In 2020, Americans must decide whether their country is worthy of praise or contempt.
Our Finest Hour
Blood, toil, tears, and sweat
The following is the transcript of a recent episode of The American Story podcast.
Sometimes it can help to know you are not alone. And as bad as history and civics education in America has become over the past half century, and the past few years, America is certainly not alone in the historical and civic ignorance being inflicted on its younger generations.
I was reading recently the very good one-volume biography of Winston Churchill by Andrew Roberts—it’s called Walking with Destiny. It’s well worth reading, and in his conclusion, Roberts tells a story that shows us that our educational misery has company. Churchill’s mother was American, he was a great champion of the American Cause, and he became the first official recipient of honorary American citizenship (in 1963, while he was still living). Since he was the greatest statesman of the twentieth century, it does us honor to regard him as one of our own, and to regard historical remembrance—or forgetting—of Churchill as, part of the American story.
According to Andrew Roberts, in a study of British teenagers done a few years ago, twenty percent of them thought Winston Churchill—not just the greatest statesman, but one of the most famous men, of the 20thcentury—to be a fictional character. Fifty-eight percent of the teenagers surveyed, on the other hand, thought Sherlock Holmes to be a real person; 47 percent thought Eleanor Rigby was, too.
The most poignant chapters of the Churchill biography are naturally the ones focused on England, and particularly London, in 1940-41, when that city and its people and their heroic leader faced the prospect of annihilation in a way that made it in truth their “finest hour,” as Churchill called it. It was their finest hour because in the greatest crisis of the nation’s history—when the odds were strong that they would be conquered and subjected by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi war machine—the people rose to display the greatest qualities of mind and character they had ever been called upon to display.
I think we in America are in such a crisis now ourselves. Our greatest enemy is not the Chinese or the Russians, or some other ambitious foreign tyranny—though they might indeed kill us if we continue so fecklessly to defend ourselves. But what will they kill? The body of a country that has lost its soul, unless we do something about it. Our greatest enemy is the bad ideas that have miseducated Americans so thoroughly for so long that many of us have forgotten what it means to be a free people. We have forgotten what free government looks like, how it works, on what principles it is founded, how precious, rare, and fragile it is, and what virtues and sacrifices are needed to preserve it. We are as capable of losing our freedom as England was capable of losing the war against Nazi Germany.
I don’t think our odds are any worse than England’s in 1940. But there is a critical difference. In 1940, England had America to turn to if all else failed. There is no America to turn to if we can’t save this country from the anti-American orthodoxies that rule in our universities and most powerful media, and from which our cultural, intellectual, political, and even spiritual elite learn wholesale the corroding dogmas of “critical race theory,” and “identity politics” that they retail 24 hours a day in every forum available to them. What is the necessary response to this crisis?
Good ideas must replace bad ideas. That is not glibness; it is the most fundamental thing: better education at all levels, from graduate to undergraduate to high school and middle school; education founded on the liberating principles of the American Revolution and Founding—what Abraham Lincoln called the “principles and axioms of free society.” This is easy to say and will be very hard to achieve. It will take sustained, determined, even heroic effort beginning in our homes and our families, extending out to our neighborhoods, churches, the schools our children attend, our local school boards, city and state departments of education. It will take political organization, electing the right people to office at every level, and conceiving and pushing the necessary legislation. It will take years. But there is no nobler cause available in the world we find ourselves in.
With their courage and resolute refusal to give up the fight, the Britons of 1940-41 saved freedom and western civilization from Nazi barbarism. It will take all the resolution and courage we can muster today to save American freedom from the barbarism that stalks us from within. If we do our duty in this crisis, right now, future generations of Americans, living in freedom, will not be wrong to say of the greatest country in history, that this was our finest hour.
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