Seventy years ago, the United States became a world superpower. Historians can point to any number of events that brought the US to that point, and its ascendancy was, if not inevitable, at least likely, long before thousands of its men washed upon the shores of Normandy. The war would devastate Europe in a way that it would not the US. China and Japan would take years to recover. The rest of Asia, Africa and much of South America would spend decades emerging from the colonial yokes under which they labored. Only the US, across a sea, and in possession of vast resources, an immense population, and the lack of a colonial governor, could benefit from the wreckage that was the Second World War. Even as Russia emerged as a rival, it was the US alone that was able to take the war machine it had built to defeat the Axis and re-engineer it to create a new economy that lifted its own people rather than destroyed others.
On the morning of 6 June 1944, the first American troops were to land at Utah beach and take a strategic position on the western flank of the Allied invasion known as D-Day. They were the end of the line, around which the Germans could not maneuver if the attack was to be successful. If they could not hold their end, every successive beach and the troops landing on it would be vulnerable to being swept back into the sea or buried in the very sand on which they stood.
As regularly happens in the chaos of war, the beach upon which the landing craft let loose its contents was not the intended one. The maps the troops held did not show the terrain ahead. In the smoke and dust, without that aid, they did not know the location of the bunkers that surely towered over them. Their plans, carefully laid out by great strategists and genius tacticians, were useless.
They landed anyway, because they were there and had no choice. Having left the craft— having gotten on the craft and left England—they had only that option. They piled onto the shore in the dawn and saw unfamiliar territory. The officers met and looked at their maps, trying to see if they could cross the sands and make it to the right place. This was impossible. To send that many soldiers across open territory, with the water at their back and no reinforcements—or to have the reinforcements land in daylight with no one having cleared their way—would lead only to slaughter.
Though it was not the right beach, it was a good one. Though it was not the right beach, it was one on which they could fight. Though it was not the right beach, it was the one they had to take. It was the one they found themselves on. It was the one that stood in front of them. It was the only beach they had on which they could make their stand. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.* was on the beach that morning. When apprised of the situation, he replied only: “We start…from here.”
If any phrase from our country’s history should be considered our motto, I nominate that one. It speaks neither to some grandiose notion of our own righteousness, nor to some divine providence that protects us, nor to some unalterable destiny toward which we make inexorable progress. Rather, it speaks to the very moment in which we stand. It does not assure us a victory or endow us with any unique capacities. It merely tells us that in this moment, we begin toward something. We find our present circumstance insufficient and must, through our own endeavors, move beyond it. “We start … from here.”
We start from here because this is where we stand. We start from here because this is what we have been given, and that is what we have to work with. We start from here because the alternative is to live in a world which cannot exist. We look upon our error and give thanks for the opportunity to resolve it. We see what lays before us and steel ourselves for the challenges to come. We know that where we are is not where we want to be, and though we cannot change the former, only we can change the latter.
This country has found itself—has put itself—in unenviable positions throughout its history. It has looked upon itself and torn itself apart. It has denied, and continues to deny, to those who love it, the full opportunity to participate in this endeavor. It has killed and maimed and ostracized its own. All in service of pretending that we did not have anywhere to go. All in order to continue imagining that the journey was over and the battle won. All so that we could bask in a glory received and a destiny fulfilled without having gone through the arduous tasks that would even being the journey, let alone complete it.
And yet, there have been those who could not allow themselves to be reflected in unearned glory nor remain in the shadows outside of it. They pointed out the falseness and hubris of these proclamations, noted the hypocrisy evident in the words when contrasted with deeds. They measured the distance between what is and what could be, and found it wanting.
They said, “We start … from here.”
And from these people—from Thomas Paine and Abigail Adams, from Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, from Samuel May to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, from Medgar Evers to Cesat Chavez, from Thomas Edison and George Washington Carver, from Dorothy Day to Jane Jacobs, from Harvey Milk to Rachel Carson—we are not there anymore. And from their efforts, we stand upon a different shore, upon a different beach.
And now we say, “We start … from here.”
We start from here for the same reasons they did. For all their work, for the blood and sweat and tears they gave, we find ourselves in the wrong place, without a map, and with a plan that will no longer work in given circumstances. But we cannot leave. This is where we are and what we have been given. This is it. The gap between what is and what could be remains too large, and we must cross it. And where we are is the only place from which to start.
It is not utopian. It is not impossible. It is not unreasonable. Yet, no more is it inevitable, destined or preordained. It only comes from those when those who stand upon the unfamiliar and inhospitable shore see where they stand and say to themselves, “We start from here.”
“We will not win this World Cup.” Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of the US Men’s National Soccer Team, said it himself, and there can be no authority who knows better than he. There is no one who spends more time with the players available, no one who watches those who might become part of the team more closely, no one more intimately acquainted with the state of US Soccer from the youth league playing on your way home from work to the MLS teams you’re ignoring to the European leagues you’re following while you sip a Bloody Mary** or two. He says we can’t win. It’s “unrealistic.”
