Radical indoctrination enraged many activists to tear down statues and other monuments to American icons during the past year. In addition to defacing or taking down tributes to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, radicals even tried to take down tributes to Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
In contrast, I am at Mount Rushmore this week. The faces chiseled into the side of the mountains in South Dakota show how much these legends were revered and how important their tenure was in the history of our beloved country.
During our return visit to this amazing national memorial, I was reminded by the National Park Service why Gutzon Borglum picked these four American presidents. As the general who won the Revolutionary War and the first President, George Washington was an obvious pick. He represents the birth of the United States and is given the most prominent spot on the mountain.
Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. As president, he purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, doubling the size of our country. Borglum chose Jefferson to represent the growth of the United States.
Teddy Roosevelt was key to the construction of the Panama Canal. He worked to end large corporate monopolies. And he pushed for many reforms in workplace protections that exist today. Borglum chose Roosevelt to represent the development of the United States.
Abraham Lincoln was resolved to abolish slavery and then held the country together through the Civil War. Borglum chose Lincoln to represent the preservation of the United States.
Memorials, like the American flag and even religious symbols like the Cross, should be treated with great reverence for what they represent. It is precisely why taking a knee during the National Anthem is offensive to so many veterans. For them, as well as many of the rest of us, the flag represents the very freedoms they fought — and some died — for on the battlefield.
It is my firm belief that ignorance brought about much of the destruction during the past year. Many were ignorant of the stories behind the statues and memorials found across America. Others were willfully ignorant. One is bad, the other is worse.
A glaring example of this ignorance was seen last year when rioters attacked the monument honoring the members of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Ironically, they were the second black regiment in the Civil War. Their commanding officer, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, was the son of prominent abolitionists in Boston.
The governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew, said about the unit, “I know not where, in all of human history, to any given thousand men in arms there has been committed a work at once so proud, so precious, so full of hope and glory.” Interestingly, the story of this unit was depicted in the 1989 film “Glory.” Sadly, there was no glory in the damage done to this monument, created for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
On Monday, we will commemorate Memorial Day. Many of us will visit graves and lay wreaths, plant flags, and say prayers. Going forward, one of the best ways to honor the sacred dead is to ensure that we teach our children about true American history. And that we teach them about freedom.
This is why I am at Mount Rushmore. We are here with supporters of our work at Young America’s Foundation to educate the next generation on the importance of freedom.
Our 40th president could have easily been picked as a face on the mountain for his work to defend freedom and end the Cold War. Ronald Reagan warned us of what we face today during his farewell address in 1989. Near the end of his comments he said:
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.”
He went on to say, “So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important — why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, ‘we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.’
“Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.”
Let us not forget this Memorial Day that we are blessed to live in the land of the free because of the brave. May their sacrifice not be in vain. God bless them all and God bless America.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him @ScottWalker.