Good Government

Free Market Friday: Let us never forget

September 12, 2014

Michael Carnuccio

As a young man, Abraham Lincoln worried that the generation who had fought the American Revolution was passing away. Those veterans were a living history that could be read and understood alike by all, he said in a speech to a civic group in Springfield, Illinois.

Lincoln’s topic was “The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions.” Memories of the sacrifices required to build our country stirred the emotions and reminded citizens that freedom did not come cheap and could be taken away.

Thirteen years ago yesterday, terrorists killed thousands of Americans. They desired to kill many more. The fear and uncertainty produced by the attacks quickly gave way to resilience and resolve. The memory of those moments again remind us that the blessings we enjoy – peace, prosperity, freedom – are far from inevitable.

Yet both my children were born long after Sept. 11. They will have no memory of that day or the days after. Nor are they likely to remember any veterans of World War II. Part of my job as a parent is to make sure they understand the sacrifices made so long ago, on their behalf, to preserve our country and our freedom.

One lesson I hope they will draw from Sept. 11 and from all our nation’s conflicts is the importance of government, of those political institutions, as Lincoln would say. The first responders at Ground Zero and the Pentagon were and are heroes. The American military men and women who have stood up against aggressors and oppressors are heroes.

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison wrote.
Atrocities like Sept. 11 provide stark reminders that men are not angels, and so there is a role for government even in a free society.

This is also why we push back against a mission creep within government. The core functions of government – defending against threats to life and liberty – must not get lost amidst politicians’ claims that government can be everything to everyone. This is particularly true at the federal level, where the Constitution offers a design for a government both powerful and limited to national security and just a few other jobs.

The challenge of peace, as Lincoln warned, is forgetting the lessons of our past and thus compromising the prospects for our future.