- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Whether the greatness of the United States thrives or withers depends much more on its ordinary citizens, you and me, than on officeholders adorned with trappings of official power. National greatness requires a citizenry activated to unity on the essentials of freedom, individual dignity, equality of opportunity, the rule of law, and national security; on nonessentials, greatness requires the celebration or welcome accommodation of diverse views.

Citizen responsibility for the destiny of America was acknowledged by venerated Judge Learned Hand of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Speaking of "The Contribution of an Independent Judiciary to Civilization" when World War II was in full fury, Judge Hand asserted that moderation and a spirit of fair play that infuse the Constitution and its everyday applications cannot be saved by judicial pronouncements running against citizen headwinds: "[T]his much I think I do know, that a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone, no court can save; that a society where that spirit flourishes, no court need save; that in a society which evades its responsibility by thrusting upon the courts the nurture of that spirit, that spirit in the end will perish."

The Civil War Amendments and civil rights laws in the United States succumbed for a century to popular racial and gender bigotries, ostracisms, lynchings and silence. What gave life to the amendments and sister laws were known and unknown soldiers who unequivocally spoke and acted against injustice: Ida Wells, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, the Freedom Riders, the "Sit In" protesters, slain civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner, etc.

Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis convincingly preached in Whitney vs. California (1927), "that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people," a tacit affirmation of Edmund Burke's time-honored observation that, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." In other words, citizens must take strong sides with the firefighter against the fire, and renounce neutrality or indifference.

The essentials of America's greatness that citizens must inculcate and practice can be succinctly enumerated: unwearied opposition to racial, gender or religious prejudice; eager cooperation with law enforcement authorities to thwart or punish crimes, like the September 11 abominations; vocal denunciation (in lieu of silence or tacit condonation) of terrorism or other violence as a legitimate surrogate for peaceful dissent or democratic change; vigilance against government excesses and challenges to perceived wrongs through legal avenues of redress; enthusiasm for defending the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; and a pious reverence for our forefathers who sacrificed so much so we could inherit heaven on Earth.

On these fundamentals of America's unsurpassed civilization, warts and all, diversity is a curse, not a blessing.

These unifying precepts must be lived in the home, in the office, in the factory, in the marketplace, in the school, in public meetings and in the sports arena. A child or a colleague should be instructed that nonmembership in the KKK or nonparticipation in a cross-burning deserves no accolade, but that scolding racial epithets or racially discriminatory conduct is a duty. Similarly, citizens should sermonize in the home and in public life that any ideology or culture teaching or practicing the subordination or inferiority of women to men, as in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan under Taliban, should be despised and opposed.

The rule of law pivots on active citizen participation. Their testimony may be needed (despite the prospect of retaliation) in criminal prosecutions. Their reporting of suspicious activity to the police may prevent terrorism or other crimes. Ditto for their volunteering as FBI informants to infiltrate terrorist organizations. And direct citizen action against the likes of terrorist-linked Richard Reid aiming to destroy an aircraft is pivotal to crime-fighting. Citizen indifference to crime and evil is thus morally unacceptable. The latter was responsible for the long decades of black lynchings in the south with impunity.

The savageries of September 11 would not have been perpetrated unless the savages anticipated sympathy or heroism in some quarters. As a deterrent, no matter how modest, to the same or similar terrorism, every American citizen is dutybound openly to execrate those 19 mass murderers of men, women and children of all races, nationalities, and creeds deserving afterlives of eternal perdition. Silence or hedging should be condemned. The panorama of political freedoms American citizens enjoy to change their government or public policy through peaceful means makes terrorism off-limits period, with no commas, colons or question marks.

The citizen should enlist or celebrate those who serve in our armed forces, eager to give that last full measure of devotion that the living and those yet to be born may flourish in prosperity and moral enlightenment.

Americans should not begrudge these duties of national greatness. They should be embraced with a sense of obligation to our Founding Fathers and their successors on the battlefield or in peaceful and courageous opposition to injustice.

Fellow citizens, there is but one fitting inspiration to discharging our common tasks, "Let's roll."

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