(The New Nation)
When it is in the hands of just a few, it is an aristocracy. When it
is in the hands of only one, it is a dictatorship.” — Baron of
country, American society has suffered profound transformations in its
political institutions, its demographic composition and its moral
structures. I remember, with nostalgia, Miami in the 1960s: when we
could sleep with our doors open and could walk in the center of the
city at 2 a.m. any morning without fear of being held up or even
murdered; a society where — so different from today — rogues were not
tolerated nor pitied, but punished with the whole weight of the laws
they had violated. Back then, compassion was for the victims and
punishment was for the delinquents, because that is the only way in
which a civilized society can prosper and last.
However, during more recent years — sometimes in a hardly noticeable
way, but always in a progressive way — the American lawmakers have
decided to increase the size of government in order to have more
power. The Baron of Montesquieu saw it very clearly when he divided
his proposal for government into three branches that would serve as
the checks and balances of the system.
That form of government was the one the writers of the first North
American Constitution had in mind. But since 1776, it has rained a lot
and many nights have been brightened by many moons. The rascals that
govern us today have realized that by giving gifts to the lazy and
supporting idlers they get votes and increase their power. The
warnings of the founders of this nation that the power that the
government gains is lost by the citizen has become a reality.
Other factors that have changed the national American character have
been the culture and the levels of education of a considerable number
of the recent immigrants. During the great migratory waves of the 19th
and early 20th centuries, men and women escaping from an impoverished
and torn Europe whose governments lacked the resources to give social
help to their citizens landed on the American shores.
They did not know what unemployment checks, free medical services or
food stamps were. They were doctors, engineers, masons, carpenters,
and watchmakers who did not expect any help in the new country. They
wanted only freedom and opportunities to make the American Dream a
reality through the fruits of their work and professional ability.
Unlike those men and women, a considerable proportion of the recent
immigrants — mainly those of the last 25 years — look for the American
Dream under the protection of a paternalistic state. They are in the
majority people with low levels of education and high levels of
despair. And who can blame them? They escape the misery of their
countries of origin and they buy a relative prosperity in their
adoptive country with the promise of an unconditional vote for their
recently discovered patrons. They are not corrupt, but they are the
instruments of corruption. The corrupted ones are the politicians that
dehumanize and manipulate them to accumulate absolute power.
Now, then, the issue of greatest concern is the crisis of the moral
structure of this country brought about by the collapse of the North
American family. What sociologists call the cell of society plays a
less important role each day in this country. Those who doubt this
have only to ask teachers, judges and policemen. Statistics of
one-parent homes are frightening. It is true that African-Americans,
with 72 percent in this category, are at the forefront; but Hispanics
and white North Americans have suffered a dangerous disruption of the
family unity in recent years as well.
The crisis in these three areas of national life is an alarming and
worrisome issue for those who want to leave their children and
grandchildren a functional society where they can develop the
potential of their abilities and can enjoy a dignified and secure
life. I confess to having been overwhelmed sometimes by feelings of
frustration and fear.
But it is an irrefutable truth that after each night there is a
sunrise, and that in the midst of the most profound darkness you can
always find a ray of light. In my case, I found that ray of light last
weekend when I visited the military academy where my grandson Michael
Peter Santana is a junior.
In the historic and welcoming city of Charleston, South Carolina,
where the shots that unleashed the North American Civil War were first
heard, you can find The Citadel Military College. Founded in 1842, The
Citadel Military College has produced more than 50,000 men and women
of principle and character who have contributed to forging this
society of liberty and opportunities that we call the United States of
The mission of this meritorious institution has been described with
sovereign clarity by its actual president, Lieutenant General John W.
Rosa, with these words: “The Citadel’s mission is to educate
principled leaders. Service learning and civic engagement are key
elements toward producing principled leaders. Before you can lead, you
need to be able to serve.”
The fruits of this labor of educating citizens to construct nations
have become evident in the long list of graduates of The Citadel that
have had a positive impact in North American society. Among the most
notable graduates in its history of 171 years of existence, The
Citadel can name six state governors, three federal senators, 12
federal congressmen, eight North American ambassadors, 28 three-star
generals, four four-star generals, five pilots of the Navy Blue
Angels, one astronaut and, to enhance the already impressive list, the
1994 Miss USA, Ms. Lou Parker.
Two of these distinguished graduates deserve, on the other hand, a
special mention for the talent and courage that they showed when
facing extraordinary challenges.
One, 4-star Gen. William C. Westmoreland, as Commander in Chief of the
North American forces in Vietnam between 1965 and 1968, maintained the
cohesion and the morale of soldiers that were fighting a contaminated
war because of political interferences, and was repudiated by the
public of the United States.
The other took the road of service as a distinguished civic leader.
Who in South Florida doesn’t know the name and the civic labor of
Alvah Chapman, Jr. In the dark night that followed the brutal
devastation of hurricane Andrew, Alvah H. Chapman, at the time
president of the Board of Directors of Knight-Ridders, was the firm
hand that directed the reconstruction of a devastated Homestead.
These two men and the ones mentioned by me before, digested in their
early youth the principles and values that I was able to verify during
my recent visit to The Citadel. Next to murals where one could see
illustrations of acts of heroism in the defense of liberty and
democracy, not only in the United States but also all over the world,
one could read phrases directed to the formation of exemplary
citizens. Next to the central theme of the institution — “Honor, duty
and respect” — one could read phrases such as “God, Country and
Family”; and as an unyielding expression of character, “I will not
lie, I will not cheat, I will not steal, nor will I tolerate others to
Upon my return from this trip to the America of honor and hope, it is
true that I find a government paralyzed by the infantile tantrums of
politicians who have lost the way of service to their people. But,
different from my days prior to my visit to The Citadel, I am
convinced that, in spite of all our difficulties, thanks to my
grandson and his cadet classmates, not all is lost.
Alfredo Cepero writes for The New Nation is an independent publication
whose goals are the defense of freedom, the preservation of democracy
and the promotion of free enterprise.