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The American Identity Crisis - Essay Example

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These are the times that try men's souls." So begins the first essay in a series of writings by Thomas Paine called The Crisis. If one reads the opinion pages in such American national news publications as Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report and The New York Times, things are much the same in our own time…
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Download file to see previous pages On the other hand, there were those who felt that American colonists had come to the New World to leave the world of monarchy and authoritarian decree behind, to found a home for democracy and for personal equality and freedom.
The current debate in public opinion has to do with the American war in Iraq. There are many who believe that the United States, once an example for freedom and liberty, is acting like a colonial, or even an imperial power in its handling of Iraq. Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the country has sunk into a brutal civil war, which neither the American military nor the Iraqi military can contain. These thinkers assert that, since there is no clear exit strategy for the American military, that President Bush has given his military forces an impossible task of restoring full order before returning home. Instead of leaving the troops there indefinitely, these people argue, preparations should begin immediately for troop withdrawals, since there is no clear rationale for their continued presence in the country. On the other side of the argument are those who believe that the American military has a duty to establish that order before it leaves, and that to leave any earlier would give terrorists a foothold in the Middle East and would leave a power vacuum that could end up being very dangerous to American interests.
Paine, of course, was on the side of military action against the British government. He used highly incendiary language in his pamphlets: in The Crisis, he wrote that "[t]yranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." He explicitly compares the fight for American independence from Great Britain to a religious battle between forces of good and evil. He scorned the sensibilities of the Tory loyalists, who, in his opinion, were selling out their children's futures for their own short-term comfort: he quotes the Tory tavern owner who said, "Well! Give me peace in my day!" while playing with his young son. Paine argues that his concern should be more the future, and that he should think, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." Paine's argument was that a swift military action against the British would serve to lance the boil of American servitude that would only continue to fester under the pressure of further British acts of taxation and other forms of official oppression.
Paine's rhetoric is no tamer in his larger pamphlet known as Common Sense. He wrote, "Now is the seed-time of Continental union, faith and honour. The least fracture now will be like a name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak; the wound would enlarge with the tree, and posterity read in it full grown characters." In other words, Paine felt his time period to be a crucial one in the direction of the fledgling colonies: they would either continue under British imperial rule, as would such areas as India and South Africa, or they could break free from their colonial ties and become a flagship for liberty in the New World. He uses the metaphor of writing on the tree to show how long-lasting the lessons of that historical moment would be.
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