I think this is probably one of the most concise speeches on what peace requires ever given.
Peaceful does not mean weak, well-defended does not mean violent.
Freedom absolutely DOES come at a cost, and we all pay it. We give up some comforts, we give up some guarantees, and some give up their time and even lives to maintain our individual liberties.
I believe in American exceptionalism. Not because I believe we are a better kind of people than anyone else, but because our founders accomplished something amazing, unheard of, and feared by the powers that be in the rest of the world. They enshrined in law the rights of the people to rule themselves. To no longer have their fate determined by a ruler who looked at them as a lesser kind of being. It was one of the clearest statements ever made, to and about mankind, that we are each capable of exercising our free-will in self-governance. None of the old aristocracy believed that the slaves, peasants, and children of convicts who populated America could rally themselves to rule themselves; the kings were wrong.
Today we struggle with the same disbelief. We struggle against political dogmas which preach that men and women can’t rule themselves, they must have more and more punitive laws to determine their every action. We struggle against pundits and policy makers who try to buy votes by promising the moon and taking our rights instead of honest statesmen who stand up and ask us to know and defend our rights.
We struggle against a creeping moral relativism which states that there is nothing more “right” than anything else so there is nothing that is ever morally “wrong”. I believe that’s a lie.
We struggle against a fictional divide in our nation. A divide that says we all must choose whether we bleed blue or red, vote left or right, and be defined by a party. It is a lie.
We struggle against a sense of entitlement that leads us to believe that our wealth makes us more worthy, our ease makes us more advanced, and our power makes us more deserving of respect. It does not.
Will Durrant said it best “Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew…” Every generation must do the work required to preserve freedom, it is not a guaranteed commodity. Civilization is not the natural state of man, it has to be won by hard work and dedication, by sacrifice and an earnest concern for needs beyond our own.
I sometimes wonder what that hard work looks like in my own life. I live where I enjoy daily the freedom bought by my ancestors. I could spend my days in pursuit of trivial or even base activities and still have the ability to travel, speak my mind, vote my conscience, and worship my God freely. What then, in my abundance and comfort, can I choose to do to preserve what I have been given so generously?
This has been my answer:
1. Teach my children the history of America, every bit of it. The glorious and the gory so that they will know that men always have been, and always will be, capable of tremendous good and terrible atrocities. Teach them to recognize the path that leads to both so they may choose their own actions wisely.
2. Teach my children that there is a greater destiny in store for mankind than avarice, imperialism, and warfare. Teach them that they must decide which role they will play in that destiny. That they must decide now the kind of men and women they will be.
3. Teach my children that there is a God in Heaven who loves every single person on this earth, no matter who we may oppose personally or politically. That because of that knowledge they must treat all men, women, and children with respect, even if they disagree. They must learn to stand up for and defend truth while not demeaning or diminishing another person.
4. Know what is happening in my local, state, and national legislature and be vocal. The ability to govern myself does me little good if I do not exercise that right.
5. Know the needs of my local community. I truly believe that America is only as strong as the hearts and homes of her people. If I want to see a more generous, strong, and respected nation then I must be generous with my time in service, strong in my own faith and convictions, and perform the labors which would earn the respect of my neighbors.
We have a gift in our hands. The United States of America is a gift. I think it is a gift we must treasure more and care for with greater dedication. George Washington called America a “Great Experiment”. Some political commentators and fear mongers have suggested that our experiment has been a failure. That our civilization is failing, our Constitution is outdated, that our freedoms are gone. I believe that we are not a lost cause. I believe that we are simply an experiment that has been poured into a crucible. Our success will depend upon our ability to endure and overcome the challenges before us. It will depend upon our dedication to principles of personal liberty and a willingness to sacrifice our time to serve our neighbors.
America was once considered the Promised Land by the rest of the world. Whether it is or not anymore doesn’t matter as much to me as whether or not we are dedicated to the promise of freedom. Can any writer pen this promise better than President Abraham Lincoln did?
“ It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The price of peace is high. It will take my whole life, well-lived, dedicated to serving and loving my neighbor, defending my freedoms, and lending my voice to the debates that determine our governance. But it is a price worth paying.
Here is a video of Ronald Reagan’s full speech.