We’re not going to win the World Cup. This World Cup. You don’t become a superpower because you will it. You become a superpower because you build one. Sports shouters who have never taken a moment’s notice of soccer jumped all over Klinsmann for saying this, six months after he’d said it, mind you, because they thought it was “Un-American.” They thought it sounded defeatist and pathetic and unbecoming. They thought it meant the coach had given up the idea of success, given up hope.
These people are assholes. These are the assholes who see immense structural problems and say that the problems are too big to fix. These are the assholes who say that if any solution doesn’t solve every problem, then it shouldn’t even be attempted. These are the assholes who assume that their success is guaranteed and their victory is assured, their triumph preordained and indeed already accomplished. These are the assholes every great American has had to overcome through a lifetime of struggle, who will not give up their imagined perfection even in the very midst of a contrary reality. These people land on the wrong Utah beach and see fucking Kokomo.
I’m not comparing the USMNT to D-Day or civil rights or anything resembling an issue of vague importance. I’m saying that the same people who want to shit on Klinsmann for saying that his team won’t win this World Cup are the very same people who refuse to do any work toward making things better. I’m saying that they are lazy people, who have always had the easiest path to success and have never considered the difficulty with which others might walk. I’m saying that these assholes—for they are well and truly complete fucking assholes—are willing to throw away every piece of objective evidence and say with all confidence that their delusions are the true reality and we can’t see it because we don’t believe in those delusions hard enough.
Well, the USMNT is not going to win this World Cup, and I’m going to be standing and screaming and drinking and at least one point crying because of them. Because despite what Mitt Romney and Donald Trump will tell you, those who don’t win aren’t just haters and losers who don’t have what it takes to win. More often there are systematic disadvantages, pervasive disincentives and rampant inequality. The US can’t reasonably be expected to compete against countries that devote enormous material and cultural capital toward something most Americans still consider beneath them, when they refuse to recognize that willing something to be true can’t make it so.
So when the US crashes out, it won’t be because they didn’t have the will to win. It won’t be because their coach said they couldn’t win. It will be because the system had them beat before they ever kicked a ball. What Klinsmann was saying when he said, “We can’t win this World Cup”, was that we can’t win this World Cup. What he was saying was “We start … from here.”
We start with Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard and Michael Bradley, who have succeeded at the highest level. We start with DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green, who have just started their careers and show signs of bright futures. We start with Chris Wondolowski and Kyle Beckerman, who have participated in the expansive growth of the game in the US through MLS. We start with the players we have, who love the game, one another and the opportunity to show just how far the US has come.
But it is still only a start. The US is in a tough group, with three tough matches. Germany and Portugal have some of the best players in the world, including quite possibly the very best in Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The US has no comparable player. Not even the left-behind Landon Donovan is in the same class as their best players. Ghana, today’s opponent***, has knocked the US out of the last two World Cups. Making it out of this group would be an immense achievement. Four points and a ticket home would be a result worthy of adulation.
This team will play their God-damned hearts out, and Klinsmann will try to get them in a position to be in every game. Jozy Altidore, despite only scoring in the final tuneup against Nigeria, has actually looked to have a good rapport with his midfielders and put some great chances on goal that simply didn’t convert. Clint Dempsey (PBUH) has been up and down, but should be able to produce a few runs and open up space for Altidore, Bradley and … well, we probably won’t be bringing many more players into the attack, but if Bedoya gets swapped for Johannson, he could be the beneficiary.
The defense remains very suspect, even if Tim Howard can be counted on to answer the call and make a couple acrobatic saves as befits a keeper of his stature. Untested or simply untalented (comparatively), the US defense is going to be up against it in every match. They will have to surpass every reasonable expectation to keep opponents on the right side of them and the ball on the right side of the net.
They’re not going to win. But they are going to try to win. They’re in unfavorable and uncharted territory, shrouded in darkness and smoke. They cannot go anywhere else, because there’s nowhere else to go. Having gotten here and realized the conditions, they will do what they have to do.
The task is not easy. Glory is not assured and victory is not inevitable. But both can be earned. They can be won.
We start … from here.
*Yes, TR’s son and a general too old to be there except that his cousin was president and you can’t apparently keep a guy named Teddy Roosevelt from being at the bottom of a hill and making some grandiose statement.
*** If you want a formation guess, I’ll say he sticks with the crazy, bendable thing he brought out against Nigeria, which risks all the good midfielders but allows Bradley to concentrate upfield while also giving Jermaine Jones the chance to join the attack, as Beckerman sits deep. It starts 4-3-2-1, but as Bradley moves up and possession changes, he becomes the point of a 4 man diamond, with Bedoya pulling in, and it can turn into a 4-1-4-1 with Beckerman playing behind the diamond with Dempsey on the outside and Altidore upfront. More on formations (they are lies) soon.
Follow wahurd on Twitter @hemingwaysgun.