The fact of the matter is, folks, we are more prosperous than we have ever been. We are more well off than we have ever been at all levels our society. We are fat, and we have the option of being fat, dumb and happy if we want to be — and in the process of creating all this prosperity we have allowed some people to tune out. They can just go about their lives and pursue whatever it is they want without fear, without concern, without any caution, and all they need to do is be focused on their own desires and pursuits.
This did not exist in World War II. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not speaking as a fuddy-duddy; I’m just trying to give a historical perspective. I’m not saying we turn back the hands of time and become like we were in World War II, because you can’t do that. You can’t relive the past, is my point. But back then, just to remind you, 16 million people wore the uniform. Deaths in training accidents exceeded the death toll in Iraq today. Well, there was a draft. It wasn’t just volunteer back then, although the volunteer spirit was what led to 16 million people wearing the uniform of the U.S. military back in World War II.
But the fact of the matter is, it’s not our partisanship that’s the problem here. That’s actually, to me, healthy and good. I mean the arena of ideas, this is what defined the country. It’s how we came into existence. But this business of we’ve become so prosperous that so many people have so much time on their hands that that time includes enough time to forget, or not learn, where this country came from, why it exists the way it is.
People who grow older who do not know, don’t understand why America is special, why it’s different, what it is that makes it great, are not going to be able to — if they don’t know it at some point in their lives — they aren’t going to be able to defend it. They aren’t going to be able to defend it. They’re not going to care. They don’t think it’s going to matter. They’re going to look at the country, “Well, you know, it’s evolving and it’s changing.”
This service today focused everybody who watched it on who we are as Americans and what kind of country we are, and why. It was no accident that Ronald Reagan chose a reading from John Winthrop from the 1600’s. It was no accident, and it was no accident that it was cited twice. Sandra Day O’Connor cited it in her reading, and Reverend Danforth in his sermon. It is no accident. This service today went back and traced the origins of this country and why and how. The odds of people in this audience — how many of you people have ever heard the name John Winthrop before today? I don’t know. My fear is that more haven’t than have. That’s why this is good. This is why this was good. This was a history lesson today, and that’s why this has a chance to become a calling for people.
This can awaken people to what it means to be an American. It’s more than just whatever they think their daily challenges are and whatever they happen to be — and I don’t want to diminish anybody by mocking daily challenges. I could easily do it but I won’t today, but let’s face it: some people’s objectives in life don’t take them very high up the ladder, and we are so prosperous that you don’t have to climb very high on the ladder to find economic prosperity, security, and that definition of happiness today. You don’t need to go very high on the ladder, not like you used to years and years and years and years ago. You could be 21 and not have a job, and you could be as happy as you ever wanted to be if you have the right family, and you don’t need to know anything more than what you’re going to get up and do that day — and if it happens for you, then you are ecstatic, and if it doesn’t you’re depressed and you go out and you try to find the next day.
This country is so big, it is so magnificent and so wonderful, that despite that there are people whose attention span is no more than the next 24 hours and whose historical perspective goes back only to the day they were born, despite that there are millions more Americans who carry the load for those who don’t, can’t, won’t, don’t understand it, or what have you and today was a calling to those who maybe are in the wagon, that maybe they could do something to start pulling it, and it was also an affirmation for those pulling the wagon to keep pulling it. It’s worth it. It was just brilliant today. I just don’t know how else to describe it other than to say providential, almost divine.
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