A few months ago I came across this quote on the photography blog of Eric Ethridge, which I pass along as part of today’s July Fourth celebrations. It’s from the great American historian C. Vann Woodward. Ethridge tells us that it appears in Woodward’s 1953 essay “The Irony of Southern History”, which is collected in his book The Burden of Southern History.
Woodward was reflecting on the U.S. position in the world in the years after World War II.
We are exasperated by the ironic incongruities of our position. Having more power than ever before, America ironically enjoys less security than in the days of our weakness. Convinced of her virtue, she finds that even her allies accuse her of domestic vices invented by her enemies. The liberated prove ungrateful for their liberation, the reconstructed for their reconstruction, and the late colonial peoples vent their resentment upon our nation — the most innocent, we believe, of the imperial powers. Driven by these provocations and frustrations, there is the danger that America may be tempted to exert all the terrible power she possesses to compel history to conform to her own illusions. The extreme, but no means the only expression, would be the so-called preventive war. That would be to commit the worst heresy of the Marxists, with whom it is dogma that they can compel history to the pattern of their dreams by the ruthless use of force.
He wrote that in 1953.
In other holiday news — I spent parts of the last few weeks helping to put together Time‘s annual July 4th edition devoted to one of the people we call Makers of America. This year the subject is Mark Twain. We chose him in part because that part of the American disposition that’s in any way resistant to cant, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, hype and spin owes something to him. So do Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and anybody else who thinks you can take seriously the mess the world is always in and still laugh at it.
If you’re interested to know more you can start here. Other Twain stories from that package are in links to that side of that one.