I’m on a backpacking trip with a few Boy Scouts as I write this.
It’s cheating a little bit to pull out my phone and post this on a Scouting weekend, but it’s cold out, it’s not yet 7:00 in the evening, we’ve all retired to our sleeping bags and I didn’t bring a book. Add to that the fact that I have something to say, and consider that my scoutmaster is one of about three people who follow this blog and provide me regular feedback, and I guess I’ll just take my chances.
We retired some flags this evening, small flags recovered from veterans’ graves when the troop put out new ones for Veterans Day last weekend. My scoutmaster, a fellow veteran, did me the honor of asking me to say a few words for the ceremony. I think the words I chose bear repeating here.
There’s a poem that was popular when I was in the Army, about how the soldier, not the reporter or the campus organizer or the activist, has given us the freedom of speech, of the press, of religion. I can’t remember the writer’s name, but it’s a stirring piece of work–especially for someone who’s already inclined to believe it.
And it’s true, as far as it goes. Those who serve our nation in uniform, who have served since its founding, have stood ready to put their bodies between us and those who wish us ill. They do a difficult and dangerous job, and many of them leave their homes and never return. We should never forget them, or fail to honor their sacrifice.
But the poem’s message is incomplete. It’s not just the soldier who serves our country.
Freedom of speech means little, you see, if we don’t exercise it with courage and honesty, and if we don’t encourage those who disagree with us to exercise it the same way.
Freedom of the press means little without journalists dedicated to the truth.
Freedom of religion means little if a faith you find abhorrent doesn’t enjoy the same rights and privileges as yours.
It’s not just the soldier who has the responsibility to protect these freedoms for us, because it’s not just foreign enemies who threaten them. We are all responsible. Everyone who enjoys the freedoms our Constitution guarantees us has a responsibility to help protect those freedoms.
Only when we accept that responsibility do we truly honor the flag our brave sons and daughters fight for.