Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
I don’t know about most, but I can certainly get chills listening closely to those words at any time. Ever really let yourself get engrossed into the scene depicted? Ever imagine being there? Pretty amazing I think.
Although our independence is taken for granted by Americans today, it must be remembered that the Revolutionary War was the first in which colonies successfully rebelled against an imperial power. It was unprecedented, and its result changed the future of other European colonies in the nineteenth century.
According to E. Wayne Carp of Pacific Lutheran University in his essay, The Wars of the American Revolution:
|“The new nation which declared itself independent in 1776 was founded upon the “natural rights” philosophy of John Locke, the English political theorist and philosopher. Following ideas and values embedded in the Declaration of Independence, Americans went to war to defend the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that all men were created equal. Underlying this theory of natural rights was the contract theory of government that postulated that government was a voluntary agreement between a ruler and the people and that when the ruler violated that contract the people had the right of revolution. To launch a revolution, and fight a war for political principles was a new development in the world. Certainly, in the eighteenth century, Europeans fought wars for dynastic ambition or economic gain. The American Revolution’s emphasis on self-rule and the right of revolution was a standing challenge to the existing European order that would not go unnoticed. The world of kings and lords, hierarchy and inequality, would never be the same again.”|
In addition, and although they could not have done it without the help of the French, the Americans were mostly made up of rogue warriors, using such unheard of tactics as dressing up in British uniforms and attacking from the rear (many were trained in Guerrilla warfare, or “Bush fighting,” by Indians—they even dressed as Indians in numerous attacks). In most cases, soldiers lacked clothing and shoes and were starving to death. They were greatly outnumbered as well as undersupplied against the greatest power of their time—the British empire. Yet, in spite of every sign to the contrary, they pushed on, even when at numerous times they appeared to be losing miserably.
An unprecedented ambition; a seemingly insurmountable opponent; an army on the verge of disbanding at any moment due to lack of organization, too few supplies, too few men, massive starvation and, of course, fear, and yet, they refused to lose, stayed the course, and succeeded in the end.
I don’t see how the soldiers of the American Revolution could have been any more brave.
Native Americans were known for their bravery:
In “Black Elk Speaks,” a friend of Black Elk, Iron Hawk, tells of his first hand accounts of war alongside Crazy Horse. He was right there during the fighting that culminated in the well-known, “Custer’s Last Stand”:
|“The big party got there early in the morning, and when we came, they had been fighting a long while. There is a wide valley there at the bend of the river with some bluffs and hills around it, and it looked as though people were fighting all over that place. There were Crows (an enemy tribe) with the soldiers, and we began fighting with them. It looked as though we were getting the best of them. Then the soldiers began to advance on the other side of us, and we had to retreat. We were heading for where the big party was, but the soldiers were after us, and the Crows got braver and fought harder because of the soldiers. When we got to the bend, the Crows were right among us, and it was all mixed up fighting there. I don’t know whether I killed anybody or not, but I guess I did, for I was scared and fought hard, and the way it was you couldn’t keep from killing somebody if you didn’t get killed, and I am still alive. There was a Lakota with me and a big Crow pulled him right off his horse and he disappeared. Of course, me — I ran for my life, because we could not fight all those Crows and the soldiers too, and I was scared. But I was not running alone. We were all running, with the Crows after us. Then all at once we saw a band of cavalry coming right ahead of us — about thirty of them. I do not know how they got there. Maybe they were returning from a scouting trip. It looked bad for us. Then I heard voices crying in our language: “Take courage! This is a good day to die! Think of the children and the helpless at home!” So we all yelled and charged on the cavalrymen and began shooting them off their horses, for they turned and ran. Then the Crows were on us from behind, and we turned around and charged back on them.”|
This scene was common for the Indians as they fought valiantly to keep their land and right to exist as they had for thousands of years. Greatly outnumbered, the warriors would not give up. Eventually, as their people began starving, freezing, and experiencing sickness as never before, they were tricked with empty promises of peace and private lands (which turned out to be the miserable reservation conditions).
One’s character shows even as a child:
Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming of Boston, Massachusetts tells this story:
|There was once a famous minister, called Si Ma-Guang during the Song Dynasty. Once, when he was a child, he was playing with some of his friends in a garden where there was a giant cistern full of water next to a tree.One of the children was very curious about what was in the giant cistern. Since the cistern was much taller than the child, he climbed up the tree to see inside. Unfortunately, he slipped and fell into the cistern and started to drown.When this happened, all of the children were so scared and they did not know what to do. Some of them were so afraid that they immediately ran away. Si Ma-Guang, however, without hesitation picked up a big rock and threw it at the cistern and broke it. The water inside flowed out immediately, and the child inside was saved.|
This story is great example of knowing what to do (wisdom), keeping the frame of mind to not panic in the moment of crisis, and the willingness to follow through to get the job done (bravery).
The Chinese character yong, meaning “bravery”, contains within it the character li (the lowerhalf), which means “strength.” This parallels how a person’s character must include strength in order to exhibit bravery.
For more detailed information about the Chinese characters in our motto, click here.
Originally published July, 2001