As a student of history, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has studied the collapse of thriving civilizations. In an essay from 2005, Gingrich says he believes strong leadership can protect America from a similar fate.
I believe that the world is inherently a very dangerous place, and that things that are now very good can go bad very quickly.
I stood recently at Checkpoint Charlie and I saw where the Berlin Wall had once been, where millions had lived in slavery only 20 years ago and I realized that it could happen again. I’ve stood at Auschwitz, where millions were massacred. Then I read about in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands are dying in the Sudan.
I watch the bombings in Baghdad and I know they could be happening in Atlanta or in Washington. I look at civilizations that have collapsed: Rome, Greece, China, the Aztecs, the Mayas. And then I look around at our pretensions and our beliefs — that we are somehow permanent — and I am reminded that it is the quality of leaders, the courage of a people, the ability to solve problems that enables us to continue for one more year, and then one more year, until our children and our grandchildren have had this freedom, this safety, this health and this prosperity.
I learned this belief from my stepfather, a career soldier who served America in the second World War, in Korea and in Vietnam. When I was a child, we lived in France — a France that was still suffering from World War II bomb damage; a France that still had amputees from the first World War and special seats on the subway for those who had been wounded in the first and second World Wars; a France that was fighting a war in Algiers; a France that had 100 percent inflation.
We went to the battlefield of Verdun, the greatest battle of the first World War. We stayed with a friend of my father’s who had been drafted, sent to the Philippines, served in the Bataan Death March and spoke of three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp.
And suddenly, as a young man, I realized this is all real: The gap between our civilization, our prosperity, our freedoms and all of those things is the quality of our leaders, the courage of our people, the willingness to face facts and the willingness to work for solutions — solutions to energy, solutions to the environment, solutions to the economy, solutions to education and solutions to national security. We have real challenges, we have a wonderful country. We need to keep it, and to keep it we’re going to have to learn these kinds of lessons.
That’s what I believe.
Former Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 - 1999. His 1994 list of campaign promises, labeled “Contract with America," helped the Republican Party achieve its first majority in the House in 40 years. Gingrich is the author of nine books on public policy and history.
Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick. Edited by Susan Feeney and Ellen Silva.
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