Editor’s note: Click here for the audio commentary this transcript is based on.
I remember when I was a kid; one thing was clear to me. The more I learned about the rest of the world, the luckier I felt just having been born in America. The more I learned about America, the more I appreciated what those who came before us built; and how exceptional they were.
Not that there aren’t other great places to live, but America is unique. It’s not just that we are the freest and most prosperous county the world has ever seen. America has also freed more people than any other nation in history.
A lot of people have done their part to see that we are blessed with the advantages we enjoy — from hardworking pioneer mothers to the Framers of the Constitution. Memorial Day is coming up, though, and I’m thinking more about American soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice — those who died to protect our way of life and make the world safe for democracy.
There are some people, though, who don’t think that’s such a good idea. Some people even want to use Memorial Day to protest our military’s presence in Iraq. The irony is that their right to protest was paid for by people willing to risk everything to keep the forces of tyranny at bay — here as well as Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Korea, Burma, Vietnam, the Philippines, and dozens of other countries.
Over the years, a lot of people have tried to talk us out of feeling about America the way we do. Instead of pride in what America has done, they want us to feel guilty — generally because we have so much more than rest of the world. Of course, it wouldn’t help the rest of the world one whit if we had less — either of freedom or of prosperity. On the contrary, it’s our liberties that have made us prosperous and there’s no reason the rest of the world couldn’t be just as well-off — if they embraced freedom as well.
Almost always, when I talk to people who see America as the problem, their arguments are based on ignorance or an outright tangling of history. What they thought they knew about America and the world came second- and third-hand through people with axes to grind.
That’s why I was troubled recently when I came across a report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The report’s conclusion was that American colleges and universities are failing to increase their students’ knowledge of America’s history and institutions.
Students polled in a wide range of colleges and universities showed no real improvement in their historical knowledge. Some actually forgot part of what they’d learned in high school by the time they graduated — and I’m talking about some of our best-known Ivy League schools.
Less than half of college seniors knew that, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” is from the Declaration of Independence. Less than half knew basic facts about the First Amendment. Half didn’t know that the Federalist Papers were written in support of the Constitution’s ratification. Only a quarter of seniors knew the purpose of the Monroe Doctrine.
This is our quandary. Memorial Day is about remembering. It’s about remembering those who died for our country; but it’s also about remembering why they believed it was worth dying for. Too many Americans, though, have never been taught our own history and heritage. How can you remember something that you’ve never learned?
– Fred Thompson is an actor and former United States senator from Tennessee.
© PAUL HARVEY SHOW, ABC RADIO NETWORKS