If you've not yet seen the new Bond movie, Skyfall, spend the money and the time to do so! It is a first-rate film of several layers and a very worthy addition to the Bond series, perhaps one of the best. In one of the most memorable scenes (for me, at least), 'M', played masterfully by Judi Dench, provides testimony to a government committee about the necessity to preserve the ability to confront the faceless threats that plague our modern world, closing her remarks with the final stanza from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses":
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
If you aren't familiar with the full poem, it is Tennyson's treatment of Ulysses (Odysseus) in his old age as he muses about his past adventures and his current aged state. But rather than spend his twilight years reminiscing about the past, he calls for his shipmates to strike out with him one more time to seek the next great adventure and to show that even though their youth may have passed they still had the heart and the will to strive for noble things.
Much has been written over the past few years about the supposed 'decline of America.' I, for one, refuse to accept such. Though I was deeply disappointed in the outcome of our most recent election cycle I still believe there are enough people in our country who remain committed to the original ideals upon which this country was founded that "Some work of noble note, may yet be done"; that even though we may have been 'made weak by time and fate' (most clearly seen in our grossly irresponsible spending habits) there is still a heart in our Country 'to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'
We are facing truly incredible odds. We have accumulated more debt by any measure than any other great country in history that I can think of. Our government is expanding at a breakneck pace and our people are willfully becoming more dependent upon it. We are gradually withdrawing from our security commitments of the 20th Century and reducing our security capabilities in a naive belief that the world is a less dangerous place than it was during the Cold War. But it is not a less dangerous place. The dangers have changed in their form and method of attack and have been made more lethal, thanks to 21st Century technologies, even as they have become more difficult to identify, define, and defend against. As the U.S. withdraws, the world becomes more destabilized. Just look at what is happening in the Middle East, North Africa, the South China Sea, in Russia, and even in Latin America.
For the past 70 years, the Free World looked to America for leadership, example, and protection. Today, it questions the ability of America to fulfill any of those roles. Perhaps America has grown tired of shouldering such responsibility. Perhaps the lack of a clearly understandable existential threat since the dissolution of the Soviet Union has caused us to become distracted and to become soft. There is ample evidence to support such a view. But I hope that at our core there still smolders an ember of the fire that once animated the American Spirit to do great things, to 'strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield' to the darker forces of our world. I hope so. And I hope we find the ability to not only preserve that ember but fan it back into the flame the Free World needs. If we let it die -- smothering it with layer upon layer of encumbrance -- then as Ronald Reagan warned in 1964, we will lose the 'last best hope of man on earth' and 'sentence [our children] to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.'