The spirit of the American People

Everyone knows the two classic blunders: never get involved in a land war in Asia and never go against a Sicilian when death is a possibility. The forces of terror and destruction that planned the recent attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center will soon learn an oft-forgotten third one: never anger the people of the United States of America.

These terrorist movements see the United States as a weak nation filled with greedy, lazy and apathetic people. They believe that we are solely concerned with money and have no ideology outside of the acquisition of wealth. And, in a way, their beliefs are quite logical. One needs to merely look at the history of Congress to see numerous examples of pettiness and corruption among the highest levels of our government.

However, these terrorist forces too soon forget that these weak and petty people form the world’s only remaining superpower – a nation that has been more successful and prosperous than any other in the history of the world. They also completely misinterpret the nature of democracy, perhaps because they have had far too little of it themselves.

The democratic nature of America lends itself to petty bickering and squabbling on the majority of minor issues. In our society and government, many voices are heard and debate slows the course towards resolution of most issues to an almost unbearable pace. And though this may seem like a disadvantage, it is often a great benefit. It assures that we will never react too quickly on minor issues that do not require a swift resolution.

However, the true strength of democracy can be seen when the people of a democratic nation find cause to rally together. To paraphrase Eugene McCarthy, America can choke on a gnat, but it swallows tigers whole. The force created when the American people become united on an issue is almost unstoppable. It is a force that draws its powers from our very democratic nature itself.

As Yoel Marcus of Ha’aretz astutely observed, in many ways America is like an elephant, “whose heavy, clumsy walk is never hampered by the parasites and ticks it carries on its back.” However, when an elephant feels threatened or gets angry, it begins to gallop wildly, crushing everything in its path. Our American democracy makes us slow and cumbersome — having to live with a number of minor problems — but when we get moving towards one goal, there is no force that can deter us.

The simple reason behind this is that when the American people decide to unite and fight, they are not fighting for a king, an emperor or even a government. They are fighting for themselves, their families and their friends. They come together for the sake of their children, parents and in defense of ideals that they hold far more sacred than even the almighty dollar.

America has shown this ability to come together and bring a resounding victory countless times. In 1812, the White House was sacked and burned, yet the nation rallied around the Star Spangled Banner. In 1941, we lost almost our entire Pacific fleet within the course of one day, and yet we still came together and defeated Nazi Germany and militant Imperial Japan. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, and America committed to and eventually won the space race. And there are many more instances I could cite which clearly show how the combined force of the American people pushed us to become the nation that we are today.

To those who think that America is no longer the country it was in those days, that we no longer have the unity needed to face Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they should only look at the examples that have been readily apparent over the last several days.

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle came together to sing God Bless America on the steps of the capitol last Wednesday. President Bush’s visit to the disaster site in New York, amidst cries of “U-S-A” is just another example. All around are many smaller examples, seen in the passing car proudly displaying the Star-Spangled Banner and the Dining Hall staff drawing an American flag on the menu board.

All of these examples show that America is united and ready for the coming conflict. As President Bush stated, “Our responsibility to history is already clear — to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger.” Together, we are ready to wage, and win, a new kind of war. It will be a war which will not only involve the United States, but every other nation that seeks to end the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians as a means to communicate a political message.

Buildings have been knocked down, and they will be rebuilt. Lives have been lost, and they will be remembered. A way of life has been challenged, but it will not be abandoned. The American people will come together to display that this really is the land of the free and the home of the brave. And through all of this, the true nature of America will once again be exposed.