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Band of Brothers in History and Literature

101st Airborne - Band of Brothers

Today most Americans associate the phrase "band of brothers" with the 101st Airborne as it fought in World War II. This is largely because of the immensely popular book by Stephen Ambrose as well as the HBO film.

World War II marked the turning point in the nation's history when America began to look out rather than within. Certainly there was foreign policy, etcetera before this time. We had been one of the Allies in the First World War. But the people were still set on their own affairs and still feared foreign entanglements. The Senate rejection of the Versailles treaty after World War I was a firm rejection of Wilsonian policies that were international in scope.

Although isolationism is still a strong force in American politics, first championed by the right, now championed by liberals, the very manner in which the "band of brothers" concept is viewed reveals the movement of mainstream American thinking. For example, in Hail Columbia written in 1798 the band of brothers came together to preserve freedom on our own shores. The band of brothers exemplified by the 101st airborne was different. The very nature of an airborne force is to project power beyond enemy lines. The men that comprised this unit were from all walks of life and gathered from ethnic groups all across America. Their purpose was to liberate other peoples from oppression. This they did with efficiency, intelligence, superb training and esprit de corps.

The fact that their story has become popular at the beginning of the 21st century is no accident. First, the generation which fought in that struggle is passing, and it will have its hallowed memories fixed forever in the American consciousness. Second, a new world struggle is arising and a new generation has searched for and found an example to face a foe that is equally as dangerous, equally as oppressive as the Nazis we faced in the 1940's.

For centuries military units have thought of themselves as a "band of brothers" especially when they have fought for freedom, as we saw with Wilhelm Tell and in the works of Frederick Douglass. As long as people fight for causes they hold dear there will be a band of brothers gathered together to fight for it.

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