American Heritage died once before, about five years ago. Fortunately, a loyal group of fans resuscitated it and carried it forward against the currents of change. However, the Winter/Spring 2012 issue contains a notice from the editor announcing their surrender.
“After surmounting many challenges, our publishing company must end its run of 61 years. In its place, a new organization – The American Heritage Society – rises to the occasion. As a nonprofit, the Society will be able to secure additional funding from donors, foundations, and government agencies.” – Edward S. Grosvenor, Editor-in-Chief
Government? Where will they get the money? How many donors and foundations have the funds to spare in these troubled economic times? I fear that Mr. Grosvenor is far more optimistic than I. Still, hope springs eternal and I can think of no better organization to support. Just, leave the government out of this equation, please.
Now I sit scanning what may be the last issue and again its pages reveal another aspect of history that I wish I had known before, one that I wish most of us had known. It's another of those incidents that cycle its way through history to crop up from time to time, one that every school child in America used to know but regrettably has been omitted from modern curriculum. It regards treason.
Modern Americans have heard of treason but it has rarely been invoked except in times of great passion as when Jane Fonda wandered into a war zone. Like a wild moose that had wandered onto a freeway, she wasn't breaking any law, but was totally devoid of any sense of the trouble she was causing. Ms Fonda benefited from the fact that America's Founders cautiously limited the definition of treason when they crafted the Constitution. They feared that it would ever be used as European tyrants had to dispatch political enemies by reinventing treason to fit every occasion.
As a student of law, I already had a firm grasp of the subject before reading their article, "Treason!" The part I didn't know came in a quote from William Wirt, one of the prosecutor's in the trial of Aaron Burr. Apparently, American school children used to memorize the following passage:
“The destroyer comes; he comes to change this paradise into a hell;... he soon finds his way to their hearts... The conquest was not difficult. Innocence is ever simple and credulous... By degrees his infuses into [his followers] the fire of his own courage; a daring and desperate thirst for glory; and ardor panting for great enterprises, for all the storm and bustle and hurricane of life.”
I wish I had heard that before. I wish we all had. It sounds familiar, at least to me, because it so well describes our current situation. That's why I study history. That's why we all should. Maybe then we could recognize the serpents in our midst much sooner – those with a desperate thirst for glory; and ardor panting for great enterprises – before they have a chance to change this paradise into hell.
If American Heritage truly passes, I will continue studying history. I just will continue my study without a trusted guide and loyal companion of many years.