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Nothing less will do.


America has been called the land of the free and the home of the brave--the defender of democracy. We were born in freedom and for freedom in our infancy, beginning in 1620, when the first colonists landed on the stern and rockbound coast of Plymouth. Today's history books tragically seem to have lost the thread of that early period, but the poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans summed up in four lines what we need to know about the Pilgrims:

Ay, call it holy ground,

The soil where first they trod!

They have left unstained what there they found--

Freedom to worship God.

--"The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers"

In 1787, Benjamin Franklin said to George Washington as he presided over the Constitutional Convention, "The longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this Truth, that GOD governs in the Affairs of Men. And if a Sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?" We know, of course, that no nation does rise without His knowing. And seeing His hand at our nation's birth increases our love for this green and gentle land.

Now it is true that people everywhere tend to have an instinctive love for the land of their birth. But our feelings for this country must and do go beyond that instinctive love one has for the soil. Our love is for an idea--the notion that men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights. This notion --truly revolutionary--knows no boundaries. It is the essence of the American dream. In a commencement address at Lincoln University in 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr., summed up the central core of what we are and the vision we offer to all men everywhere. He said: "One of the first things we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It does not say some men [are created equal], but it says all men. It does not say all white men, but it says all men, which includes black men. It does not say all Gentiles, but it says all men, which includes Jews. It does not say all Protestants, but it says all men, which includes Catholics." This notion inspires men and women the world over, and it threatens those who believe man is a mere creature of the state. We know that no slave master--no totalitarian--can rest easy at night as long as somewhere there are free men and women. Lincoln reminded us that no man is born with a saddle on his back, and none are born with spurs to ride them. I am convinced the world cannot, just as America could not, remain half free and half slave. Either freedom, like a prairie fire, will spread across the globe, or it will be extinguished everywhere. Only when the rights of man are secured everywhere will they reach their maximum security anywhere.

It is this love of our God-given liberty that makes our celebration of independence unique from those of most other nations. All of history has been marked by revolution, but usually only one set of rulers was exchanged for another. Ours was different. It declared that government would have only those powers granted to it by the people. That simple difference--that idea--has shaken every tyrant to his core.

How is it, then, that a nation built on such a revolutionary idea could begin to lose its confidence--to question its value and vision? Unfortunately, in recent years there has been much confusion about the special role of our nation. In the '60s and '70s there arose in some quarters the notion that America was a force for evil, and, although it did not surprise us when our enemies made that claim, it was deeply disturbing to hear some of our fellow citizens give it credence. The worst aspects of those days are behind us now. We do not see our flag being burned on the finest campuses of the country. The streets are no longer filled with radicals clamoring for the defeat of their nation. No longer are the young men and women who answered their country's call and served in Southeast Asia seen as criminals, but as the heroes they are. Yet if you are like me, you may still feel a sense of disquiet. In too many places there is still a fashionable ingratitude shown by some to our country and its institutions. On too many days we open our papers to read that one of our fellow citizens has sold his country's security for a fatter bank account. Too many men and women in positions of leadership seem confused about our nation's value and about the nature of our adversaries.

Does America have flaws? Of course it does. All human enterprises do. But, in a world of famine, boat people, and pervasive injustice, we have much of which to be proud. We must reject the so-called "sophisticates" who find it sufficient to disdain and ridicule our beliefs simply because those beliefs are valued by ordinary Americans.

We must be particularly vigilant in making sure our children understand the great sacrifices that have been made and the special nature of the liberty they enjoy. Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that we sometimes fail in this task.

In the suburbs of Washington, D.C., 51 of 53 children in a gifted and talented class, our "best and brightest," saw no moral difference between the Soviet Union and the United States. I remember vividly a nine-year-old boy in a Maryland elementary school who had just gone through a day-long session on international understanding. A reporter asked him what he had learned, and he replied, "I learned that the Russians aren't the bad guys--that there are no bad guys in the world." I predict that some day that young man, so poorly served by the educational enterprise, will have a rude awakening. He will discover that the world is not suburbia, that it is, in fact, a dangerous place--more like the South Bronx at 2 a.m. And he will discover that there are men and women who awake each day hoping to see the destruction of the West, not out of misunderstanding, but because they understand freedom all too well and despise it. There was a depressing story in the Washington Post last year of a meeting of top American highschool students with the children of Soviet diplomats. The Soviet kids ran circles around ours, and before it was over, they had convinced the American children to join them in making a so-called "peace ribbon," which was draped around the Pentagon--which the children concluded was the greatest threat to world peace. Something is terribly wrong when the sons and daughters of totalitarians can intellectually defeat the children of free men and women.

