Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pete Hegseth - How do the Humanities define us as Americans?

Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and a Fox News Contributor. Pete is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. He resides in Stillwater, MN with his wife and two children.

I believe the humanities are the vehicle through which we should define—and advance—our American experiment.

Are we Americans because we wear red white and blue, because we go to see parades and fireworks on July 4th, or because we sing the national anthem?


We are Americans because of the values and beliefs that powerfully underwrite those significant symbols. We strive every day to live out the freedoms that our founders enshrined, and generations of Veterans have served to preserve. And when someone threatens those freedoms (like on 9/11), we must stick together—but can only do so when we remember that our freedoms are not inevitable, and must be defended ideologically, societally, and physically. In underscoring this point, I’m going to steal a phrase that Gold-Star Mother, and close friend of mine, Karen Vaughn, uses quite often:  “Our national anthem is the only national anthem that ends with a question mark.”

Reflecting on that little-known fact, our national anthem becomes more than just a song we sing before sporting events, instead it represents a call to action. A call to appreciate the rights we’ve been given, but also a call to ensure that those rights are handed down to the next generation. It’s an acknowledgment that the United States of America is the single greatest experiment in human freedom and prosperity that the world has ever seen – and we all play a crucial part in its success story.

How Americans contribute to that story varies. Some write stories of hope, some help those in need, some sing patriotic songs, some launch entrepreneurial endeavors, some devote their lives to teaching, coaching, or mentorship, and some volunteer to join the armed services. But all must contribute, in their own way, to advance the cause—and story—of America.

Fighting alongside, and now working hand-in-hand with Veterans for the better part of my adult life, I know that few have a better sense of America’s exceptional nature and spirit than America’s Veterans. I also believe that love, properly taught and understood, also burns within every American. Not everyone will actively live it out, but nonetheless, it’s there.

So to answer the original question, simply put, the humanities define us as Americans by giving us outlets -- through writing, music, social interaction, religion, or civil-service -- from which we can build, maintain, and pass down, a state and society that must remain an exceptional beacon of human freedom in what remains a dangerous world.


  1. Being alerted to the question mark at the end comes as a kind of revelation--thank you! But it puts me in mind of the song by Minnesotan (and Saint John's University alumnus) John McCutcheon, based on an essay by novelist Barbara Kingsolver, that I heard McCutcheon perform at the 35th anniversary "A Prairie Home Companion" show that Garrison Keillor staged in Avon, Minnesota, on July 4, 2009. The song is called "Our Flag Was Still There." The text can be accessed at

    And here is the part--"We begin with one question"--that resonates most with this blog post:

    It's still there
    Though we might disagree
    If you are brave
    In the land of the free
    We have weathered so much
    We have traveled so far
    We are woven together
    We are spangled with stars

    So as we take off our caps
    And as we all rise
    Put our hands to our hearts
    As we lift up our eyes
    We begin with one question
    We ask, "Oh, say, can you see?"
    Stand and be strong, believe and belong
    Be brave and be free.

  2. Peter and Patrcik. Much appreciate your comments. You both keep alive the fact that we cannot take our democracy for granted. It asks us the question--of paying attenmtion, of acting to keep it and make it betteer. It is flawed and amazing all at once. Thank you both for for helping us see how the humanities are part of the work of democracy.