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 Home > Mrs. Cheney

October 23, 2001
Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Lynne V. Cheney
International Republican Institute

Thank you very much. It's wonderful to be here, and to see so many friends and colleagues from over the years. Grateful as I am for this award, I must tell you that the honor is enhanced by the person who presented it. Thank you, Senator McCain.

Let me also thank everyone here for the vital support you give to the International Republican Institute. There's something very special about idealistic men and women willing to travel and live and teach in far-off places, all for the purpose of helping others develop the institutions of freedom. And an organization that makes this work possible deserves the support of all of us.

We should all be grateful to I.R.I. for placing such great emphasis on education as a tool for advancing the cause of democracy worldwide. We know from our own experience that education strengthens democracy, because it builds the knowledge, character, and discernment that are necessary to self-rule. This is a lesson that the founders of our country emphasized repeatedly. Here is Thomas Jefferson, "No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind that I do, and none has greater confidence in its effects towards supporting free and good government." Here is George Washington, "Promote then as an object of primary importance, Institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened."

Democracy and education both depend on openness, and free expression, and independent thought. Neither is consistent with the regimentation of everyday life or the control of the human mind. That is why violent ideologies will always be set against them.

The attacks of September 11 have caused all of us to reflect a little more on these ideas. That is one of the few blessings that have come out of our sadness. And my greatest hope is that our society will grow stronger in our commitment to teaching our children and grandchildren how special America really is. They need to know the ideas and ideals on which our nation was built. All of us do: We need to understand how fortunate we are. We need to understand that our freedom is so precious that generations of men and women have been willing to sacrifice everything for it. We need to know, in a war, exactly what is at stake.

Our children should understand how hard it was to establish this country - the experience of the Pilgrims in crossing a "vast and furious ocean," and the hardships that beset them from the moment they reached shore. And the experience of the men who, a century and a half later, signed the Declaration of Independence -- knowing, as Benjamin Rush observed, that they might be signing their own death warrants.

Many of our youngsters don't know the name of Nathan Hale, and they should know the story -- the whole story -- of this captain in George Washington's Continental Army … of his bravery, and the loneliness of his last hours on earth. Before being hanged he asked to see a clergyman, but was refused. His letter saying goodbye to his mother was not delivered but destroyed. By the surviving account, death found Captain Hale "Unknown to all around him, without a single friend to offer him the least consolation … with this as his dying observation: that he only lamented that he had but one life to lose for his country." Nathan Hale was 21 years old.

So many were willing to risk so much because they treasured freedom. The pilgrims wanted to worship God in their own way. The founders, as Jefferson so eloquently put it, wanted to secure "certain unalienable rights," among them "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The Founders had the amazing idea that this could be accomplished through representative government. The people would be sovereign, and they would lead the lives of free men and women. This was a vision worth fighting for, dying for, and living for. It still is. Our children should know all this, and we must teach it. And let us teach them about the role America has played in the world throughout these 225 years … about how we have inspired others to seek freedom and gone up against tyrants … about the price Americans have paid for liberty, not just for ourselves, but for millions around the world whose hopes depended on us alone. We have benefited mightily from our way of life, but so has the world.

Our children should know these things as we set out to defend America, "assured of the rightness of our cause," in our President's words, "and confident of victories to come."

Thank you very much.