by Quin Hillyer
We must move on, but we must not forget.
It was good to see this year that commemorations of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were somewhat muted, because it is fitting that Americans not wallow in mourning. A 10th anniversary of a major event is typically seen as a big deal, but an 11th is just another year. We live, we move ahead, and if we are wise we learn and we act in accordance with those lessons.
Yet, as my colleagues Joe Savage and Amy Wright remind us in their book We Forgot: The 7 Unlearned Lessons of 9/11
, we seem to have forgotten that it was not just our safety that the terrorists assaulted; more deeply, it was our freedom. By adding more burdens of “security” to our daily lives, the terrorists made us de-emphasize the liberty that is our birthright. As the authors write, “Liberty is the essential, common thread that defines America. It is our greatest inheritance, our greatest achievement, and our greatest gift to the world.”
The most important type of liberty, ahead of all others in the Bill of Rights, is the freedom of religion to operate unfettered by government control. That freedom is uniquely under assault today, as I have discussed
in previous columns
. Savage and Wright’s little book explains how a distracted populace these days seems very difficult to rouse for common purpose. Just 11 years after the heinous attacks of 9/11, far too many are again complacent about liberty, on multiple fronts.
I did not expect this. The day of the attacks, I was working as an editorial writer for the Mobile Press-Register, and I drafted an editorial for the paper (others improved it in a collaborative effort) that included these lines (with my emphases now added):
“Together, we will care for the wounded and for the families of the victims. Together, we will donate blood and supplies. Together, we will rebuild the financial and communications infrastructure that was harmed in the attack. And together, we will go about our lives in a condition of freedom that the terrorists can only dream of, in a country where strength grows not from brutal command and control but from the free choices of hundreds of millions of individuals.”
For the American Spectator six years later, I added this: “About the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson explained, quite accurately, that it sprang not from his own genius and that he was not ‘aiming at originality of principle or sentiment,’ but rather that the Declaration ‘was intended to be an expression of the American mind.’ The Register editorial of 9/12/01, and so many other similar editorials and public and private commentaries immediately after the attacks, were likewise expressions of the American mind.”
The question that Savage and Wright now raise is whether those collective “expressions of the American mind” remain expressions of enough individual American minds, plural. They do not necessarily answer in the negative – they still have hope, as do I – but they provide ample warning that we may be nearing a “tipping point” in the wrong direction, the direction in which a majority fails to understand that liberty from governmental abuse is an essential part of our security as individuals.
Worse, some of our national leaders seem to misunderstand, to this day, what 9/11 was all about. These leaders still push forward some sort of moral semi-equivalency, in which they quickly zip through boilerplate language about how America was wronged on that day but then start listing all the ways we need to be more “sensitive” to the concerns of the rest of the world – concerns as expressed by world leaders who were not fairly elected by their own people, who do not allow their people the basic freedoms or human dignity that Americans take for granted, and who have never done a single thing to earn any level of sympathy, empathy, or respect.
This, of course, is a false equivalency. Our nation is better than other nations, because we do guarantee freedom and limit the powers of the government and of individual leaders within that government. If we lose the determination to uphold those limits, we will lose our freedom; and if we lose our freedom, we will lose both our standard of living and our dignity as well.
Thomas Jefferson, oversimplifying just a bit in order to make an extremely valid point, is famous for saying “the government that governs least, governs best.” His statement is accurate up until a point; obviously, there does come a point at which government becomes so weak that anarchy ensues. But in recent years we have traveled so far in the opposite direction from that point that we are more in danger of losing sight of Jefferson’s entire wisdom than we are of even glimpsing the sort of anarchy that can come from too weak a government.
In the spirit that Americans showed in our courageous response to 9/11, we must come together again in defense of liberty, both against the jihadists abroad and against the more subtle creep of unchecked government power here at home.