Shall It Be Sustained?

For the 4th of July of 2014,  Cassandra had an excellent post:  Independence in an Age of Cynicism.  I recommend the entire post and all the links; read especially the third linked essay, which Cass wrote in 2008:  Why I Am Patriotic: a Love Letter to America.

For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People.  The title I’ve used for these posts prior to 2013 was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.


This is Independence Day,
Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
Whatever happens and whatever falls
Out of a sky grown strange;
This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
The day of the parade,
Slambanging down the street.
Listen to the parade!
There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
The Fire Department and the local Grange,
There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
There are the veterans and the Legion Post
(Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
Good-humored, watching, hot,
Silent a second as the flag goes by,
Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
All of them there and all of them a nation.
And, afterwards,
There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
By somebody the Honorable Who,
The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
Will read the declaration.
That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
That’s our fourth of July.

And a lean farmer on a stony farm
Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
And walked ten miles to town.
Musket in hand.
He didn’t know the sky was falling down
And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
By kings or any such.
A workman in the city dropped his tools.
An ordinary, small-town kind of man
Found himself standing in the April sun,
One of a ragged line
Against the skilled professionals of war,
The matchless infantry who could not fail,
Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
But first, and principally, since he was sore.
They could do things in quite a lot of places.
They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.

Benet’s poem ends with these words:

We made it and we make it and it’s ours
We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained

But shall it?

11 thoughts on “Shall It Be Sustained?”

  1. My father ran away from home at age 15 to join the Navy in WWI. It was 1918 and, after the Armistice, he wanted to get out. He then confessed he was under age,

    He never did go back to school and did various jobs including working in a bank and, in the 1930s, being a newspaper delivery manager. He was still angry when I was a boy that the paper he worked for had been too slow to get out an “Extra” edition when the Lindberg baby was found. He was stuck with all those unsold papers.

    My mother was born in 1898 and my father never knew until he died that she was five years older.

    Her mother and brother died the same year, 1926, and she moved to California to live with relatives until they lost everything including their home in the 1929 crash.

    My parents dated in the 1930s but nobody had enough money to get married. Finally, they decided they could afford marriage in 1937 and I resulted a year later. My mother was 40 the year I was born and my sister came along in 1941.

    I remember the war and all my female relatives teaching me to say “Dougout Doug is a rat out rat!” I also learned some wartime songs that I still like.

    I have already posted a description of growing up in those days, and the VJ Day parties we had.

    I posted more on what growing up in Chicago was like in those days.

    We used to go to a Fourth of July celebration near my aunt and uncle’s home which was put on by a local group, maybe the VFW. It was quite a show and probably a lot more dangerous than anything that would be allowed now.

    When my own children were small, we took them to this park in San Marino, near Los Angeles.

    We would set out a blanket and cooler and spend the afternoon with the kids playing and then, as evening set in, we would have a picnic dinner and settle down to watch the city fireworks show.

    That city is nearly all Chinese residents these days and I wonder if they still do the show.

    In later years, we would take the boat to Catalina and watch fireworks at Isthmus Cover on the 4th.

    One fourth of July, I was on the way to Honolulu racing in Transpac and we shot off roman candles from the lee rails as we racing along in the early going.

    These days, I stay home and remember. We can see the fireworks on the lake in Mission Viejo from our back yard.

  2. Yes. We are in the beginning stages of the political and social re-alignment that will sustain it once again, every bit as messily as it was in the past.

    It is very chic, and very mistaken, to look down upon and underestimate the deep strength and determination of the American people.

    All of our opponents over the last 2+ centuries have, and all have lived to regret it, or died for their mistake.

  3. > We are in the beginning stages of the political and social re-alignment that will sustain it once again, every bit as messily as it was in the past.

    I dunno. I cannot recall a single example of a nation that has fallen as deeply in our morals and standards and practices — everything from marriage to child rearing to maintaining the town square — as ours, and gotten up and retrieved its fortunes.

    It will be messy, whatever *it* is. The prudent American will make ready to endure it as best they can.

  4. I think the millennial generation is resentful of the lax ways they were raised and are raising their children stricter.

    I also frequent Robert Avrech’s site and he had a good post on the subject:

    I believe that we tend to make future predictions in a linear fashion; eg, “today things are going to hell in a hand basket and they will thus continue” – but history isn’t linear.

    People react and sometimes change.

    Sometimes they don’t.

    MikeK – I was talking about the Great Depression with someone yesterday and she made a valid point: that for couples wishing to marry, having a job was paramount.

    If you didn’t have a job you didn’t get married.

    The Depression defined a generation. My own parents always led a financially conservative life.

  5. Bill, this line struck me.

    a man who was raised in a chaotic environment by a divorced hippie woman, whose friends are also divorced hippie women. He reacts by wanting to live an extremely structured and conventional life.

    I have a woman friend in Tucson who grew up just this way. Her mother left her father and moved into a commune with her four daughters.

    The mother is a nice lady but still a ditz and very left wing. She married a guy who she met in the commune who is a nice guy who got himself organized and is a successful ophthalmologist.

    The daughter married a Marine fighter pilot friend of mine and they have raised three great boys.

    They are very strict Catholic. The boys have gone to Catholic school but the mother has taken each boy to home school for one year each year.

    The oldest boy is in flight training at Pensacola. The middle boy is getting a masters in engineering. The youngest is now in college.

    They are great kids. The family had NO TV throughout the boys upbringing.

    I think this is an excellent example of your point.

  6. Highly recommended: Neo-Neocon’s post on Liberty.

    “As the years go by, I appreciate that fact more and more, and sense that our liberty is more and more threatened from within as well as without—and by “within” I mean not just those among us who would destroy it for others, but something in the human heart and mind that means not everyone cares very much about it until they have lost it.

    In fact, there’s something in many human hearts and minds that leads some people not to care about liberty even after they’ve lost it, unless they’re the ones in the Gulag.”

  7. I’m doubtful. At least two generations have grown up morally and culturally illiterate. Unless an incredible amount of energy in education and persuasion is applied to the problem from our side, it is but a question of time before we reach the tipping point. That moment is coming soon. We have 20 years, at the very most. Probably less.

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