Now, I was tempted as I came across these stories to become angry at the children, but it would be wrong to do so. For these are, after all, our children--they are not any better or any worse than children have ever been. If they are not aware of the special freedoms they enjoy, then perhaps we haven't been aggressive enough in telling them about those freedoms. And, if they seem to be children who have forgotten the past, then perhaps it is because no one has ever taught it to them.

Our children are innocent, and God knows we wish they could remain so forever. But the innocent are easily beguiled. It is not an innocent world, and they need to know that in other places other children are being taught that America is the Great Satan that must be destroyed. It is those children that ours must be prepared to deal with if they are to pass on liberty to their offspring.

Let us then remind ourselves and our children of the special nature of the land we live in. In a world marked by the conquest of the weak by the strong, America occupies no territory. None, that is, except for those cross-and-star-marked plots where our sons, brothers, and fathers lie, eternally gazing into the sky above a hundred far-flung battlefields in lands we liberated.

And what of this nation in victory? Is there another country that has treated its defeated foes as well as we have? We rebuilt their cities, revitalized their industries, and gave to the people of Germany and Japan the chance to share the free institutions they still enjoy today.

There is another way, of course, to remind ourselves of the uniqueness of our land, and that is to count the feet that struggle to reach our free shores. We are a magnet to the oppressed of the world. They come to us fleeing every tyrant. They come in boats from the stormy shores of Vietnam. They come in rafts across the Florida Keys. They cross the hot deserts of the American Southwest. And they are, of course, but the latest examples of the long line of humanity that has risked death for a glimpse of America --for the chance to raise their children in a free land.

We are, as Walt Whitman observed, "a nation of nations." Diversity is a fundamental element of our culture, and one that we rightly celebrate. But we must remember that the "e pluribus unum" that defines us as a nation denotes unity as well as pluralism. There is a time for noting what makes us different, and a time for recognizing what we share.

For love of liberty, our forebears-- colonists, few in number and with little to defend themselves--fought a war for independence with what was then the world's most powerful empire. For love of liberty, those who came before us tamed a vast wilderness and braved hardships that at times were beyond the limits of human endurance. For love of liberty, a bloody, heart-wrenching civil war was fought. And for love of liberty, Americans championed and still champion, even in times of peril, the cause of human freedom in far-off lands.

Go with me to a barren, wind-swept point on the northern shore of France, to a time more than 43 years ago. Listen and you will hear the cries of men and the roar of cannons. It is June 6, 1944, and 225 American Rangers, actually boys from Kansas and Alabama, from New York and Tennessee, have just been put on shore with one mission--to climb the sheer and desolate cliffs before them and silence the enemy guns at the top. At the top, crack Nazi defenders stand firing down on these brave men. The struggle is incredible. The Rangers shoot rope ladders over the faces of the cliffs and begin to pull themselves up. When one man is cut down, another takes his place; when a rope is cut, another is secured until finally they seize the high ground and the effort to free Europe from slavery has begun. Of the 225 who landed on that wind-swept beach in 1944, only 90 could bear arms after two days of fighting.

President Reagan went to that beach a few years ago to honor the survivors of that fateful day. In his remarks there is a lesson for us--for the task before us.

"Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

"The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge --and pray God we have not lost it--that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

"You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

"The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They thought--or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact--that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.

"Something else helped the men of D-day; their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here, that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer, he told them: 'Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do.' Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway, on his cot, listened in the darkness for the promise of God made to Joshua: 'I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.'"

We are reminded by these words of the task ahead of us in the long struggle that free men and women are destined to wage. John F. Kennedy, in the speech he never delivered in Dallas, intended to say that we are, for better or worse, watchmen on the towers of freedom, and indeed we are. Being watchmen, we have a profound duty.

We must teach our children of these things. They must know who spoke of America as a "shining city upon a hill" and who proclaimed, "Give me liberty or give me death." They should know who declared, "I have a dream," and who said, "I regret I have but one life to give for my country." They should know about our heroes and understand what Lincoln meant when he spoke of patriot graves bound together by mystic cords of memory. They should know what the grand lady on Ellis Island stands for, and why there is a Berlin Wall. They should know what happened on Missionary Ridge, Bunker Hill, and Omaha Beach, and how their liberty was born and nurtured in those places with the blood of their fathers. They should even know of Jonathan and David and Ruth and Naomi. We must teach them to love the things we love and to honor the things we honor. Nothing less will do.

Photo: Gary Bauer is assistant to the President for policy development and chairman of the President's Working Group on the Family. Formerly he served as deputy undersecretary of education in the Reagan Administration. He holds a juris doctor degree from Georgetown University Law School.
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Title Annotation:we must teach our children to love and honor American liberties
Author:Bauer, Gary L.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1987
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