Glory, no matter how great, is easily lost.
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I just got back from England.
It is still the sceptered isle, the land of kings and fairy tales. It still bears much of the majesty it bore in the days when the sun literally never set on the empire it commanded.
To see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, to see what a royal wedding can do to capture world-wide imagination, to walk the streets of London and to be among its eight million residents and to see buildings and monuments that served to form the very people that we are today is to appreciate anew just what a huge impact England has had on the history of the world.
London tour guides are the best. They know their stuff and they bring the greatness that was England to life in an engaging and entertaining way.
If you watched Will and Kate’s wedding, you know that England still does pomp and ceremony like no other country. London is still magnificent. It still bustles. It still looks as if it matters. And to a certain extent, as the guides will tell you, it does matter if for no other reason than for the fact that it once mattered so greatly.
But England, despite its continued ability to look the part, is a shadow of its former self. Where the British once led the world in commerce and finance, ruled the seas, and were possessed of the most effective fighting force on the globe, they today would be hard-pressed to defend even their tiny little island.
To whatever extent that social forces would have ultimately led to the dismantling of Britain’s imperial model, it was clearly two back-to-back world wars that were decisive in its decline.
By the time World War II was finished, Great Britain was broke. You could argue that the country was derelict in not stopping Hitler when it could have, but that’s hindsight. The fact is that in order to avoid enslavement by Germany, the Brits had to mortgage the empire.
England never recovered.
Couple this with England’s post-war adoption of heavy reliance on the state for health care, retirement and social services, and you understand England’s current state as the faded grande dame of world affairs, a magnificent full-scale museum of a country, respected more today for what it was rather than what it is.
England’s excuse lies in the fact that it was overwhelmed by events largely outside its control. We, however, have no such excuse. Our looming bankruptcy and resulting retirement from world leadership will be self-inflicted.
A financial collapse of our own making will as surely defeat us as any military power. Our own unwillingness to face facts and stop the madness of multi-trillion dollar deficits and limitless borrowing will kill America as a world power as surely as any army or terrorist network.
It’s becoming all too easy to imagine some day in the future when people from other countries visit New York and Washington and pay tour guides to explain to them why it all mattered so greatly at one time in the fading past.