The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have been stirring to witness. Waves of young people clamoring for - no, demanding - democratically chosen government within their own countries is as inspiring now as it was in 1989 and even 1779.
Too often fear, whether during the Cold War, the War on Terror or in the context of our strategic interests, has provoked the U.S. to back the Saddam Husseins, Manuel Noriegas, Reza Pahlavis, Augusto Pinochets and Hosni Mubaraks of the world.
Since our own successful revolution, the United States has waxed and waned in its efforts to support the emergence of self-determination and freedom in other countries. We have occasionally tried to force events.
We have tried to give the gift of freedom. Sometimes the gift came grudgingly in an effort to win a lasting peace; and in a few cases - Japan, South Korea, Germany - it has worked well in the long term. The long-term results of our expensive gift to Iraq remain murky.
There will be future revolutions, and there are other regimes we would like to see replaced with republican forms of government, so we may as well learn two important lessons now about giving revolutions.
First, it is better to build than receive. Any country would prefer to create its own triumphant moment. Second, if you do give assistance to a freedom movement, don't expect a hearty thank you when it is over. We need look no further than our own revolution to see how this works.
When Americans look back on our revolution, we recall daring patriots like Ben Franklin or John and Sam Adams, who risked life and property to foment rebellion against the crown. George Washington crossing the frozen Delaware River leaps into our mind's eye.
Perhaps we think of the rank-and-file Minutemen, colonial militias, even the Continental army. If we live in New England or the South, we recall heroes such as Paul Revere or Francis Marion. These are the pulse-raising parts of popular memory within the complex events of our revolution, culminating in the surrender at Yorktown and an independent Unites States.
It is far less often that we remember that a French nobleman, the Marquis De Lafayette, led one of the continental forces in Virginia. I didn't learn that the French troops present at Yorktown equaled the British forces until after college. Despite our anti-nobility posture, another nobleman, De Rochambeau, led the French army in America.
It gets worse. We don't just owe part of our revolutionary success to the French.
The Spanish liked the whole idea of British failure so much that the Spanish navy covered strategic needs in the Caribbean for the French so that Admiral De Grasse could sail his 29 ships to the Chesapeake Bay, sealing the trap at Yorktown and defeating a British fleet in the process.
The less remembered ranks of our Founding Fathers included the German officer Baron DeKalb and the titular Duke of Zweibucken. Several Poles had instrumental roles. Thaddeus Kosciuszko brought superior knowledge and skills at building fortifications.
Count Casimir Pulaski created and led the first real cavalry this country ever had.
Why don't we sing songs about those French, German, Spanish and Polish heroes of the American Revolution? There is no equivalent midnight ride of Count Pulaski to hand down from generation to generation. In part because it is our revolution and we need it to be our story.
We should not be surprised if our role is likewise diminished in the memory of Iraqis, Afghans or even the highly socially networked Egyptians 10 years from now. The world's image of American interests in Egypt has been shaped by the Egyptian army's U.S.-built military technology represented by the Abrams tanks parked near Tahrir Square. But tanks were not the most important American Cold War technology in Egypt. That proved to be the Internet.
Revolutions have all sorts of outcomes and it is impossible to predict mid-term or long-term results from these most recent ones.
Whatever the next few years bring, though, the Egyptians and Tunisians will always know and cherish that no one gave this to them.
Regardless of the enabling role American-made technologies played in these events, their revolutions are gifts to themselves.
James Tuten is associate professor of history at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa.