I was in debt the day I was born.
By pure luck, that happy event occurred in the United States. My parents, who are still married after 49 years, were free to have me. That was 1966 and my freedom was more or less secure. I was free to grow up to be whatever I wanted to be. According to my mother that even included becoming President of this great country. As there always have been, there were external threats to our way of life, but I certainly felt safe in my Mayberry-like hometown. This freedom was bought at a dear price by multiple generations before me and secured by a military comprised of people from all walks of life. I owed them something for our shared heritage.
I was well educated by wonderfully committed teachers – including my mother and grandmother – in public schools where US history and civics were still an important part of the curriculum. The prevailing culture valued hard work and moral behavior. Volunteers throughout the community played a role in my upbringing. There were little league coaches, scout masters, Sunday school teachers, and occasionally law enforcement officers involved in my raising. When I was ten, we celebrated our country’s bicentennial and we were reminded of our patrimony. The recognition of my debt was reinforced.
Compulsory military service in the United States ended in my teens, so after high school the people of the great State of Texas paid for me to go to college and then heavily subsidized my graduate education at a world-class university. From there, I went on to live the American Dream of raising a family, doing a job that I love, starting a business, enjoying financial security, and loving the freedoms of life in United States. It has been a good life that was only possible because of the liberties we enjoy in this exceptional country.
What has been asked of me in return for the gift of my heritage? Not much. Society asks that I obey the few laws we have that seek to restrain our more destructive behaviors and that I pay my share of the operations of our collective efforts through taxation. I do not believe that this is sufficient to discharge the debt I owe to my country for the opportunities I have enjoyed. This is why I am committed to service.
I reject the notion of the “self-made” man in the United States and the idea that if you “didn’t ask for anything from society” then you owe nothing in return. By luck of birth you were granted an enormous advantage. If you knowingly acknowledge that, then you can’t in good conscience ignore the debt you owe your patrimony. We receive tremendous benefits from our collective history. We have a civic obligation to recognize these benefits and to make an extraordinary effort to ensure our future success.
I remain in debt, and on this Fourth of July, I suspect that you do too.