For democracy, times appear dark. All over the world this means of governance, conceived in liberty as Lincoln said, is in retreat. In Myanmar and India, in Hungry and Hong Kong and many other places direct and blatant steps to reverse the advance of self governance has been either legislatively adopted or a stronger power has somehow achieved a hegemony over the governed.
While George Washington’s admonition to avoid foreign entanglements as he left office in 1796 was well taken for the time, more than two centuries have proven that while We the People, do not want anything to do with the world, the world wants plenty to do with us. And our leaders have responded and in the process defined who we are.
Woodrow Wilson pledged to avoid entry into World War I but could not ignore loss of American lives on the high seas due to U-boat sinking ships, nor German efforts to have Mexico invade the United States. He articulated a path to peace for the nations at war which in part included allowing for an American value; self determination for Austro-Hungarians and those under the Ottoman Empire.
About 15 years later Franklin Delano Roosevelt could clearly see the dangers of allowing Europe to fall into the grip of fascism, for among other things that kind of government tends to require a constant external enemy. That would, ultimately be us.
Also the President simply could not stand by and watch an expansionist Japan rapaciously overwhelm the far east. Once these powers had completely swallowed the Old World, would they not turn to the new?
While bowing to the will of the People to not become directly involved, this president found legal means to support democracies abroad. While we can now see his policy was ultimately defensive, predictably perhaps, the United States was attacked by Japan and Germany followed suit by declaring war as well. Some ask how many died for this ideal? More understand the alternative is tyranny.
FDR’s successor, Harry Truman, formed a doctrine such that it was the policy of the United States to assist people overseas in their quest for freedom, as a measure to keep other expansionist totalitarian systems at bay, largely propelled forward under the banner of communism. We began to hear what became known as the Truman Doctrine which had as its core the objective of promoting democracy world wide in his inaugural speech in 1949. Here is a clip.
As if to underscore the point the world wants plenty to do with us, Jack Kennedy stared down the Soviets over its missiles placed in Cuba. A clip from his inaugural:
In the end of this showdown with the Soviets Ronald Reagan found a way to run them into the ground without firing a shot. And yet the in between these President’s the of corollary effort in Vietnam brought home to us what the cost of this doctrine really is.
We have not in recent years been the shining beacon on a hill Ronald Reagan spoke of nor remembered the leadership the last century has steered us through turbulent waters. Instead, we have reverted to an isolationism which was no longer possible at the time of Woodrow Wilson a century ago, and is even less possible now. It is fiction to pretend the world should be the way we want it, for the world wants it a way we do not.
So I thought it would be a good time to go back, back to a moment when our President briefly and succinctly stated what was our past, and what our role in the world really is, and have been willing to die for. The Gettysburg Address.
We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.. Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg 1863.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
November 19, 1863