EACH generation of Americans has contended that it has lived in the best of times and the worst of times. So it is today and so it was exactly 100 years ago when ``Our Country'' became a best-selling book. The book, written by an Illinois-born preacher named Josiah Strong, went through numerous editions and was even translated into several foreign languages. There was much to shout about in ``Our Country'': Technology (the railroad and telegraph) heralded a new age of investigating and touching the world, and renewed concern for human life, evidenced by a decrease in capital offenses, mitigated ``man's inhumanity to man.'' At the same time, there was bad news. ``Divorce religion and education,'' the book argued, ``and we shall fall prey either to blundering goodness or well-schooled villainy.''
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the United States in 1885, according to ``Our Country,'' was the enormous technology of warfare that had come upon the world scene. ``it must not be forgotten that, . . . [there] has been developed, in modern times, a tremendous enginery of destruction, which offers itself to every man. Since the French Revolution nitroglycerine, illuminating gas, petroleum, dynamite, the revolver, the repeating rifle, and the Gatling gun have all come i nto use. Science has placed in man's hand superhuman powers.'' Armageddon is possible, in Strong's view, and necessitates eternal vigilance and preparation. ``Immorality and crime also are increasing much more rapidly than church-membership.''
Yet, ``Our Country'' concluded on an optimistic note. The United States had a rendezvous with destiny; ``we stretch our hand into the future with power to mold the destinies of unborn millions. `We are living, we are dwelling, In a grand and awful time, In an age on ages telling -- To be living is sublime!''' And the nation's goal in the world arena was selfless. ``Our plea is not America for America's sake; but America for the world's sake.''
Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.