When I read the headline Monday about the new “Your American Heritage” monument planned for Atascadero, my first reaction — I’m sorry to say — was an eye-roll followed by these sequential thoughts:
A big flag and hoo-rah outside the movie theater?
In the same city that already has an ambitious and impressive memorial just up the road?
And when did Atascadero become the official red, white and blue capital of San Luis Obispo County?
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But then I read the rest of the story, and you veterans can set down your torches and pitchforks.
I can get behind this monument.
Yes, this monument — championed by the Vandenberg Chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars — follows the installation of the “Faces of Freedom” memorial at Atascadero Lake Park and gives the city two substantial patriotic landmarks in the matter of a few short years.
And yes, it includes the apparently requisite bas-relief World War II battlefield sculpture.
But it also does something that far too many love-of-country displays do not, which is focus attention on the founding words of men far more brilliant than you or I.
The highlights of this display will be three panels of text: the full preamble to the Declaration of Independence, the full preamble to the U.S. Constitution and a selection of writings from the Founding Fathers.
If there’s one bit of patriotism we’d do well to emphasize more, to pour over the foreheads of our children like a national baptism, it’s this soaring language.
Just last fall, I visited Washington, D.C., for the first time, and by far the most stirring moments came standing at the foot of majestic marble walls engraved with the writing and speech of people like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. — courageous figures who stood tall at the crossroads of history and provided generations to come with a more ideal understanding of the values our nation is built upon.
In a small way, this monument can achieve similar results, reinforcing those lessons we learned as school kids but which we encounter only in passing infrequency as adults.
If you commit to memory no other collection of words in your life, let it not be the hackneyed phrases of The Pledge of Allegiance. Let it be this:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Those words are the foundation for our democracy.
They declare our sense of fairness with a level of commitment and prescience that’s almost impossible to fathom for the culture and norms of their time.
They are what we should honor and remember, more than anything.