November 11, 2001. Two months after the attack on the United States some things have become clear.
It has become clear that our enemies have attacked us (and will continue to attack us) because of who and what we are, and because of who and what they are. They are not interested in avenging the loss of Spain in 1492 or in paying us back for supporting Israel. They attacked us because we represent civilization and freedom. And since they do not participate in either, and have contempt for both, they think themselves justified in trying to bring us down.
The two Buddhas they blew up represented a great human accomplishment and a civilization different from theirs. But the two towers they blew up in New York are even more symbolic: these elegant and graceful towers were built by free men to promote freedom. They represented a peak of human excellence and civilization and freedom.
Americans understand that they have to fight back. This is important because it has now become crystal clear that Americans have overcome the political corruption caused by the 60s. The radicalsread nihilistsin America of the 60s argued that the U.S. was not only wrong in our policies (e.g., Vietnam) but that we were wicked in our hearts and have been from our birth as a nation. That is why they insisted on spelling America with a "k." This brought moral confusion and doubt about our purposes and actions. Patriotism was questioned.
But things have turned. The attack of September 11th has reminded us why we love our country. We know that all human beings care about those things that they call their own, from their families to their friends to their homes. But now we have been reminded that we love our country only partly because it is our own country. Mostly we love America because it is a free country. And we are citizens in a country that lives by and for this idea of freedom. We have been reminded of the things for which we stand.
This reminder has inestimable value to us as a free people. We have stood up in a manly way and have shown to ourselves (and, incidentally, to the world) that we take pride in what we are, and what we have been. We are reminded of both our rights and our responsibilities. It turns out that the republican character we showed when we stood up to the two evil ideologies in the last century is not yet dead. As we beat down both, one in a long hot war and the other in a longer cold war, we are prepared to beat down this new one. The evil empire is dead and so is that .bad man. (as Churchill called Hitler) and what he stood for. We are called on to do hard work again.
President Bush, who had been emphasizing a renewal of citizenship before the attacks, understands this and that is why he calls our enemieswith simplicity and claritythe "evildoers." He is right to say that they celebrate blood and death and the will to power, and we celebrate life and freedom. An al Qaeda spokesman has said that they "look forward to death, like the Americans look forward to living." So be it. We are no longer morally confused.
This has special value to us at the Ashbrook Center because of the work we have been doing and will continue to do.
I teach young people who are, unlike me, real native Americans. I teach them about politics in general and American politics in particular. It is my job to help them get a good liberal education, and a civic education in particular. They dont have much of an education when they come to me. They arent citizens yet, and this is so not only because they are too young. They havent been taught much about their country, or its history, or its purpose.
I start their education by telling them a simple thing about their country and about themselves. I tell them that they are the fortunate of the earth, among the blessed of all times and places. I tell them this as an obvious and incontrovertible thing. And their blessing, their great good fortune, lies in the nation, in the country into which they were born.
I tell them the simple large truth that their country, the United States of America, happens to be today the most powerful, the most prosperous, the most free, and the most just country on earth. Then I tell them how and why this is sothat is, I teach them about the principles from which these blessings flow.
We also get acquainted with our founders, with Jefferson, Madison and the boys. We have conversations with them. We ask them what they did and why, and what we must do to continue it. We meet Mr. Lincoln and feel his heart full of sorrow and get to know his powerful mind and why hope never left him. We get familiar with the architects and friends of liberty. The best of the students become their friends.
We talk about the Constitution and why government is limited, of what self-government means and how hard it is. We contemplate the massive fact that this government was meant to secure the blessings of freedom. Soon into their education, I begin to notice that the students are no longer acting like spectators at a sporting event, but rather like players, like full participants. They begin to feel .the electric cord that binds us. (as Lincoln put it) as they learn about the conditions of freedom.
They learn something about the sacred fire of liberty and why character and manly eloquence and sometimes the furious acts of war may be necessary to keep it alive. I invite them to consider whether they could hope to have any greater honor than to pass on, undiminished to their children and their grandchildren, this great inheritance of freedom. And then we talk about how they might best go about doing that.
At the end, well armed in heart and mind, they leave to do the hard work of citizens in a free country. And, I hope by then they will be able to say along with Lincoln: "Many free countries have lost their liberty; and ours may lose hers; but if she shall, be it my proudest plume, not that I was the last to desert, but that I never deserted her."