September 11, 2019 - Wednesday
9/11: America's Legacy of Patriotism
September 11, 2019
This morning, I was on Capitol Hill at 8:46 a.m. when the bells tolled, surrounded by congressional staffers too young to remember the events that occurred 18 years ago. That isn't the case for thousands of American families, who've felt the weight and pain of every minute since that east coast sunny morning. To them, it doesn’t feel like 18 years. It feels like yesterday.
In a grassy field of Pennsylvania or the wreaths outside the Pentagon, their 9/11 isn't over. While the rest of the world talks about that day in the past tense, they're still living it. Some in empty chairs around the dinner table, others in deployed dads and daughters. Then there are the armies of heroes, who are reminded with each difficult breath just how much their selflessness in that ash cost them.
But for everything 9/11 took from us, it also gave -- in strength, unity, and love. Americans went back to church. They hung flags. They volunteered and helped their neighbors. When a military family put a star in the window, we cared. Eighteen years later, maybe that's what some of us miss most. The sense of community. The solidarity. The feeling that nothing mattered more than being Americans. Of all the things that've changed, those are the bonds we should've held onto.
The last memorial anyone wants to build is to the American spirit we had then. But these days, the question echoes off the ground zero reflecting pool like the names of the lost: can we still produce patriots? Eighteen years after star-spangled banners flew off every crane across blocks of rubble, is our nation still capable of the pride that drives men and women off to battle to pay the ultimate price? Or the compassion that compels strangers into buildings to rescue people they'd never met -- just because they're Americans?
It's tough to tell. What our nation values now is a lot different than it was the September day our world came crashing down. The priorities of patriotism, religion, and family is in steep decline, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey says -- thanks largely to the generations under 40 who either don't remember 9/11 or its lessons. In the age of Nike and Colin Kaepernick, a nine-point drop in patriotism over the last 21 years, while troubling, isn't a huge surprise. And with the scandals in organized religion and its growing departure from the transcendent truth, a 12-point decline in the priority placed on religion, while disturbing, isn't shocking either. The 16-point drop in the value of having children is probably an outgrowth of both -- a combination of factors ranging from the decline of commitment, selflessness and transcendent purpose.
But, as I write in a new Washington Times column, I believe there's more behind this decline in core values -- the outsourcing of teaching our children the meaning of freedom. Earlier this year, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation released the results of a national survey of 41,000 Americans in all 50 states on their understanding of American history. Among their findings, only 27 percent of those under the age of 45 were able to demonstrate a basic knowledge of American history. Patriotism is difficult to nurture and maintain if you have little understanding of the nation's origin, founding purpose, and vision.
Religion has fared no better within our classroom walls. With the removal of prayer and the Bible from public schools in the early '60s, the Left started a long march through America's institutions, that, like Sherman's March to the Sea, has left little behind.
This scorched-earth policy of the Left has not only served to shackle the free exercise of religion of students and administrations. The effects of this march are not limited to the classroom; they have helped to marginalize and stigmatize faith in the broader culture. Increasingly, moms and dads are not only circumvented by educators, but, in some cases, students are told their parents' views are antiquated and even bigoted.
In some sense, the very fact that these values are being tracked over time speaks to their significance to the American experiment. Os Guinness, in his book Last Call for Liberty, writes about the brilliance of the Founders in what he describes as the golden triangle of freedom. He explains that freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom. If one of the three is absent, the golden triangle collapses.
Two decades before he became president, Ronald Reagan made an almost prophetic statement. He observed: "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
Polls like this one should be a wake-up call for those who understand and appreciate American exceptionalism and the blessing it has been not just to Americans, but to the entire world. If this nation is to continue producing patriots -- generations who keep the torch of liberty burning -- then the outsourcing of teaching to our children the values of faith, family and freedom to the institutions controlled by the Left must end.
To read my Washington Times op-ed in full, click here.
Tony Perkins's Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC Action senior writers.