05 July 2007

The Courage to Help

Let me begin by stating that I unabashedly love the United States of America. It is just wonderful to live in the United States of America. There are problems to be sure, but these are had everywhere. On the other hand, the blessings experienced here are only found elsewhere in relatively small pockets. When you go to live someplace else, you learn that not only do you trade old for new in food, scenery and culture, you also trade major problem sets. The old proverb about the grass being greener on the other side of the fence, elucidates the ease with which human judgment can be prone to error.

I don't think I can be called a world traveler, but I have had some experience outside of the US. I lived for two years in the jungles and deserts of the northeastern Brazil. I've visited Ireland, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. There are real families, real life and all that that entails everywhere. I feel confident in saying that the privileges I often took for granted, no longer seem to me the normal and the natural affair of mankind. They are not. In so many ways we live today at the tip top of human existence.

Yesterday was July 4th, Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. It was on this day that a group of brave men and women signed and fought for words like these:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Remembering on the Fourth of July that the extraordinary blessings I experience were not always so normal, is always very humbling for me. This year however I learned a bit more about that tempestuous and tenuous time of early America and I thought I'd share an insight I had.

Choosing to revolt against the King of Great Britain was with out a doubt insane. These 13 colonies had little money, a comparatively minuscule army, few weapons, little training and not much of a plan. What they did have was a belief that what they were doing was right. In their effort to show their faith, others were inspired by their cause and came to their aid. These others were Spain, the Netherlands and France. Men like General Lafayette, a French military officer, were moved to action. Said he of America:

The moment I heard of America I loved her; the moment I knew she was fighting for freedom I burnt with a desire of bleeding for her; and the moment I shall be able to serve her, at any time, or in any part of the world, will be the happiest of my life. - Marquis de Lafayette, Letter to Henry Laurens (then President of Congress), April 1777

With the help of the French, men like Lafayette and others, independence was ultimately achieved.

When a new nation forms, things are ever so fragile, chaos and fear so, so close at hand. I am thankful that a country far away, saw a distant tyranny so many years ago, and didn't choose to ignore it. I'm thankful that they had men, like Lafayette, who would be willing to sacrifice their lives for others to whom they had no reason to give anything. More specifically, this year, I'd like to thank the French who's sacrifice in large measure sustained a young and vulnerable nation. Their choice, so long ago, has made a way for my life, my liberty and my pursuit of happiness and I will be forever grateful.

Without the help of others, there likely would be no USA. Without those who were in a place to help actually choosing to help, the cause of freedom would have been snuffed out once again. For me, the lesson is this: even for causes with great ideals and great men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams leading the way, the US still needed help from others, or it would have all been some small footnote in some history book today. Back then we needed those with the courage to help, and we still need each other today. Really, it was a miracle that it all worked out.

1 comment:

mmnw said...

The colonies did indeed need outside help to accomplish their independence, so I do agree with you on that. On a second glance the french help does not look so courageous and altruistic. You mentioned a "distant tyranny". Of course, for france the american colonies may have been distant, but the tyrant himself was quite close, just over the canal. And indeed at this time france had a long history of violent wars with great britain and some more to come. So from this perspective, the french intervention in the US was nothing more than another episode in an ongoing war.
This may of course not be applied to single individuals like Lafayette, who may indeed have shared the ideas and passions of the colonists. But for the more general french politics it was more hurting the british than helping the american colonists.
If you take a look at history, there are more examples of such semi-altruistic political behaviour. In spite of everything one should still be thankfull for good deeds, no matter what the motives are.