"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness ..." - Preamble to the Declaration of Independence
Remember when shopping, dining out and going to Disney World were proposed as patriotic acts? If we didn't do those things, we were told, the terrorists would win.
I don't know about you, but I tried to do my part. Half-heartedly at times; guiltily perhaps. How could I enjoy indulging myself - pursuing happiness - in a time of war?
That's a question many of us asked ourselves, and now Carl Cannon, White House correspondent for the National Journal, has answered it in a book - "The Pursuit of Happiness in Times of War" - that is not only scholarly, well-researched and delightfully readable, but possibly the best explanation yet for how and why we got here.
Not necessarily how we came to war, but how the pursuit of happiness - our singularly American unalienable right - has focused our policies, both internal and external, through 200 years of history. And why the pursuit of happiness is not only appropriate to wartime, but is the best weapon in our arsenal for the protection of liberty.
In a nutshell - and in perfect tune with Bush's imperative that we "get back to normal" - Cannon posits the Darwinian notion that the opportunity to pursue happiness is what fuels our drive and willingness to fight for and preserve liberty.
Being materialistic is, in other words, a good thing. Having stuff, living the good life - a cell phone in every pocket, a Weber grill on every deck - is what we enjoy and therefore part of what gives us purpose.
Writes Cannon: "Chasing dreams, pursuing happiness, and even achieving material success, are not embarrassing by-products of American freedom; they are the essence of American freedom."
It is also what our enemies, contemptuous of what they see as our self-indulgence, fail to comprehend. They see our material pursuits as a sign of weakness, when in fact, our materialism combined with our free market and other expressions of freedom - as well as our pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge - constitute our strengths.
In his book, Cannon (disclaimer: a longtime friend), tracks the 1776 ideal of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and the notion that they are "unalienable rights" from Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers through various American leaders, including every president.
What he found was that throughout our history the power of those words have galvanized generations to rise to deeds and occasions greater than themselves. Included in the book are wars, but also other American crises, including the Great Depression and the civil rights movement.
"Throughout history, our leaders have used this language from the preamble to rally America to these causes, a cause larger than themselves, extending these inalienable rights to people who don't have them yet," Cannon told me. "That is our goal. We don't want their land or their riches, we just want them to be free."
Contrary to what our enemies think, Americans aren't slack, lazy and soft. We're like Kid Shelleen, the character played by Lee Marvin in "Cat Ballou." It is true that sometimes we can be found in the hammock cradling a six-pack of beer. But it is also true that when necessity calls, we can rise to the occasion and sober up right fast.
The problem is "they" - you know, the ones who hate us and some who pretend to be our friends - confuse our pursuit of happiness with hedonism and mistakenly infer a lack of purpose. As Cannon demonstrates - and as the U.S. military recently made clear in Afghanistan and Iraq - freedom and lack of purpose are not axiomatic.
In fact, what is axiomatic is the very opposite. Freedom nourishes purpose. The higher ideals of life and liberty, as compared to the relatively self-indulgent "pursuit of happiness," ultimately complement each other.
Cannon, who was himself agnostic toward the war in Iraq, wrote that he is no longer.
"I became convinced in the research and writing of this book that those rights are unalienable, that the yearning for them is universal as well, and that, ultimately, there is no real safety or satisfaction to be had until all the people of the world are free."
That is perhaps the greatest lesson of this eloquent book, which I intend to keep close by as a reminder that pursuing happiness is not a guilty pleasure, but an act of defiance against tyranny. Against a nation thus armed, terrorists don't stand a chance.