Not long ago in an English hamlet I happened upon a show window of antiques and for a few pounds bought an old silverplated urn. Atop the urn a parading drummer with a drumstick in each hand energetically whacks his instrument. Since the cover is removable, the urn may originally have been produced to serve on a variety of occasions, much as a travel agent today changes his cap to meet a diversity of tour parties.

There is something ominous, however, about the dispensability of my drummer; some morning I may awake to find a tyrant in his place.

At 193 years of age America is hardly an antique among the nations of the world, but it is nonetheless a nation in trouble. And if patriotism is not dead in the land, it is certainly ailing; what’s more, the affliction may be more serious than many backbenchers think. Much idealistic phrasing about the American dream now expresses fond hope more than vision of the present. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television all suggest that the United States is sagging in orbit and is already off course. Has some mortal disease smitten this youthful nation? Will its decline as a great power be as rapid as its rise?

During my year abroad I have read in the British press some rather cynical reporting o f American history and events. Only General Eisenhower’s death seemed to provide an occasion for saying anything good about our presidents. The Apollo space program was deplored as a diversion of funds from the poor. Only Britain’s own growing race problems at home and in Rhodesia moderated the comments on America’s. Some news articles have said vicious things about Richard Nixon.

Such attitudes are understandable, however, when one considers Britain’s swift decline ...

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