It is always darkest just before dawn…
The past two years have been one of the strangest and very arguably difficult periods in American history.
A global pandemic of questionable origins. Political upheaval that has transcended traditional squabbles regarding taxation levels and discretionary spending. Social mayhem fomented, distilled, and amplified seemingly without concern for the long term effect on the ties that bind us together as a nation. A decidedly dark turn by government away from enforcement of duly passed laws in favor of edicts, promulgations, and fiats. All under the backdrop of metastasizing foreign threats most Americans cannot begin to fathom for all the turmoil within our own unenforced borders.
It is enough to make one despair, to lose hope, to believe the night will never end. It is also easy to forget that we Americans have been in darker places than this before, and through determination, grit, our common bonds and most of all, Divine Providence, we have emerged from that dark tunnel and found new strength to carry on.
Let us recall a couple of these morose echoes from America’s past.
A Revolution on the brink
Americans celebrate the bravado of the July 4th 1776 Declaration of Independence from the British global superpower. What many fail to consider is that it took another seven years of grueling struggle and sacrifice to realize the promise of that mid-summer act of defiance.
Perhaps the nadir of the Revolutionary War occurred during the long winter of 1777-78. The Continental Army, having fought to a stalemate in the Battle of White Marsh, set up their winter encampment at Valley Forge just before Christmas 1777.
This 12,000 person cantonment was spartan, very poorly provisioned, and suffered from atrociously substandard sanitation. Bedraggled soldiers residing in ramshackle quarters endured amputating frostbite and outbreaks of typhus, dysentery, and influenza. In total, nearly 2,000 soldiers perished during the six month encampment.
To make matters worse, the Continental Army had little standardization across its units, hampering its effectiveness as a fighting force. This combined maelstrom of misery drove morale to such dangerous levels that General Washington warned Congress that the army would either “starve, dissolve, or disperse.”i
Nevertheless, the Continentals persisted. Washington successfully lobbied Congress for better provisioning and installed a highly regarded combat general as the Quartermaster General to ensure improved logistics. The introduction of Prussian drill master Friedrich von Steuben improved standardization, efficiency, and effectiveness among all units. Finally, a late winter alliance with France gave the Continentals both additional manpower and supplies in their fight against the British. This combined to lift morale, leading to an effective campaign in which the Continentals acquitted themselves well at the Battle of Monmouth six months after making camp outside Philadelphia.
The dark winter at Valley Forge was over.
A bold stab at the heart of the foe
The U.S. was reeling in early 1942. Pearl Harbor, occurring three weeks before Christmas, was rapidly followed hours later by invasion of the Philippines. This American controlled archipelago fell to the Japanese in early April 1942 after most of the Asiatic Fleet was destroyed. There were very real concerns the Japanese would show up in San Francisco.ii
We were being rolled up.
A plan was hatched in the week following Pearl Harbor to strike back in some way, just to swing the emotional pendulum the other direction. National command leadership turned to an Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel by the name of Jimmy Doolittle to offer a glimmer of hope filled light to a reeling nation.
Army Air Corps B-25 bombers would be transported via aircraft carrier to within striking distance of the Japanese homeland. They would hit targets around Tokyo, then go on to land in (then) friendly Chinese territory.
It was highly risky for several reasons. First, B-25s were not carrier aircraft and the U.S. only had two operational carriers at the time. They could neither risk a mishap on one of these capital ships, nor discovery and engagement by the Japanese. Nonetheless, Doolittle’s Raiders conducted the mission–a tactically insignificant mission as the light bombers carried very little ordnance and caused negligible damage to the Japanese war effort. A metaphorical mosquito biting your neck.
However, the mosquito raid had a broader strategic effect. The attack caused tremendous concern and anger in the Japanese high command that they had been attacked on their homeland. The Japanese thus committed to eliminate the U.S. carrier force in the Pacific.
This set the stage for the pivotal and tide-turning Battle of Midway in mid-1942. The Japanese never recovered from this defeat.
Counting the minutes to daybreak
Americans are an impatient lot. We have grown impetuous as the blessings of liberty have begat unimagined luxuries with incredible speed. We want it all, and we want it now.
The acceleration of the aforementioned current challenges is disconcerting. That alarm will grow exponentially as the pace and tenor of these challenges continues to grow. Americans no doubt want a return to “normalcy,” but they want it on their timeline and may miss both the subtle changes for the better and their ability to effect that change.
In the two historical examples, the situation did not change overnight. It was a hard, arduous process that eventually got the Continental Army “over the hump” and a risky, perilous gamble that set in motion an over response by an American foe in World War II. In the background, average Americans played a role. Whether it was surreptitiously fashioning 2,000 shirts under the nose of British occupiers for the freezing men at Valley Forge, or collecting scrap, buying war bonds, and planting a Victory Garden during World War II, Americans showed their grit, tenacity, and willingness to put their collective shoulders to the effort.
In both cases, the light of dawn eventually came, but not before the nation traversed a very dark period.
We are less than a week from Christmas—a time of hope and rebirth in the Christian Church as the promise of a Redeemer is realized. It is perhaps not coincidental that Christmas occurs in concert with the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere—a time of maximum night before the sun begins to reclaim more of each day.
In this season of darkness, let us not despair in the news of the day. Rather, let us together work to change our future, to push back and reassert our birthright as free Americans, but most of all, believe that the dawn will come.
Steve Canyon is a retired military officer.
The Language of Liberty series is an outreach project of the Center for Self Governance, a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization, dedicated to training citizens in principles of liberty. The views expressed by the authors are their own and may not reflect the views of CSG. CenterForSelfGovernance.com
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