The history of America is the history of liberty. As a course of events, American history is progresstoward liberty. As a record of those events, American history is progress toward understanding liberty.
Until the mid-1960s, American children were taught at home and at school, and breathed it in the native air, that America was unique among the nations of the earth, established on one eternal and enduring principle: freedom. But after two generations fed from the troth of an anti-American culture and an educational system that indicts America as arrogant and the wellspring of the world's evils, we're staring into a future that may end up in the hands of a generation no longer capable of maintaining American liberty.
Our entertainments and entitlements, our degrading public discourse, and our inane fascination with unprincipled personalities have left us flat and flaccid.
Of all the reasons for the diminished and diminishing spirit of liberty in America, one comes readily into focus: we have forgotten our history. We have treated history as a collection of dead facts, pieced together from the deeds of dead men, and placed on the parchment of dead trees. But history doesn't't just reside in the pages of books, it lives in the hearts and minds and traditions of men and women.
Lasting liberty can only come about if we, Americans of all generations, are willing to face some difficult questions:
- What does it mean to be an American?
- What is liberty?
- Can liberty last?
- Which do we want: liberty or security?
- Can we forget our history and lose our liberty?
The answer to that last question is yes.
Under a rapid assault to our senses from news outlets skipping intellectual and emotional rocks across every international crisis and national scandal, there is no desire or capacity to dwell on, discuss, or debate such important questions.
The instantaneous, immediate, and intense tyranny of the ever present now - the obsessive and oppressive twenty-four-hour news cycle that invites us to gawk at, but not understand, life's disasters like 9/11, the Newtown school shooting, and the crisis on our southern border - threatens to distract and derail us from real dangers facing America. The must-see fare of cable news is easy to comprehend and addictive to watch, but real dangers are opaque.
The greatest danger to America lies not from without - with Islamic terrorism or the nuclear nightmare of some rogue nation-state - but from within. The surest way to destroy a country is to destroy its liberty. The surest way to destroy a country's liberty is to destroy its memory - its history. And the surest way to destroy a country's history is to conceal it behind a curtain of falsehoods and fabrications; bury it under a barrage of spin and scandal; overwhelm it with a tidal wave of titillation and trivia.
These are the acids that cause our memory to moulder.
For many young Americans, history is passé. In an age of technical wizardry and global sociology the study and appreciation of history is about as fashionable as powdered wigs, silk stockings, and buckled shoes. And yet, perhaps at no time in the history of our nation has historical wisdom been needed more than at this historic moment.
And yet . . . at no time in the history of our nation have we been so historically ignorant. So much so, we're in peril of losing our liberty.
It is simply true: to be historically ignorant is to be a slave. It is equally true: those who love liberty, love history; those who dismiss history, dismiss liberty.
"God grants liberty only to those who love it," Daniel Webster declared, "and are always ready to guard and defend it." Throughout our history - in statehouses and schoolhouses, in churches and synagogues, on farm fields and battlefields; east and west, north and south; black and white, red and brown; on the plains of Pennsylvania, the hills of Virginia, the grasslands of Texas, the waters of the seven seas, the forests and beaches of Europe, the islands of the South Pacific, and the deserts of the Middle East - millions have stood at the ready to guard and defend liberty.
Liberty lives in the hearts of men and women. And while it lives, it needs no champion in the Congress or courts to save it. But if it dies, no champion in Congress or the courts can save it. History is the only remedy that might resurrect a dead liberty.
This is why no man is more relevant to his times than the man who understands the times of yesteryear. He understands that history is romance. It is cupid's arrow, wooing us to fall in love with America anew. He understands that you can't love what you don't treasure. You can't love America - you can't love liberty - if you don't treasure America's history as "the land of the free and the home of the brave." He understands that this only comes about from singing our songs, reciting our pledge, and flying our flag. This only comes about from loving our history.
To dismiss history is to disrespect the people of the past. And to misprize history is to misplace liberty. For there is no escaping this brutal fact: to forget history is to lose liberty.
The people of the past struggled and scrapped and sacrificed to make freedom possible. We, the people of the present, can do no less to make freedom sustainable. But we, like them, must love liberty. We must love history. We must stand against the blamers of America and the haters of our history. We must support efforts in the culture to revive the spirit of America. And we must strive to teach younger generations of Americans that to love liberty is to love history.
Adapted from the speech, "History and Liberty: Forget theOne, Lose the Other," delivered to the Allied Masonic Degrees, Plano, Texas, June 21, 2014. Copyright © 2014 by Derrick G. Jeter. All rights reserved worldwide.