Times of Trial
Times of Trial
Among the multiform uses of history, one certainly is to teach patriotism; but how? Not by exultant trumpet notes, but by a realistic examination of the facts, as honest in showing error as in recording successes. When men become complacent and arrogant, says Shakespeare in Antony and Cleopatra, the wise gods seal their eyes -- "make us adore our errors; laugh at's while we strut to our confusion."
More than most nations, the United States down to recent times was prone to fits of self-complacency and boastfulness. Its cocksure ways, its we-can-whip-universal-nature spirit arose partly from the youth of the country, partly from pride in its unique constitutional system, and partly from its real achievements in war and peace. But it was nourished also by material success, by a tendency to treat the bounties of nature as evidence of virtue, and by an easygoing forgetfulness of blunders. Such complacency is dangerous. Macaulay in his Randall letter and Bryce in his American Commonwealth pointed out that the time would come when our nation must face the problems of other crowded, anxious, vulnerable peoples; when our ship of state would enter the Shadow Belt, with its gloom and peril.
It occurred to the editors of American Heritage that a useful counteractive to self-assurance, an incentive to more realistic study of our history, and a set of varied insights into national strength and weakness might be provided by a series of articles on problems met with less than perfect success. Publication of the series began in February, 1956, and was concluded early in 1958. The editors take this opportunity of thanking the distinguished writers who, sharing the spirit in which the enterprise was conceived, contributed to its execution by their expert knowledge . . .