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The idea that is America
Dr. John Nagl

It is an extraordinary privilege to speak in the shadow of Independence Hall. It was here that George Washington was appointed Commander in Chief of the Continental Army to protect this fledgling nation against oppression. It was here that the members of the Second Continental Congress pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor that they would not rest until the thirteen colonies were free and independent states, absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown. And eleven years later, having defeated the greatest power since the Roman Empire, it was here that the greatest document in human history was ordained and established. We stand today at the birthplace of the Constitution of the United States of America.

I have had the privilege to swear an oath to uphold and defend that Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, so help me God.

I have been called upon to fulfill the terms of that oath in conflicts far from our shores, when America led an international coalition in Operation Desert Storm to restore freedom to Kuwait after Saddam Hussein had cruelly occupied that country. I was called upon to fulfill the oath again a decade later when America led another coalition to remove Saddam Hussein from power and to establish democracy in Iraq. Many of my friends perished in those efforts, and I would like to take a moment today to remember them and to explain why they fought and died.

My friends who were lost were privileged to swear that same oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. They swore that oath and fought to uphold it because they believed in the idea that is America. They believed with every fiber of their being that all men are created equal—black, brown, red, white, whatever.

My friends who were lost were privileged to swear that same oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. They swore that oath and fought to uphold it because they believed in the idea that is America. They believed with every fiber of their being that all men are created equal—black, brown, red, white, whatever.

They believed that all men are endowed by their Creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—whether they refer to that Creator as God, or Allah, or Yahweh, or a hundred other names, or by no name at all.

They sacrificed their lives, their liberty, and their happiness in defense of the idea, written here, that all men are created equal. And when any American disparages another American because of their race or their religion, he desecrates their sacrifice and that of generations of Americans who, like my friends, gave their lives in the defense of the words written here, in the defense of the idea that is America.

Today, our country is in peril. There are forces abroad that are threatened by our freedoms. They are threatened by the idea at the foundation of our democracy that all peoples of all religious beliefs deserve the same rights. Those forces abroad can and will be defeated, but they will only be defeated if we here at home remember who we are and what we believe in.

They will only be defeated if we live up to the ideas written down in the building behind me but not always followed in our political discourse today, which too often sets American against American, which uses race and color and creed to divide us rather than to bring us together against our common enemies.

I have fought next to Muslim Americans and African Americans and Jewish Americans and Mexican Americans and Catholic Americans and Sikh Americans. We fought under the same flag and many of them—too many of them—bled the same American blood, for the idea of America.

For them, and in their memory, I beg you to help ensure, on this day celebrating freedom, that government of all the American people, by all the American people, for all of the American people, shall not perish from the earth.

Thank you very much.

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