And so, America became “the great experiment” where the power, for the first time in the history of human civilization was entrusted to the people (“of the people, by the people, for the people”). For the first time it was “the people” who decided their own fate and it ran radically contrary to everything that had preceded it. No more kings! There would be elections to determine the “will” of the people.
This is all very important because it goes to the heart of a country that was founded on these principles. A country where a man is measured by his merits and judged by his accomplishments; not the color of his skin or who his parents were. In fact, what mattered most was what an individual did and not who he was. That is what made America unique and exceptional. We embraced this experiment based on the spirit of freedom and while it has never been perfect, that spirit and the ingenuity and the entrepreneurship that it unleashed, made us the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world.
One of my favorite movies is Braveheart. I have always wondered why I was so fascinated with this film and I surmise it is because it so embodies the spirit of freedom. The Scottish people fought and died so that their country might be free of English rule. However, while that might have been important to the Scots it was not even close to the kind of freedom that America envisioned. On closer inspection, it is true that the Scots would not have to contend with rule under an English monarch, but they would still be governed by the rule of a Scottish king, and while that might be less oppressive, it still didn’t deliver any rights to the individual. In that sense, it was a poor imitation of the American brand of freedom.
American freedom is as exceptional as the country itself. Patrick Henry once expressed the essence of the Americanization of freedom in a few simple words, “Give me liberty or give me death” no benign proclamation when you consider that he was issuing it to the face of the most powerful nation in the world at the time.
One of the most incredible stories I have ever read about was in Edward Burrows ground-breaking “Forgotten Patriots” that tells the horrendous story of the American prisoners who were captured by the British in the Revolutionary War. In the duration of that war, some 200,000 Americans fought against our British foes. Approximately 6,800 soldiers died in battle. What is incredible is that it has been estimated that as many as 32,000 American patriots may have been captured by British forces and that 11,000 to 16,000 may have died in captivity. If we accept the higher estimate, that is almost three times the number of men that died in battle.
During that time, American prisoners of war were generally brought to New York by the British who used that city as the base of their military operations in colonies. Once there they were housed in whatever facilities were available, (usually old warehouses or sugar houses). However, when these spaces were filled, the British began employing old hulks of warships and anchoring them in Wallabout Bay.
The conditions in the holds of these ships were some of the cruelest and most inhumane ever perpetrated. Thousands of men would be crammed into spaces that were only meant to accommodate a few hundred. Rations were rancid at best and unsustainable for anything but slow starvation at worst. The men below decks were covered in lice and human excrement. Disease was rampant and decimated these prisoners at the rate of 70% in some cases.
The part that is truly incomprehensible about this situation is that if you took an oath to join the Loyalist movement you were immediately released from these hellish dungeons. In some cases, you did not even have to swear allegiance to the crown, but just promise not to take up arms against the British if you were released. It was literally was a decision that held life and death in the balance. Few prisoners took the British up on their offer and approximately 16,000 chose to die for the freedom of their country.
“So wedded were they to their principals, so dear to them was their country, so true were they to their honor, that rather than sacrifice them, they preferred the scoffs of their persecutors, the horrors of their dungeon, and in fact even death itself.”
It was the ultimate example of what an American was willing to endure in the name of freedom.
How inspirational that here was a country that had that kind of spirit of freedom incorporated into its cornerstone. How was it possible that a country infused with such endemic devotion to patriotism could ever not succeed.
And so, I wondered about that too. There have been many great civilizations of the world and the one thing they have in common is that they all collapsed or disappeared. From the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans to the Mayas, Incas and Aztecs of the Americas, they all fell for one reason or another, whether it was attributed to internal strife or external forces of nature.
I am afraid that this same fate will befall this great American empire of ours, as well. My wife tells me that America does not play a very prominent role in the end times prophecy. In fact, it hardly garners much mention at all. Although no one knows exactly when this apocalypse will occur and seeing firsthand the greatness that we have achieved as a nation, it hardly seems possible that we could suffer such a precipitous decline.
But there is no denying that there are many precedents.
And our cracks are beginning to show.
As recent as 10 years ago, I would have scoffed at such a suggestion and if such a calamity were to befall us, there would have been no doubt whatsoever, that it would have been something foisted on us from some outside entity or foreign incursion. But in the last 10 years, it has become far more conceivable that our downfall will be of an internal genesis.
“We” are likely to be the cause of our own downfall.
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." Abraham Lincoln