If we had lived in London in 1605 we would have been lighting bonfires in the streets and celebrating King James' survival of an assassination plot. If it had succeeded, Spain could have ruled the world, the Pilgrims would never have sailed to America and George Washington's ancestors might never have left Oxfordshire.
However, tonight in England and other commonwealth countries, from New Zealand and Nigeria to India and Canada, bonfires will be lit and fireworks exploded. The tradition commemorates the king's survival, the capture of Guy Fawkes and his 12 fellow conspirators and their subsequent trial and execution.
The year 1605 was a low point for freedom in England. There were external enemies throughout Europe. There was little or no freedom of speech or religion. And the words "human rights" had not been coined.
Just imagine if, at that time, an English civil servant had gone on Spanish television (had it been invented) to say that the world was watching the failure of England's policies, that the King had shown "arrogance and stupidity" and that our government was willing to talk to our foreign enemies to bring about reconciliation.
If those unbelievable events had taken place, Guy Fawkes would have had company when he was executed for high treason.
Except this is 2006 -- an election is days away and U.S. diplomat Alberto Fernandez has sought to absolve himself by saying that he was "misquoted" and was sorry.
If you read the transcripts of Fernandez's foolishness, it is plain that he was not misquoted. If you read his biography, you find that he is an active member of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), which, despite being funded by U.S. taxpayers, advises its members not to cooperate with the State Department and the U.S. government.
In the Fernandez biography, we find that he has been director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy in the State Department's Bureau of Near East Affairs since May 2005. He is Cuban-born and came to the United States when he was a year old. He served in the U.S. Army and Reserves from 1976 to 1981, then had a distinguished career in the State Department, serving in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
Fernandez's entire background suggests that he is a well-trained and cautious State Department employee. His actions show that in attempting to be heard by hard-core jihadists, he has, without serious thought, made some terrible mistakes. He has not been concerned about what he has said or what use the enemies will make of his foolishness, which some might call treason.
Whatever Alberto meant to do, he only added to the pre-election hysteria that is causing a similar morale collapse to what was faced over the Vietnam War. However, Iraq is not Vietnam. The casualty rates, while all too high, in no way match those in Vietnam and the issues are immeasurably different.
Yet rumors that the State Department and former Secretary of State James Baker are considering inviting Syria and Iran to help negotiate with the factions in Iraq are rife. The purpose is to divide that country into three separate states -- an equivalent of an invitation to the foxes to supervise the henhouses, while we cut and run.
There are other rumors that the president is working on an early exit strategy. And there is no shortage of retired, disgruntled and spineless generals ready to talk us into defeat. There is no television time given to officers ready to admit that mistakes have been made and corrected and victories won as a result.
As we go to the polls on Tuesday, we should remember that Iraq's government continues to function, despite the appalling carnage. It is a government of Shia, Sunni and Kurds working together. They have a plan for peace and reconciliation supported by these three factions, which has been agreed to and which works.
Iraq is holding up heroically while the United States is beginning to suffer a nervous collapse.
It may be a sad and frightening fact that the United States has to stay in Iraq until the insurgency is defeated. The greatest past mistake was the belief that creating Iraqi democracy would be easy and that Saddam was not a godfather of terrorism and that an insurgency could be easily defeated.
No insurgency is easy to defeat. It took the Brits about 12 years to control the insurgency in Malaya; the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya lasted 10 years with thousands killed. In the Balkans, it is 10 years since the forgotten country of Yugoslavia imploded; Bosnia is only now ready for self-government.
Today, when we consider our responsibility to defeat the cut-and-run politicians campaigning for the U.S. Congress, we should think about our British cousins. Are they really following a tradition of celebrating the king's safety or honoring Guy Fawkes for his attempt to do away with the government?
Let's make sure that on Tuesday our vote counts in preserving our freedom.
Dateline D.C. is written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer.