Earning Freedom: A 9/11 Tribute

     Near the end of the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Capt. Miller used his last breath urging the young private to “Earn this.” Brave men had given their lives to rescue Ryan and return him to his family after the deaths of his brothers. When Ryan wouldn’t leave “the only brothers I had left,” Miller and his command stood with them to the end in a fight against overwhelming odds.

     Miller’s last words reminded Ryan forever of those sacrifices, so that he would live a life that would have made those men proud. Throughout America’s history, men and women have made those same sacrifices and died so that the rest of us can live free.

     The date 9/11 is seared into our collective memory. From that morning until now, thousands of Americans and others have died at the hands of terrorists. Many have died in the service of freedom, fighting terror in the hills of Afghanistan or the sands and cities of Iraq.

     What have we done to earn their sacrifices?

     Are the politicians earning it when they politicize this sacred anniversary for their own agendas? No. The unified spirit we enjoyed briefly in the fall of 2001 is but a distant memory.

     Many politicians have failed to recognize the amazing strides our military and law enforcement agencies have made against this worldwide threat. Instead, their political attacks have crippled our intelligence gathering and undermined the Secretary of Defense by calling for his resignation. If another 9/11 were to happen, there’s no question where they would lay the blame – when, in reality, we all take for granted that we haven’t had another such tragedy in the last five years.

     Members of Congress are so focused on their petty squabbles that they ignore the very future of our nation.

     They aren’t alone.

     The media certainly didn’t earn the sacrifices of 9/11 and beyond when they rejected wearing the American flag on their lapels. An ABC News spokesman said in 2001 that “Especially in a time of national crisis, the most patriotic thing journalists can do is to remain as objective as possible.” Have they at least met their own standard?

     Hardly. I have seen journalists playing the race card, fomenting class warfare, and even claiming that Republicans are manipulating gas prices. Far from “objective” accounts, I have seen one-sided attacks on our leaders, our military and even our businessmen. Where are the stories of rebuilding, triumph and heroism in the face of tragedy and hardship?

     Those stories are everywhere. Families carrying on and supporting their neighbors after September 11. Gulf Coast residents rebuilding their communities. Americans are strong, and we can do unbelievable things when we pull together, rely on each other and continue to believe – in ourselves, in America and in a higher power.

     This is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. We are strong and independent, with a “uniquely American sense of personal empowerment and responsibility,” wrote Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes in “America Against the World.” In June, the Pew Research Center released an excerpt from that book, which examined international surveys comparing Americans to other countries’ citizens. In the United States they found a “bipartisan consensus on personal optimism.”

     Ordinary Americans are strong and hard-working. That’s who I’m looking to when I wonder if we are earning the sacrifices of those who’ve gone before us. The single mother who scrimps to pay her rent; the father of eight children who wants to send them all to college. The elderly couple who are starting over again after losing their home to a storm. The small businessman who loses sleep at night wanting to do right by his workers.

     They are America at its core.

     This September 11, I hope we will encourage those who are nearest to us in our families and our communities. I hope we will remember those who have sacrificed for us to have the opportunities we enjoy, and that we will pass on the value of freedom to our children.

     Those who went before us weren’t gods; they were men who rose to the challenge to defeat the worst evil this world has ever known. Now it is our time. It’s not just the obligation of those in the military. It’s our obligation as a people to stand together and to end this threat to the world. The price we’ve paid so far might be just the beginning.

     We are a nation beset by enemies who hate all of us – rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican. We need to show the world that we can earn the name “The United States.”

Herman Cain is the former president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Inc. and currently is CEO and president of T.H.E. New Voice, Inc., a business and leadership consulting company. He is the National Chairman of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.