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President Obama’s Second Inaugural

Yesterday, President Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address—and the nation’s 57th. While much has been written on the politics of the speech, there are also some good citizenship themes in it that are worth pointing out.

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The meaning of Thanksgiving

This Thursday, families across the nation will gather together at the table to give thanks for the things we have been given. Thanksgiving Day is a venerable and much beloved holiday. In colonial times, it was primarily a harvest feast in which the colonists offered thanks for a good harvest, sometimes by feasting, sometimes by fasting. The first national day of Thanksgiving was declared by the Continental Congress in November 1777, following the Colonial victories over British General John Burgoyne in the Battles of Saratoga. Twelves years later, President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation under the new Constitution, proclaiming a day to be devoted to “public thanksgiving and prayer.” Thanksgiving did not become an annual tradition, though, until Abraham Lincoln set aside a day of thanks in 1863 to celebrate the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Since then, every American president has followed suit and given a Thanksgiving proclamation.

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Honoring our veterans

This Sunday, November 11, is Veterans Day. We as a nation commemorate the holiday every year on November 11, but how many of us know why we do? What makes Veterans Day different from Memorial Day? What does the holiday mean, and how do we properly observe it? What does it mean to honor the Veterans in our midst?

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Upcoming event: Spending, public debt and constitutional design

In honor of the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, the Program on American Citizenship will celebrate Constitution Day with a lecture by Michael W. McConnell, Richard & Frances Mallery Professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. This event is the first in a lecture series named for distinguished scholar Walter Berns.

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Celebrating the Fourth of July

As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day  tomorrow, check out this great video that AEI videographer Sara Barger made to celebrate last year’s Fourth, in which she headed to the National Mall to find out how Americans are celebrating the holiday and why they are proud to be an American.

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Preparing for Memorial Day

This Monday, May 28, is Memorial Day–the day we honor and remember those who gave their lives in defense of our country. Here are some resources to help us prepare.

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Celebrating Armed Forces Day

“On Armed Forces Day, let us salute the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who perform their duties with impeccable courage, commitment, and character, and recognize our moral obligation to serve them and their families as well as they have served us.”

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Event re-cap: First Among Equals


At an event on Friday sponsored by the AEI Program on American Citizenship in celebration of George Washington’s birthday, leading American political thinkers came together to discuss Washington’s  presidency and the importance to the nation of having a time set apart to remember and appreciate its founders.

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Preparing for Washington’s Birthday

Though we know that this coming Monday is officially the celebration of George Washington’s birthday, it is also unofficially known as Presidents’ Day. We will be celebrating Washington’s presidency tomorrow at the “First Among Equals: George Washington and the American Presidency” event at AEI, so today we’ll honor the achievements of American presidents, past and present, with some book recommendations.

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Reminder: Come celebrate George Washington’s birthday with us

Calling all our friends in the Washington, D.C. area: this Friday, we will be celebrating George Washington’s birthday with a panel discussion at AEI. The event, which is open to the public, is titled “First Among Equals: George Washington and the American Presidency,” and will feature an introduction by Amy A. Kass (Hudson Institute), a reading from George Washington’s Farewell Address by Leon R. Kass (AEI), and remarks by Diana Schaub (Loyola University Maryland), Richard Brookhiser (National Review), Harvey Mansfield (Harvard University), and Steven F. Hayward (AEI).

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Upcoming Event: First Among Equals

The third Monday in February has come to be known–wrongly–as Presidents’ Day, an annual excuse for a three-day weekend and big-ticket sales. In one of a series of events and conversations about the meaning of the American calendar, Amy A. Kass (Hudson Institute) and Leon R. Kass (AEI) seek to restore America’s fading national memory with a celebration of the holiday by its original and proper name: Washington’s Birthday.

