On Dec. 1, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama offered World AIDS Day remarks at Rick Warren's Forum on Global Health. Obama concluded, "In the Apostle Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he asked, 'If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?' We as leaders must continue to sound that call?...?and defeat this disease."
American trumpets through two long wars, one against disease (with AIDS the latest front) and the other against totalitarianism, have almost always sounded clear calls. We'll celebrate in 2014 the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal, its construction possible only because we fought a ruthless war against yellow fever and malaria by draining swamps, spraying insect breeding areas, and fumigating buildings.
The war against disease has continued throughout the succeeding 98 years, with penicillin and other antibiotics making a huge difference, and vaccines vanquishing polio and other nightmares. No one has said that if we don't defeat cancer by 2014 we'll give up.
The other century-long war has been against attempts to extinguish freedom. Americans starting in 1917 opposed international socialism, fought and won a terrible war against Hitler and his National Socialists in the early 1940s, then endured 45 years of Cold War—from 1946 to 1991—to defeat the Soviet Union.
That war sometimes became hot, with more than 100,000 Americans dying in Korea and Vietnam. Nuclear missiles could have made it torrid during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and many less heralded face-offs. The president in 1962 was John F. Kennedy, who said, "Now the trumpet summons us again [with] a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle."
Kennedy could have taken his trumpet to Berlin in 1963 and said that 17 years of Cold War were enough. He could have announced that our troops would leave in 1965 regardless of conditions on the ground. Instead, he visited Berlin and sounded a clear call: "Ich bin ein Berliner," I am a Berliner. The United States never abandoned that city to communism.
Compare that era's bipartisan stand against totalitarianism with today's partisan pusillanimity. Then, roughly half of the federal budget went for defense, with Democratic and Republican leaders understanding that it would be irresponsible to overspend in other areas when dictators were on the march. The American trumpet throughout the Cold War, except for one brief period of wavering, sounded a clear call.