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Our Nation's Strength Can Help us Endure Challenges
Posted Thursday, January 15, 2009

Before we give up, let's take stock relative to how we got to where we are today and what we have achieved as we charge this next set of challenges.

Story By Robert Foglesong

These are tough -- even historic -- times for most Americans. It's hard to watch the news or read a newspaper without having the feeling that the best of America is behind us.

I, for one, believe that is just not true. I have no special insight into the future, but I do have faith in the fundamentals that permitted the United States of America to emerge as the world's only superpower -- the most respected nation around the globe.

No question, we are going through a tough time. An economy that's uncertain at best, a lurking energy challenge just waiting to emerge again, two geographic wars and a war that knows no boundaries as do most conflicts -- all huge challenges that will require us to bring our courage and our character.

But before we give up, let's take stock relative to how we got to where we are today and what we have achieved as we charge this next set of challenges.

Some really tough -- and brave -- people from all walks of life sailed halfway around the world several hundred years ago and settled what would later become the United States of America. They had an economy problem and an energy problem and eventually a war to contend with. They put their courage -- and their blood -- on the line and demanded their independence.

Against all odds, they won their freedom and set us on the course of equality and opportunity. I'd say that counts as a tough time in our history.

How about a civil war that pitted half our country against the other half? I'd say that was a pretty tough time for the UNITED States of America. That was an incredible challenge to our future. In a way, we are better off as we proved that we are better together than apart and that we mean it when we say "... one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." The emphasis on "liberty and justice for all."

We fought a couple of world wars where ordinary citizens -- teachers, plumbers, doctors, farmers, lawyers, etc. -- left their families for years at a time to defend freedom thousands of miles from our country. They left as our neighbors, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters and came home heroes. Actually, some didn't come home.

The United States did not seek out any of those wars and did not seek any territory. In fact, the only territory we retained from those wars are the cemeteries where our citizens are buried on foreign soil. Those were tough times.

The United States suffered through something called a "depression." Hardly any of us remember it, but we've all heard of it. People standing in lines for meager supplies of food. A huge chunk of people unemployed. Lives full of despair. Farms and businesses lost and never recovered. But because we are Americans -- tough as nails -- this great nation survived and produced the "greatest generation" of leaders ever known.

Here's some history we all remember -- Sept. 11, 2001. How about that for a tough time for America? That deadly day in our history brought us together like I have never seen in my life. It didn't matter what color your skin was, what religion you practiced, how you made a living or any other human characteristic. We were all Americans that day. We were all compassionate Americans -- but our toughness would soon come.

We've had some tough times -- and emerged only to be stronger each time. And what did we get for our sacrifice and toughness? For one thing, we live in the greatest nation in the world. We have freedom like no one else. We get to cast a personal vote to elect our leadership -- unlike many countries I have visited.

We can write op-ed pieces like this one and put our opinions in public view in thousands of venues across the nation. We can travel across the United States freely -- without fear of having our "papers" checked as we go from state to state.

We have free education through 12 grades, and I contend that you can extend that education if you really set your mind to it. If you want to be a plumber or a doctor -- and you want to work hard -- you can do it.

We are -- and continue to be -- a land of great opportunity. Even in tough times, there will continue to be opportunities.

We have clean water -- a luxury in many countries. We have heat in the winter and cool in the summer. We have lights and highways and cell phones and HDTV and NASCAR and -- well, you get the point.

Can it be better? You bet. How do we make it better? First, let's keep faith in the fundamentals that got us here -- hard work, courage, commitment to something bigger than ourselves and pulling together all in the same direction. Next, we all will have to suppress our appetites to a degree -- stop buying what we can't afford.

We will need good leadership at the corporate level -- leadership that can balance business with social responsibility. We will need good political leadership in our communities, states and at the national level -- leadership that's willing to make tough decisions even if those decisions are not always popular.

So, as we take stock in America, let's remember we are "...one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." These are tough times, but we are a tough nation with a proven record of taking on huge challenges and emerging even tougher. That's why we are still the nation of choice -- the gold standard -- around the world. I can tell you that I'm sure glad I'm on this team. It's a winner.

(A native of Mingo County, U.S. Air Force Gen. (retired) Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong formerly served as president of Mississippi State University. He holds a Ph.D. from West Virginia University. He is founder and executive director of the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the next generation of leaders in Appalachia.)

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