Monday, May 25, 2009

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You

Yesterday I posted a famous JFK quote in honor of Memorial Day, and it hit a nerve.

We go about our daily lives, enjoying the many freedoms that we have, taking advantage of those freedoms, without giving a second thought to why we are lucky enough to live in a country such as this. Except for the occasional yellow ribbon, we forget that our armed forces are still fighting a war that began over 6 years ago.

We, as a generation, have come to expect that our government is here to take care of us, to provide for us, to feed us, house us, to make sure we have medical care. All this, and yet we expect to not have to pay taxes, we expect to not have to work to provide for our families, we expect bail-outs when we make bad decisions.

We take a lot from a nation to which we give very little.

We forget that freedom is not free.

I can't tell you how many times I've been at public functions where men and women in uniform, young and old, walk past the crowd... and no one stands to honor them. The American flag, the symbol of our country, is carried in a parade... and people can't be bothered to put their hands over their hearts to salute it.

Many have gone before us and willingly paid the ultimate price - life - so that we might be able to live in a country where women are allowed to vote, a black woman can sit at the front of the bus, one can choose his or her own religion, and where you are innocent until proven guilty.

Where, as a nation, is our patriotism?

What can we do for our country and for the freedom of man?

I leave you with the famous words spoken on January 20, 1961:

"Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower,
Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we
observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing
an end, as well as a beginning—signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have
sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed
nearly a century and three quarters ago.

The world is very different now.
For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human
poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for
which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that
the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand
of God.
We dare not forget today that we are
the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and
place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new
generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a
hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or
permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always
been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the
world.
Let every nation know, whether it
wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any
hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival
and the success of liberty.
This much we
pledge—and more.
To those old allies whose
cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful
friends. United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures.
Divided, there is little we can do—for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at
odds and split asunder.
To those new States
whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of
colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more
iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But
we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom—and to
remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back
of the tiger ended up inside.
To those peoples
in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass
misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever
period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we
seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the
many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
To our sister republics south of our border, we
offer a special pledge—to convert our good words into good deeds—in a new
alliance for progress—to assist free men and free governments in casting off the
chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey
of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to
oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other
power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own
house.
To that world assembly of sovereign
states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments
of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of
support—to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective—to strengthen
its shield of the new and the weak—and to enlarge the area in which its writ may
run.
Finally, to those nations who would
make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both
sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction
unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental
self-destruction.
We dare not tempt them
with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be
certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.
But neither can two great and powerful groups of
nations take comfort from our present course—both sides overburdened by the cost
of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom,
yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of
mankind's final war.
So let us begin
anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and
sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But
let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both
sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which
divide us.
Let both sides, for the first
time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of
arms—and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute
control of all nations.
Let both sides seek
to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore
the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and
encourage the arts and commerce.
Let both
sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah—to "undo
the heavy burdens ... and to let the oppressed go free."
And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back
the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a
new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the
weak secure and the peace preserved.
All
this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the
first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in
our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in
mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country
was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to
its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to
service surround the globe.
Now the trumpet
summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call
to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long
twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in
tribulation"—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty,
disease, and war itself.
Can we forge
against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and
West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in
that historic effort?
In the long history of
the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending
freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this
responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange
places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the
devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who
serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your
country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what
America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of
man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of
America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength
and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward,
with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we
love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's
work must truly be our own. "