8/17/10

"... dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith ..."

That is part of the inscription on the base of the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. The full inscription reads: "In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright; conceived by genius; achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith."

Earlier this summer Gossman-Steeves and I took a trip up North Carolina State Highway 12. The two-lane road runs up the Outer Banks from the little village of Sea Level, all the way to Corolla at the northern end near the Virginia line. It is a romantic roadway, passing through over 400 years of legend and heritage. We jumped off at the Cedar Island ferry terminal, crossing to Ocracoke village, where Blackbeard the pirate was run to ground by the Royal Navy; and then north past Hatteras, the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" and "Torpedo Junction" of World War II infamy; the Coast Guard's old gut-busting oar-powered surfboats of days long past; fishing villages born of back-breaking labor at the nets, at the mercy of sea and weather. We visited Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, where we were entertained by blue herons and egrets and Democratic turtles. We spent time shelling on beaches hardly changed from when the first English colonists arrived in the 1580's. We went to "The Lost Colony", depicting the suffering, and the toughness, and the determination -- and even a little stupidity -- of those first English settlers, enjoying the play at the Waterside Theater at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and then overnighted at Nags Head. The entire trip was filled at every turn with reminders of 'dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith'.

Early in the morning, we climbed to the granite memorial on Big Kill Devil Hill. The words have never failed to profoundly affect me, not since the first time I saw them on the grey granite: "... dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith ...". I think this phrase captures the essence of the American spirit. The traits are by no means uniquely American, but can you think of any other place, at any other time, where those elements have combined within a nation so dedicated, at least in theory, to the freedom of the human spirit? A nation whose founding values are so entwined with the concept of the free individual, possessed of divinely endowed rights reaffirmed by the national creed?

Time after time after time Orville and Wilbur Wright failed. Time after time after time they tried again. They retired to their little sheds at Kill Devil Hills, and tweaked, and fixed, and redesigned. And tried again. And then ... they succeeded. They flew. Dauntless resolution. Unconquerable faith.

The essence of the American spirit.

As I sat there with Gossman-Steeves, contemplating the inscription and watching the sun break through the clouds, I could not help but think ... where would we be had the brothers Wright, rather than showing dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith, relied instead on grants from the government? Had been seekers of handouts? I suspect the concept was beyond their ability to comprehend.

Welfare takes many forms. Oddly, many of the people - Republicans for the most part - who disparage the "welfare moms" who are drawing food stamps and other assistance have no problems themselves with taking free money from the government in the form of grants or subsidies or other "entitlements". Our national culture has come to be greatly reliant on "entitlements." Any time a project is proposed, almost the first thing you will hear is "Let's see what grants are available." State-ordained welfare creates an attitude of dependency rather than independence. It makes no difference if the recipient is an individual or a community. And no matter what form it takes, it is counter to the essence of the American spirit.