Sometimes I wonder: Why are we, as a people, so patriotic? And more importantly, how will we work to preserve the miracle of freedom that you and I enjoy today?
Fewer than five percent of all people who have ever lived on the earth have lived under conditions that we would consider “free.” For those of us living in the United States, a nation that has experienced more than two hundred years of unparalleled liberty, it is easy to take for granted the extraordinary gifts we have been given. And for most of us, it is much easier to become lackadaisical about these gifts than it is for the inhabitants of other nations who are forced to struggle every day in their battle for liberty. In fact, unless we are serious students of world history or have traveled extensively, we might not recognize how unique the blessings of liberty actually are.
Throughout the age of human experience, most people have never been afforded the simple right of the freedom to choose. The great exception to this truth is the modern age, by which we mean the years since the United State of America has been in existence. But even in this modern age, with the exception of the United States, freedom and democracy are not universal and have not been of a long duration. These gifts are limited to those countries that we refer to as the West, meaning Europe and North America, and those few nations scattered around the world that have emulated the Western form of political philosophy and government.
Those who share this blessing enjoy something that is truly unique. Most of us recognize that. Which is why we are so proud of this nation.
Sometimes I wonder why we, as a people, are so patriotic. It’s unusual, you know. Not everyone feels the way we do. For example, a recent world-wide survey revealed that only about 33 percent of Europeans feel proud of their nations. On average, only 30 percent of the people in Pacific Rim countries feel proud of their homelands. And yet the same survey shows that 72 percent of Americans are proud of this nation. For whatever reason, we are a patriotic people. We recognize this nation is something unique—that it represents something different, something exceptional—from any other nation in the world. I don't believe it is an accident that this nation elicits such powerful emotions from so many of us who have the good fortune of living here.
Could it be that the feelings of pride and appreciation we feel for our nation are linked to a belief in an "Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations," as George Washington spoke about in his first inaugural address?
On the evening of June 6, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the people of the United States, announcing the allied invasion of mainland Europe. Knowing how absolutely critical this moment in history really was, Roosevelt composed an accompanying prayer that was published in newspapers all over the country, along with his appeal that it be recited by his fellow citizens as he read it over the air:
“Almighty God: our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity…”
Our civilization. Our religion. Our sons, pride of our nation.
These things feel right to us; these feelings of pride for our nation, the fight that we feel within us to preserve our people, our religion and our peace. They are not self-righteous, prideful or xenophobic. These feelings are the way good people, including such great men as FDR, have felt about our nation for many years.
The masterful poem written by Edward Housman about those killed in the critical battle at Gettysburg remains a beautiful and yet haunting reminder of our fight for freedom:
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
The journey to freedom has been thousands of years long. Now that it has found its place in the world, the question for you and me, who experience its benefits, is simply this: how will we work to preserve the miracle of freedom that you and I enjoy today?
Chris Stewart recently co-authored the New York Times bestselling book The Miracles of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World. He is a world-record-setting Air Force pilot (fastest nonstop flight around the world) and president and CEO of The Shipley Group.