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Finding spirit we've lost may be all that keeps us from falling

By Charley Reese
Sentinel Commentary

Published in The Orlando Sentinel, July 26, 1998

It bears repeating what Tom Fleming, a director of the League of the South, said when he was asked if the analogy between the fall of Rome and the current United States is valid.

``Yes, it is,'' Fleming said, ``but with this difference -- the United States today is in worse shape than Rome was in 476 A.D.'' Fleming's degrees are in classical studies.

I thought about this when I saw the national news media getting in a fever about two exhibitionists in California who intend to lose their virginity on the World Wide Web. I suspect that even the Romans had better taste than this.

Rome still had plenty of legions, but it had rotted from within. Napoleon, who knew something about war and power, said, ``There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run, the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.''

How do we define spirit? Well, an American historian who read all the letters written by Americans in the Revolution that he could get his hands on said four distinct themes emerged in all those letters -- love of God, love of family, love of country (note country, not government) and love of liberty.

These loves were so genuine that patriots of that generation were not only willing to sacrifice their material well-being but their lives. That's spirit, and, as the British discovered, people with that kind of spirit are tough to whip.

Unfortunately that spirit is lost today. Let me be more precise. It is lost largely among the elite who run American institutions, both public and private. It is still found among more humble Americans. If you are looking for people who love God, family, country and liberty, you are much more likely to find them on the assembly line, the farm, the small town, the police and fire departments than you are on the alumni lists of Yale, Harvard and the other elitist universities.

The American elite it seems to me love self, money, position and comfort. Those who love God, family, country and liberty will sacrifice themselves for what they love; those who love self, money, position and comfort will sacrifice others for their own benefit.

But these kind of people are vulnerable. They can be bought or frightened. That's why the United States is in decline. The United States bullies Panama and the Serbs but not China. The United States wanted to keep its bases in the Philippines, but the Philippines, despite economic hardship, turned down billions of U.S. dollars and told us to get out. Iran and India didn't flinch when the United States frowned and fussed at them about nuclear weapons.

Iraq, despite murderous sanctions, hasn't offered to kiss anybody's rear end in Washington. Fidel Castro still sends his contempt from across the Florida Strait. Even Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, a very small country, has stood fast against U.S. demands to extradite two Libyans. And a warlord in Somalia ran us out of that ratty country.

If the United States is the last superpower and the self-appointed leader of the world, why are so few willing to follow? Because they can see the weakness, the staggering public and private debts, the hypocrisy, the corruption and the vacillation.

Look at the economic crisis in Southeast Asia. U.S. strategy has been to beg Japan to cure its economic problems so Japan can save Southeast Asia. The United States can't do it and is frightened by it, even though U.S. officials continue to whistle past the television cameras.

We need a new elite. Otherwise, as we say in the South, the United States is cruisin' for a bruisin'.

[Posted 07/26/98 1:25 AM EST]


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