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The meaning of Veterans Day

Leon Kass, AEI scholar and editor of What So Proudly We Hail, discusses the history and significance of Veterans Day in today’s online Weekly Standard. Changing attitudes toward veterans and military service have affected the way we mark the holiday throughout the years, but Americans today face a particular challenge observing the holiday. Kass writes:

Much more worrisome than the division about the current wars—and much more damaging to the proper celebration of this or any future Veterans Day—is the demographic and socio-cultural division between the less than 1 percent that does the fighting and the 99 percent that enjoy the benefits of peace and prosperity safeguarded by those who protect and serve. Not only do the 99 percent not serve; many among them, particularly among the privileged elite, do not personally know anyone who  does. (The absence of ROTC on many elite college campuses contributes much to this divide.) And while veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan receive more respect and consideration from post-9/11 America than did veterans who returned from Vietnam to an ungrateful country, it remains to be seen whether we can properly honor their service.

How can we better honor our veterans? Kass suggests that we turn to Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly’s remarkable Veterans Day speech to the Semper Fi Society to understand how veterans themselves “see their appointed service: they are standing guard, and pursuing our enemies, and braving danger to fulfill their sworn duty to protect us and our American way of life….No amount of compassionate aftercare can undo the dishonor we do to our veterans when we look upon the wounded and the fallen among them as ‘victims.’”

Here at the Program on American Citizenship, we thank our brave men and women in uniform, past and present, for their sacrifices for our country and our way of life. A happy Veterans Day to all those who have served.

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Hiring Our Heroes (Pt. II)

In preparation for Veterans Day, President Obama announced earlier this week the creation of three new initiatives to help post-9/11 unemployed veterans find jobs. As we’ve discussed before, there are almost 1 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan that remain unemployed. The President remarked,

Over the past decade, nearly 3 million servicemembers have transitioned back to civilian life, joining the millions who have served through the decades. And as we end the war in Iraq and we wind down the war in Afghanistan, over a million more will join them over the next five years. Just think about the skills these veterans have acquired, often at a very young age. Think about the leadership that they’ve learned, the cutting-edge technologies that they’ve mastered, their ability to adapt to changing and unpredictable circumstances you just can’t get from a classroom. Think about how many have led others to life-and-death missions by the time they’re 25 or 26 years old.

This is exactly the kind of leadership and responsibility that every American business should be competing to attract. This is the kind of talent we need to compete for the jobs and industries of the future. These are the kinds of Americans that every company should want to hire.

The three new initiatives include:

1) A “Veterans Gold Card,” which will give post-9/11 veterans up to six months of personalized job search services at career centers across America;

2) An online database called “My Next Move for Veterans” to match veterans’ military experience and skills with civilian careers; and;

3) An online Veterans Job Bank to connect veterans with potential employers.

More information about the new initiatives can be found at the White House’s “Joining Forces” site. As we honor our nation’s veterans this week, consider sharing this information with a veteran you know.

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Event Re-Cap: Walter Berns and the Constitution

For its first annual Constitution Day event, the AEI Program on American Citizenship welcomed a full audience today to celebrate the work of Walter Berns on the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave opening remarks, focusing on the need to “understand the Constitution as law rather than aspiration.” Justice Scalia ended his remarks by quoting Berns: the goal is not, he said, “to keep the Constitution in tune with the times but, rather, to keep the times, to the extent possible, in tune with the Constitution.” Jeremy A. Rabkin (George Mason University School of Law) commented on Berns’s 1957 book Freedom, Virtue, and the First Amendment, which discusses the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and concludes that freedom by itself is not sufficient. Leon R. Kass (AEI) focused on similar themes, particularly noting Berns’s work on patriotism. Quoting Berns, Kass argued that patriots “are not formed” but instead “must be educated” and that this “education of the heart is more the work of poets than of philosophers and statesmen, and this is especially true for the making of patriots.” Christopher DeMuth (AEI) discussed Berns’s writings on the central importance of the nation-state in creating attached citizens and concluded that “there is no better way to celebrate Constitution Day than to read Walter Berns.” At the conclusion of the event, Berns himself said a few words, expressing his deep appreciation for the Constitution and the remarkable men who created it, concluding that America is truly an “extraordinary place.”

