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Jewish World Review April 15, 2002/ 4 Iyar, 5762

Don Feder

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Americans again stand with muskets in hand | This is the week it all began -- when a nation arose that would blaze across the stage of history "trailing clouds of glory."

Some say America started on July 4, 1776, when a congress in Philadelphia proclaimed, "These United Colonies are and of a right ought to be Free and Independent States."

In fact, America's birthday is April 19. On that day in 1775, the labor pains started on the Lexington green. The baby was delivered at Concord's North Bridge.

The midnight ride of Paul Revere. The shot heard 'round the world. In the wake of Sept. 11, Americans are once again rallying to freedom's cause. Now, as then, there's a price to be paid.

"Violence never solves anything," peeped the perpetual children of the peace-at-any-price camp following the World Trade Center attack.

News flash: Lexington and Concord weren't love-ins. The British suffered about 250 casualties that day; Americans, around 90. Colonials waged a brutal guerrilla war against retreating redcoats, firing from behind stone walls and trees.

If April 19, 1775, had been a day of peaceful protest (if the Minutemen had met advancing British with slogans instead of shot), the rebellion would have died aborning. The Founding Fathers would have danced the minuet at the end of a rope. And we would now be in mourning for Britain's queen mother.

America was born on the battlefield. Our union was preserved by a civil war. During World War II and the Cold War, our way of life was protected by armed might. Thus it will always be.

As George Orwell told World War II-era pacifists, "Those who abjure violence can only do so by others committing violence in their behalf." C.S. Lewis noted the triumph of pacifism would lead to "a world in which there will be no pacifists" -- the lions having long ago picked their teeth with lamb bones.

Americans are a remarkably peaceable people. The cowboy slander notwithstanding, we are slow on the draw.

We didn't enter World War I until the final 18 months. The world was at war two years before America joined the fray in 1941, and then only after we were attacked. Look at the terrorist outrages we suffered before retaliating after Sept. 11.

Our violence is defensive. Unlike Europe, America never had crusades, inquisitions, pogroms or genocide. The blood-drenched idols of communism and fascism were erected in the Old World, not the New. Time and again in last century, we took up arms to save Europeans from their own stupidity.

Prior to Lexington and Concord, the colonists endured a growing tyranny by the British crown -- injustices enumerated in the Declaration of Independence -- before rising in rebellion.

But once roused, Americans are a force to be reckoned with. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is said to have observed, "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."

Ordinarily gentle Americans are fierce in the defense of the homeland.

And what do we fight for today? Exactly what those embattled farmers ("their flag to April's breeze unfurled") stood for at America's dawn -- independence, the rights of man, our homes and families, and justice.

The British monarchy believed in a divine right to rule its colonies as it chose. Islamicists believe they are empowered by G-d to annihilate infidels and spread their faith to the furthest corners of the Earth.

But there are differences, as well.

Today's foe is harder to define, more diffuse, more barbarous. The British army was gentleman-led; it did not make war on women and children. In the great struggle of the 21st century, the enemy (numbering in the millions) is merciless, maniacal and inspired by a vision of paradise achieved on a mound of corpses.

America is no longer a nation of villages and sturdy yeomen. Still, we have a common cause with the Minutemen.

In each generation, Americans stand "by the rude bridge," muskets in hand. And not for ourselves alone. In 1775, it was to establish the universal principle of self-determination. Today, it's for a world governed by ballots, not terrorist bombs. This makes us still humanity's last, best hope.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate