Of all the dangers facing our country—terrorist attacks, bin Laden and al-Zarqawi, North Korean belligerence—the greatest danger of all is the one that still doesn’t make many headlines—our collective national amnesia. Our history textbooks are sanitized to be politically correct and give our children virtually no sense of the greatness of the nation they live in. The Founders are seldom mentioned unless it is part of a controversy about slavery or whether they sired illegitimate children.
In my talks at hundreds of high schools during the 2000 campaign, I was struck by how often decent American kids had nothing good to day about their own country. Their knowledge of the sacrifices made to establish and preserve their freedom was virtually non-existent. They are, literally, the recipients of the greatest freedom and opportunity that any society has ever produced; yet they are unaware of the price in flesh and blood that was paid for it.
This weekend marks Memorial Day, a national observance that first known as Decoration Day. It was meant to be a time to honor our Civil War dead through the simple task of decorating their graves. Over time, the holiday’s significance extended to all those who paid the highest price for their nation. But, unfortunately, in modern America, Memorial Day weekend has become more of an occasion for play than for reflection about patriot graves.
I hope and pray that we can learn to do both—play and remember. Let’s go to the ballgame, have that picnic, hug our kids, sleep in on Monday morning, and catch some “rays” at the beach. But let’s also remind ourselves, and our children, about what happened at Concord Bridge; the fields of Antietam; at the beaches of Normandy. Let’s explain to them why there was a Berlin Wall, what happened at Okinawa and the price that was paid to stop Hitler. In short, let’s take at least a moment to teach them to love the things we love, and honor the things we honor. Finally, let’s remind ourselves as well as our children that all liberty is a gift from God and that each generation has paid in flesh and blood to preserve it.
For those of you who want a place to start, try reading to your kids and grandkids these words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
Gary Bauer is president of American Values.