For President’s Day

April 30: George Washington becomes the first ...

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The sermon in church today was all about George Washington and the leadership he provided. In his time, he was acknowledged as having a superior character, and inspiring loyalty in the men around him. Thomas Jefferson wrote years later that “His character was perfect, in all ways good, in no way bad, and in a only a few places indifferent.”

Washington is lauded as the father of this country and a honest man.

In all the celebrations of President’s Day, and Independence Day in a few months, it is easy to forget, that this country, the United States of America, was founded in treason.

We do not discuss this bit, how for all their moral courage and leadership, the Founding Fathers were rebelling against their rightful government. They laid out all the reasons the true government had become intolerable, and attempted to petition the monarch for relief, but were ignored. In the end, however, they did commit treason and rebel against their government. We conveniently ignore the truth underneath the founding of our country.

Where is the line? Where does rebellion take on the cloak of righteousness and become the truth, the true moral calling? The South, in the Civil War, attempted to assume the cloak of righteousness under the guise of states’ rights. They were put down by Lincoln & the North after years of fighting. But they were rotten at the core, since the rights, the economy, and the way of life they were defending were all built on the backs and with the blood of other human beings.

There have been many other rebellions around the world that the United States has helped put down in the name of anti-Communism. Some of those countries have prospered, such as South Korea (although let’s not talk about their neighbor to the north). Others of those countries have prospered in spite of the United States (and one might say, in spite of their Communist leaders), such as Vietnam. And still others of those countries still struggle with poverty, corruption, and violence, such as Guatemala.

What makes our rebellion, the Revolutionary War, special? The men who petitioned the king for redress were right, they were being treated unfairly. But how are they any different from other rebellions, where the rebels are right, or believe they are right? Well, overthrowing the government is one of two crimes you can only be convicted for if you are unsuccessful.

However, a successful rebel must also be right, not just believe in their cause’s righteousness. And to be right, they must be fighting for fundamental human rights, not just for the right to further your own ambition and lust for power. They must be willing to lay their lives on the line, but defend others, and cause no unnecessary loss of life. So many rebels think the path to winning is killing innocents, but that is only a path to hatred and destruction, not only of others’ lives but their own cause, too.

Does the right rebel automatically win? Of course not. There are many forces arrayed against them, from the way things are done (do not underestimate the power of “It has always been done that way”), to the power of the existing state.

In a modern democracy, there are many ways for anger against the state to be heard without resorting to armed rebellion. They are being tested right now in Wisconsin. I find any one who resorts to armed rebellion without trying peaceful protest first to be a coward. And peaceful protest does work, from India in the 1950s to Tunisia and Egypt today.

So, let us celebrate our Founding Fathers without reservation, while remembering that they tried every means at their disposal to change their government before resorting to armed rebellion. And while we celebrate them, remember that they were great enough to take only the power they needed, not grab all the power available to them.

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