Back to the Past to Find Strength for the Future

3 ¾ min

In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote of the American Revolution, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” His words fit 2020-2021 like a glove.

As we all know, our country is in turmoil. We have battled a virus for almost a year, wearing masks and suffering lockdowns, with dubious results. Fraud and deceit marked our presidential election, and as a result America is in the middle of a constitutional crisis. Even worse, we have become a people bitterly divided by ideology.

In the face of this ordeal our reactions vary. One friend of mine rarely follows the news, contending she can do nothing to alter the bigger picture and seeking peace of mind by her evasion. On the other hand, a younger woman I know—a wife and mother—has taken an interest in politics for the first time in her life. She watches as much news as time allows, has sent small donations to support various causes, and has participated in two political rallies.

Sticking one’s head in the sand is undoubtedly a bad tactic, yet where can the rest of us who still keep up with current events find solace and help during these storm-battered days?

A visit to Clio, the muse of history, may help.

When we pause to examine the past rather than focusing exclusively on our messy present, we gain both knowledge and perspective. We learn of the tribulations endured by our ancestors and can take heart from their wisdom and their acts of heroism. When we compare our circumstances—the pandemic, a fraudulent election—to their trials, we put on a pair of glasses which allow us to understand more clearly the nature and scope of our own difficulties.

These explorations can also bring us certain comforts. When we visit with those who came before us, we often find our own troubles diminished in comparison. A trip to Europe in the middle of the 14th century, when the Black Death carried away a third of the population, sets in perspective our current pandemic. Many today are despondent about the recent election, but a familiarity with the darker moments of our country’s history—the beginning of the American Revolution, the nation torn apart in 1861 by civil war, the bleak year of 1942 when the Japanese pounded our forces in the Pacific—can grant us the strength and fortitude to face our tribulations.

The importance of reading about the past and the lessons this engagement with history can bestow on the present is stressed in The Leader’s Bookshelf, by Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Retired) and R. Manning Ancell. One of the books they review is The Last Lion—Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. Having read all three volumes of this extraordinary biography several years ago, I find hope in Churchill’s extraordinary life and accomplishments. He faced all sorts of challenges and made mistakes, but he also became the British bulldog in the war against the Nazis. Let us recollect his words, as do Stavridis and Ancell: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

“We shall never surrender” should serve as our watchword in our current situation.

We began with Thomas Paine. Here are the two sentences following that first quotation:

The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

Like hell or tyranny, fear and despair are not easily conquered, but if we look to the past and to the courageous among our ancestors, encourage one another as they did, and fight the good fight, we will acquit ourselves well in the battles certain to accompany this new year.

Stay strong.


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Jeff Minick

Jeff Minick

Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man.

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You are right. Thank you for the much needed encouragement and perspective.


I agree a study of history is important in understanding the present and anticipating what will happen in the future. What we must watch out for is who is writing the history. So many revisionist are rewriting history and removing important facts from their narrative and injecting falsehoods. This article referred to Churchill and many accept him as a great leader. Facts on the other hand have shown him to be corrupt and an instigator of WWII. Many consider history as stories of people and events. I prefer the definition given by the late Stephen Pratt. He said that history is evidence by reason and debate. You can see some of his presentations here. Let's learn the lessons, but also be sure that the lessons are an accurate reflection on what really happened.


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I just have one question. How was the secession of, first 7, and ultimately 11 States, that specifically stated they sought no war, no conquest over any of the States remaining in the original union and only asked to "be left alone", the inauguration of "Civil War". The actual definition of the term describes a war between factions for control over the common government. That is NOT what we had. More accurately, it was a war to Prevent Southern Independence. Secession is NOT treason.


Your observations are absolutely correct. Nullification or secession are two tools which are non-violent solutions to our current situation. - much more honorable than thievery and fraud.
Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution sets the scope of the function of the federal government. This is further enumerated in the 10th Amendment. There is no provision for secession because the States agreed to "delegate" its obligations stated in Article 1 Section 8 and no other. The states did not give up their right to self preservation (Secession). Even the articles of ratification of some States explicitly state this. Read the Ratification of Virginia, for example.
I would have to say Zwolle's comments demonstrate quite successfully the kinds of people who would break into our Capitol and have no intention of being held responsible for their behaviors. I hope the FBI gets him.
There is no provision in the United States Constitution that permits states to abandon the union. You may change your elected officials gradually and over time per Thomas Jefferson's philosophy of one generation not being bound to another. You may sue the Government if it consents to being sued. You can not live in America however without paying your property taxes and participating in your government. Total isolation is chaos.
Virginia 1788 - "WE the Delegates of the people of Virginia, ...behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression... I would have pasted the whole passage but alas I am bound by the "character Nazis."