by Thomas Sowell (link to column archives)
An increasing number of recent letters and e-mails from readers strike a note, not only of unhappiness with the way things are going in our society, but a note of despair.
Those of us who are pessimists are only a step away from despair ourselves, so we may not be the ones to offer the best antidote to the view that America has seen its best days and is degenerating toward what may well be its worst. Yet what hope remains is no less precious nor any less worthy of being preserved.
First of all, the day-to-day life of most Americans in these times is nowhere near as dire as that of the band of cold, ragged and hungry men who gathered around George Washington in the winter at Valley Forge, to which they had been driven by defeat after defeat.
Only the most reckless gambler would have bet on them to win. Only an optimist would have expected them to survive.
Against the background of those and other desperate times that this country has been through, we cannot whine today because the stocks in our pension plans have gone down or the inflated value that our houses had just a few years ago has now evaporated.
In another sense, however, looming ahead of us-- and our children and their children-- are dangers that can utterly destroy American society. Worse yet, there are moral corrosions within ourselves that weaken our ability to face the challenges ahead.
One of the many symptoms of this decay from within is that we are preoccupied with the pay of corporate executives while the leading terrorist-sponsoring nation on earth is moving steadily toward creating nuclear bombs.
Does anyone imagine that we will care what anyone's paycheck is when we see an American city in radioactive ruins?
Yet the only serious obstacle to that happening is that the Israelis may disregard the lofty blather coming out of the White House and destroy Iran's nuclear facilities before the Iranian fanatics can destroy Israel.
If by some miracle we manage to avoid the fatal dangers of a nuclear Iran, there will no doubt be others, including a nuclear North Korea.
Although, in some sense, the United States of America is still the militarily strongest nation on earth, that means absolutely nothing if our enemies are willing to die and we are not.
It took only two nuclear bombs to get Japan to surrender-- and the Japanese of that era were far tougher than most Americans today. Just one bomb-- dropped on New York, Chicago or Los Angeles-- might be enough to get us to surrender.
If we are still made of sterner stuff than it looks like, then it might take two or maybe even three or four nuclear bombs, but we will surrender.
It doesn't matter if we retaliate and kill millions of innocent Iranian civilians-- at least it will not matter to the fanatics in charge of Iran or the fanatics in charge of the international terrorist organizations that Iran supplies.
Ultimately, it all comes down to who is willing to die and who is not.
How did we get to this point? It was no single thing.
The dumbing down of our education, the undermining of moral values with the fad of "non-judgmental" affectations, the denigration of our nation through poisonous propaganda from the movies to the universities. The list goes on and on.
The trajectory of our course leads to a fate that would fully justify despair. The only saving grace is that even the trajectory of a bullet can be changed by the wind.
We have been saved by miraculous good fortune before in our history. The overwhelming military and naval expedition that Britain sent to New York to annihilate George Washington's army was totally immobilized by a vast impenetrable fog that allowed the Americans to escape. That is how they ended up in Valley Forge.
In the World War II naval battle of Midway, if things had not happened just the way they did, at just the time they did, the American naval force would not only have lost, but could have been wiped out by the far larger Japanese fleet.
Over the years, we have had our share of miraculous deliverances. But that our fate today depends on yet another miracle is what can turn pessimism to despair.