On The Importance of Memory

Shamelessly pinched from here.
Ken Masugi has a nice piece for Memorial Day.
When we have memories we feel gratitude, realize our obligations, and recognize how to exercise our rights. We remember how to be a free people.
This is an echo of Lincoln's Young Men's Lyceum speech, in which Lincoln makes the point that at the close of the Revolutionary War, every home had either an amputee or an empty chair at the dinner table to remind it of how dearly bought our freedoms are. It would become more and more difficult to maintain allegiance to the regime of freedom without conscious effort as those memories faded.

They were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.--Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON.
Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
This, incidentally, seems to be what Benedict XVI was driving at when he repeatedly encouraged academics, politicians and men who shape culture to remember.
We need to be reminded of these origins, not least for the sake of historical truth, and it is important that we understand these roots properly, so that they can feed the present day too. It is crucial to grasp the inner dynamic of an event such as the birth of a university, of an artistic movement, or of a hospital. It is necessary to understand the why and the how of what took place, in order to recognize the value of this dynamic in the present day, as a spiritual reality that takes on a cultural and therefore a social dimension. At the heart of all these institutions are men and women, persons, consciences, moved by the power of truth and good.
In other words, you may have a building called a hospital, but when it starts being a place where the elderly and infirm go to be refused treatment or euthanized outright, that's no longer a hospital; or just because you call it a university doesn't mean your mind is being opened -- possibly the contrary.

There may always be a nation known as the USA, but its reason for being -- liberty and human flourishing--  not just may be but, as Lincoln saw, absolutely will be lost without the conscious effort to remember what it was intended to be, how it came into being, and what it costs in terms of moral and intellectual commitment and courage and sacrifice to maintain it.