From the beginning, our nation has endured hardship, strife and even outright failure to re-emerge brighter, stronger and more peaceful. From the first ill-conceived colony on Roanoke Island to the present day, the United States has been reborn from the ashes again and again.
Seven years ago, the United States suffered a horrible tragedy when terrorists killed thousands of our countrymen and attacked symbols of our national strength. It shook our sense of surety and security to the core. And in the aftermath of the attacks, when we mourned lost friends and family members, our nation lost its way.
No longer was the United States the world’s superpower that acted out of strength, but a country whose leaders acted out of fear.
As after past attacks, we said that we were united and strong. But, as with the internment of Japanese citizens following the Pearl Harbor attack, many of our national actions following Sept. 11 sacrificed core American values.
Even though personal liberty is the most sacred ideal of the American experiment — expressed in Patrick Henry’s cry of “give me liberty or give me death” — it was sometimes abandoned in the name of security following Sept. 11.
And all the while, those who dared to do the patriotic thing and question these presidential policies were called un-American. Even traitors.
Ironically, a noteworthy Republican president, President Theodore Roosevelt, once wrote that “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable ….”
It is not easy to ask hard questions and disagree with leadership when fear is rampant. But passionate individuals with true patriotic gumption have been the conscience of the country dating back to Thomas Paine. With the help of modern patriots, America is beginning to look like America again.
Still, the healing from Sept. 11 has only begun. Families ripped apart by the attacks will never be fully whole, just as the nation will always bear a scar from that frightening day.
But patriots ensure that the scar will not disfigure the American character.
The only way the United States can truly be defeated is if our values of liberty, freedom and restrained government are lost. The people who fight for these values deserve the deepest thanks and gratitude during this time of remembrance.
That includes the men and women fighting in our armed services, whose selflessness and patriotism is undiminished by the politics of war. That includes individuals who defend the nation by questioning policies that degrade the letter and spirit of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And that includes those who remember the United States is the greatest country on Earth not because of its military might or vast resources, but because of the individual freedom granted to each and every citizen.
These men and women remember that America is the land of the free, not the land of the secretly monitored.
It would be a tragedy if we destroyed the best part of our country in the name of protecting it.