Saturday, September 11, 2010

Echoes of History on 9/11

"Remember 9/11" has become the modern equivalent of "Remember the Alamo." The attacks on America on September 11, 2001 and the final attack of the siege of the Alamo in Texas on March 6, 1836 and the defense of England in World War II are profoundly different in terms of their causes and their purposes. But a common thread runs through them: Heroism, conviction, sacrifice, loyalty. There are lessons to be learned from these events; too many to list them all. Here are few. Most are inspiring. One, however, is sobering. 1) "Remember the Alamo" At the Alamo in San Antonio, then called Bejar, 150 Texas rebels led by William Barret Travis made their stand against Santa Anna's vastly superior Mexican army. On the second day of the siege, February 24, 1836, Travis called for reinforcements with this heroic message: "I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism, and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch. ...VICTORY OR DEATH." (From the Texas State Library and Archives) 2) "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death" William Travis's words echo those spoken 61 years earlier by Patrich Henry on March 23, 1775. That's when he gave his immortal "give me liberty, or give me death" speech during a meeting of Virginia's delegates in which they were trying to decide whether to join with other colonies in the war against England. Patrick Henry gave a moving speech which is credited by some for pursuading the delegates to vote in favor of joining the revolution. He spoke without notes. The final words of his speech: "Gentlemen may cry, 'Peace! Peace!' - but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" (Read the full speech here.) It must be remembered that to speak such words then was to risk being convicted and hanged for treason. Within the final communication from William Travis, the spirit of "do or die" reverberates still, as with the words of Patrick Henry. Faced with an overwhelming enemy, whether in Texas or Virginia, we as a nation do not give up. 3) "We Shall Never Surrender" Winston Churchill shared that spirit. It is not uniquely American, of course. During World War II, England was in dire straits. Hitler's forces had already occupied much of Europe and posed an imminent and deadly threat to the English when, on June 4, 1940, Churchill gave his powerful "we shall never surrender" speech to the House of Commons. The best known portion of that speech: "We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old." (Full speech here.) Churchill's "we shall never surrender," in 1940, echoed Travis's "I shall never surrender or retreat" of 1836. Just as Churchill and the British were willing to defend their homeland "whatever the cost may be," Travis and his fellow Texans were willing die rather than give up. The Brits of WWII, Patrick Henry and his fellow American revolutionaries, William Travis and his Texans were cut from the same cloth. 4) "The Steel Of American Resolve" "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve." Those words were spoken by Pres. George W. Bush on September 11, 2001, just hours after the worst attack on American soil in history. (Full speech.) Bush echoed the spirit of "never give up." 5) "This War Is Lost" On April 20, 2007, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) injected shameful words into the long time stream of bravery and resolve shared by Americans, British, and other brave souls throughout the world and history. "I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and — you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows — (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday," said Reid. Imagine a U.S. Senator saying such words during WWII upon hearing the news of a particularly bloody battle against Nazi forces. "This war is lost" is hardly in sync with Patrick Henry, William Travis or Winston Churchill. Reid is the antithesis of those men. The lessons we learn here are simple: There are many brave and compassionate people who are willing to fight and even die for a worthy cause. Those people do not give up, they do not surrender. On the other hand, there are those like Harry Reid who are cowardly, eager to give in to circumstance, not willing to try, and are more concerned with their own political comfort than with being down with the struggle at hand. Had Harry Reid been alive in 1775, he would have fled to Quebec. Had he been around in 1942, he would have urged President Roosevelt to withdraw from Europe and the Pacific because of "the extreme violence" facing our soldiers. Had Harry Reid been around in 1836, Texas might be part of Mexico today. September 11, 2001 unmasked a lot of people and continues to do so today. It revealed the heroism and resolve of many ordinary people, many of whom did not know they had it in them. It also revealed those who are without those virtues. Many of those cowards knew all along that they had no love of country, no willingness to sacrifice. Too many of them hold elected office. Too many of them are not true patriots. Too many will be re-elected in November.