THE MAN DIED, YET HIS WORDS LIVE……
On this Memorial Day, my first instinct is to honor family members who left their homes to fight for ideals larger than themselves. However, Memorial Day’s purpose is to honor the dead, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. My direct ancestors survived all of our bloody wars, which perhaps is not surprising, as I likely would not be here, had they not. Remarkably, all of their brothers, fighting in the same conflicts, also survived. One fellow though, who did not survive was Nathan Hale.Hale was a remarkable young man. He was an erudite scholar who graduated from Yale with the highest honors at 18. A true son of the Enlightenment, and like many of our colonial forebearers, his comprehension of classical history and literature enabled him to view the world by understanding the past avararices of ruling men. An advocate of natural law, he believed, that certain rights and liberties were God given and not granted by the secular whims of the governing or ruling elite.
He volunteered to be a spy to report movements of British troops during a time of great peril and series of setbacks for General Washington and “the cause of liberty.” Spying was an instant capital offense. He was hanged on September 22, 1776. Before the rope ended his earthly existence, he was allowed to speak. British soldiers wrote first hand accounts detailing his brave countenance and of course his memorable words: “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.” When his neck snapped, his life ended, but his words still live.
Unfortunately, we have an abhorrently illiterate citizeny lacking the most rudimentary knowledge of history. Even those who can recite facts and dates often view historic events in black and white simplicities. The truth of the American Revolution was much of the country was apathtic. Not every American was a great patriot. Many just wanted to be left alone, and of course greed and self interest often determined one’s allegience to whatever cause harmed them least. Allegiences swayed back and forth depending on which side was in control of the countryside.
Yet, a small group of very brave, idealistic and principled men sacrificed everything they had and their lives to fight for liberty and our founding principles. As a percentage of the whole, this group was almost infinitesimal. Yet, with the fiery resolution of the righteous, they fought, they died and they pulled the rest of us into a new age. An age of great liberty, wealth, freedom and high ideals. Their example provided the spark for other counties to follow.
We and the world owe everything to the guts and leadership of this small determined band of honorable and brave men. They died, but we live. Thank you Nathan Hale.