Due to the events of the past week, I've been feeling very patriotic, and I wanted to read something distinctly... American. I found historian Stephen Ambrose's last publication "To America - Personal Reflections of an Historian" to be just such a book. Written right before he died in 2002, this short synopsis is a look back over event's and guiding principles he thinks have been key to the success of our country. A history teacher's final lecture on everything from Jefferson, Grant, and Nixon to racism and women's rights.
But, Stephen Ambrose was mainly attracted to military history. According to him, "the key events in American history were military. Winning the Revolutionary War or the Civil War, or World War II were the turning points in our history." Surprisingly, I found his thoughts on the subject very interesting. For me, a person who has a hard time coming to grips with the war in Iraq, his brief synopsis of how and why America became a military and moral leader became more clear. This country has been forged with the sweat and blood of it's military, its citizens and its leaders.
He talks of our sense of "moral superiority". How in the Second World War, "if you were conquered and occupied by a foreign army, the last thing you wanted was for it to be the German, Japanese, or the Red army. The first thing, around the world, was to hope it would be the American army. This was because you'd be better fed, receive better medical care, treated like a human being".
With the news of the eventual closure of Guantanamo Bay and CIA "black list" prisons around the world, where men have been held indefinitely without a trial, where men have been tortured for "the good of the country", I find, finally, a return to a fight on terror that reflects the values our country was built upon. These sort of practices do not make us "morally superior". They turn us into the enemy. John Kerry recently wrote an article I believe describes it best: "that America's struggle against terrorism will once against honor some of the most cherished ideals of our republic: respect for the rule of law, individual rights, and America's moral leadership".
What would Stephen Ambrose have thought of all this, I wonder. Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq war, electing a black president of the United States. We will never know. A true teacher, an exceptional guide to the past has been lost. What a shame.