive stands inspired by the words, "Retreat! Hell! We just got here!", and ferocious attacks inspired by a Sergeant Major's cry, "Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever!" 360,000 casualties, 50,000 combat deaths and more from influenza and other disease totaling 118,000 US dead during the Great War. A high price for exporting the American Ideal and the American Idea overseas, but the price paid was there for all to see.

It ended in the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918, in a railroad car at the French town of Compiegne. It is the event that we celebrate today, 90 years later, initially named Armistice Day to signify the armistice signed in that railroad car, and later changed to Veterans Day to celebrate all the Veterans whoever served in the military forces of the United States.

Twenty Two years later Adolph Hitler accepted the surrender of the French government in that same railroad car, in the same town of Compiegne. The war in Europe went on for over two years before the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor sent us into the war the next day. Declaring before Congress that, "No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory." It took "our boys" three years and five months to roll back the Germans in Europe and four additional months to subdue the Japanese in the Pacific. This time the cost to export the American Ideal and the American Idea was much higher: 416,000 American dead.

Once again, the might of the American Idea, and the American Ideal provided the muscle and the inspiration to fight a two ocean war...really two major wars at the same time, and win them both, with major help in Europe from the British, Free French, Free Czechs, Free Poles, and so on, and the Canadians and Australians, and of course, the Soviets, and with help in the Pacific from the Australians, the Free Dutch, the New Zealanders, the Free Philippines Forces, and the British. Once again America fought to save free peoples around the world.

Five years later we went to war again to save a free people -- this time in Korea. Our Marines and the Army fought gallantly at places like the Chosin Reservoir, frozen solid in early winter. This time the price of the export of the American Ideal and the American Idea was 36,500 dead, and over 92,000 wounded. Another 8,000 were prisoners of war.

A decade later we were fighting again, this time to stop the advancing tide of Communism in a Southeast Asian country called the Republic of Vietnam. This time the cost was higher: 58,000 dead, over 153,000 wounded, and another 1,900 still missing today. That war was so divisive it kept us out of further conflicts for nearly two decades.

In the early 1990s, we joined forces with a rather impressive coalition and drove the Iraqi Army from the country of Kuwait in hours, not days. So superior in numbers, firepower, air strength, and technology were the coalition forces that the war was halted barely 100 hours after the ground fighting began. US casualties were light for this war, 148 combat casualties, 1 missing pilot, and 145 accidental deaths.

A dozen years later saw us back in the area, engaging the same Iraqi Army, but this time with far less superiority of numbers -- and this after we entered Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda and the ruling Taliban. In Afghanistan, we have lost 534 dead to date, while in Iraq nearly 4,200.

There have been literally hundreds of thousands of dead in all our wars, including the ones before we were even a nation of our own, and all for the American Ideal and the American idea.

The American Idea that democracy benefits all, and is beneficial to all, and that it is the most free form of government known, and practiced on this planet.

The American Ideal: that all should enjoy 'life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'

An idea, and an ideal worth fighting for, and dying for, and that has inspired Americans to do so for over two and a half centuries.

Remember them all on this day, at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.


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Anonymous said...

Although late, I want to compliment you on a touching, well-rounded tribute to those who we remember each year on November 11th.

We have just returned from our annual visit to Gettysburg, and each time is better than the last. What a jewel!

Max Schneider
Madison, NJ

GettysBLOG said...

Thank you Mr. S.

You ought to see what this town has on tap for THIS weekend!