In the aftermath of both the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi terrorist attack and Hurricane Sandy, and on this presidential election eve, the following prayer by the Secretary of Defense at a cabinet meeting after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, seems as relevant today as then:
"Ever-faithful God, in death we are reminded of the precious birthrights of life and liberty You endowed in Your American people. You have shown once again that these gifts must never be taken for granted.
"We pledge to those whom You have called home, and ask of You — patience, to measure our lust for action; resolve, to strengthen our obligation to lead; wisdom, to illuminate our pursuit of justice, and; strength, in defense of liberty.
"We seek Your special blessing today for those who stand as sword and shield, protecting the many from the tyranny of the few. Our enduring prayer is that You shall always guide our labors and that our battles shall always be just.
"We pray this day, Heavenly Father, the prayer our nation learned at another time of righteous struggle and noble cause — America’s enduring prayer: Not that God will be on our side, but always, O Lord, that America will be on Your side.
This timely prayer
— still posted on the DoD website — hearkens to American “first things”: to name a few, “the precious birthrights of life and liberty” that our Creator has “endowed in [His] American people”; “our pursuit of justice”; and our “defense of liberty.”
First things are core values that define who we are. Second things, such as survival and money, are also very important.
President Obama’s oft-repeated “first priority” in the latter days of the ongoing presidential campaign, typically in response to questions about the September 11, 2012, attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has been, "My number one priority is always to keep our diplomats safe, and to keep our embassies safe."
As important as this “keep our diplomats safe” priority is, it is a classic “second thing.”
No American office-holder ever takes an oath of office to “to keep our diplomats safe, and to keep our embassies safe.”
According to the Principle of First and Second Things, if you only focus on second things, as important as they are, in the end you will fail to achieve those second things — and, in the process, you lose your first things.
In the words of C.S. Lewis, “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.” (C.S. Lewis, “Time and Tide,” reprinted in "God in the Dock" 1942).
A more recent first things expert explained the principle even more bluntly, using the most basic of all second things to make the point: “The society that believes in nothing worth surviving for — beyond mere survival — will not survive.” (Peter Kreeft, "A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews With An Absolutist" 1999).
Plato said essentially the same thing in 360 B.C.: “there are two different kinds of good things, the merely human and the divine; the former are consequential on the latter. Hence a city which accepts the greater goods acquires the lesser along with them, but one which refuses them misses both . . .” (Plato, "The Laws").
In 1788, Alexander Hamilton concluded Federalist #70 with this still timely contrast: “In England, the king is a perpetual magistrate; and it is a maxim which has obtained for the sake of the public peace, that he is unaccountable for his administration, and his person sacred . . .”
On this presidential election eve, we can be, and we ought to be, grateful that we do not have an ostensibly “sacred” and unaccountable king; but rather that we still have the ability to elect our President, who in turn is bound by oath to “support and defend the Constitution.”
“Not that God will be on our side, but always, O Lord, that America will be on Your side.”
Joseph E. Schmitz served as inspector general of the Dept. of Defense from 2002-2005 and is CEO of Joseph E. Schmitz, PLLC. Read more reports from Joseph E. Schmitz — Click Here Now.
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