"A Nation's Strength" by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a renowned poem that appeals to veterans. As the title implies, the narrator of the poem ponders from the very first lines the sources of the qualities that make a nation truly strong.
The narrator of "A Nation's Strength" rejects various possibilities about the sources of the strength of a nation before settling on a final answer. "It is not gold," or wealth, the narrator says, because many kingdoms have floundered no matter how wealthy. It is not military power, or "the sword," for history proves that many powerful military empires have seen their "glory ... decay."
A nation's strength is also not in its pride, because such things though seeming "sweet" turn to "ashes" at men's feet. A nation's strength, the narrator concludes, comes only from its people, citizens who dare to stand up for "truth and honor's" sake. This, says Emerson, is what strengthens a nation's pillars and "lifts them to the sky."
Emerson is considered by historians to be one of the greatest American poets and thinkers, and his essays, poems and other writings have been tremendously influential on generations of American artists, philosophers and politicians. U.S. President Barack Obama considers Emerson to be one of his primary influences as a thinker.