More information–including more video–can be found at the event website: Walter Berns and the Constitution: A Celebration of the Constitution, with Opening Remarks by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

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Teaching 9/11

As the 10-year anniversary of the 2001 September 11 attacks nears, and as we begin to remember and commemorate that day, it becomes important to reflect on how we as a nation will pass down to future generations such remembrances. Seniors in high school this year were 7 or 8 years old at the time of the attacks. Though they have since grown up in a world radically transformed by that day, even these seniors were too young to remember the particular events well—and many of those in younger grades have no memory of the attacks at all. They must be taught. Just like December 7 still retains significance and poignancy for Americans born after 1941, September 11 will be remembered by more than those who were alive in 2001. Memorial traditions, to be traditions, must be handed down.

This is precisely why new research by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) on how 9/11 is taught in schools is so interesting, and important. Their report finds that the first textbooks and curricula that appeared following 9/11 were all very much alike in their presentations of the events: they “presented America as the victim of a uniquely devastating attack and presented rich personal stories of the victims and iconic images of rubble, firefighters, and the American flag.”

With time, though, that view has changed. Textbooks now include briefer, more dispassionate assessments of the events, and many non-textbook curricula invite students to consider deeper level questions relating to the relationship between liberty and safety, how we define  ‘terrorism,’ and what role 9/11 has had in shaping our world since then.

The report and the accompanying fact sheet are interesting in themselves, but are important because of the larger questions they raise: How do we teach and pass on the importance of events like 9/11 to tomorrow’s students and citizens?

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Upcoming Event: Walter Berns and the Constitution–A Celebration of the Constitution, with Opening Remarks by Justice Antonin Scalia

Date: Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Time: 12:30 PM — 2:00 PM
Location: Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20036

For more than fifty years, Walter Berns has analyzed the American constitutional order with insight and profundity. It is only fitting that as we mark this year’s Constitution Day—September 17, the day thirty-nine members of the Constitutional Convention signed the draft constitution—we examine his work on the meaning of the Constitution and the American regime it supports. At this event, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will give opening remarks in celebration of the Constitution, and Leon R. Kass (Madden-Jewett Chair, AEI), Jeremy A. Rabkin (Professor, George Mason University School of Law), and Christopher Demuth (D.C. Searle Senior Fellow, AEI) will discuss Walter Berns’s lasting contribution to constitutional studies.

Register at AEI.

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Wisdom from Silent Cal for the 4th of July

From the Wall Street Journal: Leon Kass, the Madden-Jewett Chair at AEI and co-editor of What So Proudly We Hail, discusses the insights provided by Calvin Coolidge’s remarkable Address on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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New video: Americans celebrate the Fourth

AEI videographer extraordinaire Sara Barger went to the National Mall to find out how Americans are celebrating the Fourth of July and why they are proud to be an American. Watch the whole thing:

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Happy Flag Day!

What’s the point of Flag Day? In National Review, Amy and Leon Kass consider the meaning of the preeminent symbol of our nation and how its unusual design befits the unusual nation it flies over. “Paradoxically, it is precisely the universality of American principles and ideals — and the heterogeneity of the American people — that makes respect for the flag so necessary and desirable,” the Kasses write. “The universal philosophical principles can command the assent of the mind. But they cannot by themselves attach the loyalties of the heart. For that we need symbols and songs, stories and speeches.”

Find out what citizenship means to young Americans and tell us what citizenship means to you.

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Why Memorial Day matters

Yesterday, the Program on American Citizenship and the Hudson Institute hosted a book forum on the meaning and importance of Memorial Day featuring Senator John McCain and the coeditors of What So Proudly We Hail. You can read more about the event at the Enterprise blog or watch it here to learn why Memorial Day still matters.

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