Watching a Great Nation, as it Dies


I once dreamed of building great structures as I nailed blocks of wood together that my father brought me from construction sites. You see, my father, too, was a builder. There are two kinds of men in this world, those who build, and those who destroy. Building is a tedious and difficult action. Destruction is simple.

Things that were built with great difficulty and planning, may be cast to dust in an instant. These buildings, bridges, dams, and roadways across our great Nation were built by a sea of men, who worked in the heat and cold with hammers and wrenches. The whole is incomprehensibly complex. It is an insurmountable task. Like eating an elephant, it was done one bite at a time. Now, we sit and watch as it slowly crumbles.

In a cemetery, there are rows of stones. They mark the plots where caskets lie in the ground, lives gone, buried, forgotten, but for a name on a granite marker and the memories of those who live on. It is so for the builder, too. Our monuments are bridges and tunnels, power plants, and dams. The work is hard, the life is hard, but the monuments are magnificent.

Still, time is the enemy of all that is standing. She is uncaring and unkind. She drops her shroud across it all. Time has taken from man the great Roman works. The ruins are left to amaze the onlooker at the wonders gone, aqueducts, coliseums, cobble roadways that once connected the greatest empires, reduced, at last to a tourist destination.

She looks now upon the great works of our fathers. Will some strange men come one day and stand in front of a great iron bridge, half-collapsed in Pittsburgh, and take a picture, reading a plaque about the civilization that once existed at the meeting of these three great rivers? The ghosts of riveters and men of steel look on, as we desecrate their work. They cry in the night as once-great structures become slums at the hands of men who do not value quality, or aesthetics.

I was a boy, once, in Salem, Ohio. Salem is a little city. Once it stood at the crossroads of great industry. On the tracks of steel that connected the east to the west. Still I hear the sounds of the great engines as they churn through the night. I was born to them. I will die to them. They are a part of me, as is every nail and bolt that holds together countless elements of buildings and plants, bridges, and dams.

Salem is different now, time changes all. Salem now has little industry. Great tradesmen have been replaced by the desperate and the corrupt, like parasites on a dying animal, they care not for their host. Much of the good is gone, the mills, the tradesmen, the construction. Salem waits for time, to cast her shroud over the architecture of the city. Buildings with ornate facades, mortar crumbling, stained glass windows, falling from rotting frames, beauty becoming ugly, as the corrupt look on for opportunity.

I left Salem long ago. I left her to fend for herself, as I went to build. I thought that it would be here waiting for me to return, unchanged, intact, whole. Alas, time has taken over. She sneaked in as I moved on and decimated my home. We battle, but one man cannot win in a fight with time. She is patient.

It takes all of us, every hand, every voice, to stand up against time, to stand up against corruption, to stand up against government gone awry. It takes every man to think, to understand, to work, and to protest, to change the failings of our nation. There is no time to rest in a democracy. For, democracy is not a normal state of man. Totalitarianism is the normal state of man. Always, democracy requires effort and action to be maintained. Always, in the void of inaction, totalitarianism shall take over with its insidious evolution.

This is what has become of Salem. It has slipped into a state of despair and corruption from which, perhaps, it cannot be retrieved. Our nation, too, is frought with corruption. It is reeling from the losses of freedom, it subordinates itself to oligarchic elements. Shall we all rise up now to fix what is broken, or will we keep quiet, as freedom after freedom are stripped from us, until at last, there remains nothing of so grand a state, but despair, and fear?

The question is this; Salem, Ohio, or the United States, the problem and its symptoms are the same. Shall we rise up as men and build, again, the crumbling elements of our cities, of our nation, or shall we look away and hope that time is kind, and lets us pass, before the inevitable descends upon our children, to fight the enemies that we failed to address? The choice is this; fight, or fail. There is no other call.

If you wonder, what is at risk? It all is at risk. If you wonder, how far will some go to erode the freedoms of men? There is no limit and no end to the efforts of evil. Are we men who can face discomfort and conflict, or cowards, who hide at confrontation?

Scott Cahill