My dear friend, Mark Thompson, is giving the following speech tomorrow at a gathering in Iowa to commemorate 9-11. Mark was a Marine. He left the Corps as a Major and took a job with the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism in 1996. He moved up the ranks and ultimately was named the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Military Affairs in the Bureau of Counter Terrorism when he retired in 2017. He was one of the whistleblowers on Benghazi. I wish Mark was still on the job. He is a true patriot. A man of integrity and honor. I recommend his words to you:
Five years ago, I was honored to speak at a similar event in Clarion. I am again privileged to be speaking here at this memorial. In 2016 I highlighted the sacrifices that the emergency responders made and continue to make. I spoke of men who, twenty years ago, ran into the fire, the smoke and chaos of crumbling buildings – not away from the danger but into it – not just once, but over and over again. Those men – those moments, we must never forget. To forget is to disregard. To disregard is to disrespect. Only when we remember and ponder on – and draw inspiration from their courage – do we show them the honor they are due. We further honor those we lost by learning from those tragic moments in history and insisting that our political leaders do as well. Men and women like those are still among us, and we lost 13 of them last month in Kabul.
Today is also referred to as Patriots Day. It made me think about how we define a patriot. Is it someone who fights for our nation and respects our flag? Is it someone who puts his hand over his heart as the flag passes by? Or is a patriot someone who puts others before self. I think we all know special people who fit into all those categories.
There was a term which was common a few years ago, American Exceptionalism. Many thought it implied Americans were arrogant and that we considered ourselves better than others. I know that is not true. We are exceptional because we have been blessed by God and our blessings are much deeper than our wealth or our military. We are exceptional because we have a self-imposed (NOT government-imposed) obligation to care for each other. I have seen battle-hardened Marines who are warriors one moment and caregivers the next. Likewise, I have seen Wright County families who take up the slack when a neighbor falls on hard times. To be exceptional, to be patriotic, is to appreciate our blessings – to help others, no matter whether we wear a uniform or not.
Like many things in our life, we don’t appreciate our freedoms or other blessings until they’re taken from us. I recently read a harrowing story of a North Korean woman who escaped her country at 13. As you know, North Korea is nation which controls every aspect of people’s lives and insists they literally worship the “Dear Leader” as they are forced to call their president. This woman is now 27 and was interviewed recently – one of her statements struck me, “Freedom is a hard thing, it comes with great responsibility.” Her simple words were profound. We often think of freedom as doing whatever we want, when it’s actually the opportunity, the obligation, to do what is right, despite the price.
Her story should prompt the question in all of us, what responsibility have we taken for our own liberties. I think most of us would have to admit, we have taken the liberties we have enshrined in our Declaration and Constitution for granted. We have expected them to always be there because that’s all we have ever known. Many of us have fought for those liberties abroad, but are now finding them threatened here within our own borders.
…… As we remember the attacks on our nation twenty years ago, our ignoble retreat from Afghanistan, and the health concerns generated by the Chinese virus – we are besieged by the enormity of it all. We ask ourselves — is our fear greater than our faith? Must we trade liberty for safety?
As we honor those who have served, and in many cases given their lives for us, we must step forward ourselves. As we look at this Freedom Rock, we are reminded that its inscription gives us our marching orders: President Kennedy said: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
History shows us that the answer to our current challenges begins and ends with our faith. Our pledge reminds us that we are “one nation under God.” Our exceptionalism, our very existence comes from God. I must confess I have found myself on my knees much more in the past year than ever before.
Likewise, I’ve studied our founding documents from which to draw knowledge and context. I have concluded that we are the people we’ve been waiting for. If not us, who? If not now, when? It’s tempting to take our location here in the Midwest as assurance that we are not currently threatened. Neither distance nor location will protect us. More importantly, it will not protect our children and grandchildren.
Our constitution provides the tools to defend our republic at times like these. We begin locally. Our elected officials, from our Supervisors, mayors, our school board and our State Legislators are elected by us and derive any authority they have from us. As the saying goes, politicians don’t start parades, they join them. They must hear our concerns and when necessary, the ideals on which public service is based. Unless we inform our elected officials what we expect and what we find repugnant, we cannot expect any change, either locally or nationally. It is a privilege to serve, not a right.
Our involvement is based on the information we have available to us. Thus – we must be proactive in our absorption of news. Gone are the days where the major networks are dependable sources of information as we passively sit in front of our televisions. We must seek alternative news sources and compare their reporting to make informed judgements. We must seek alternative perspectives from our neighbors and family. Any efforts we put forth will require persistence. We are not guaranteed success, but we are assured of failure if we never try or give up.
Freedom IS a hard thing, and those that pay the price are not just the ones who have fought and died. Our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. It’s time to make our own pledge to preserve and defend our republic as well – by being active participants – not passive observers.
We can never do away with the suffering, grief and aguish so many experienced on this day. However, we can – we must do whatever it takes to preserve and protect the liberty and justice on which this nation was founded. Starting today, let us be the people we’ve been waiting for. Let us not simply speak – let us act on our convictions. God Bless our nation and may WE be the instruments of that blessing.