Idea Of The Day

A Question of Honor

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, the columnist Peggy Noonan presents a list of people she believes should receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their endeavors on and after Sept. 11. The medal is the most prized American honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian—whether they are American or not. Among Noonan’s nominees are Rudolph Giuliani, the passengers and crews on board the hijacked planes, all the emergency workers in New York and Washington, Oprah, Paul McCartney, and all the journalists (at newspapers and television stations) who reported on the tragedy.

Yet is the Presidential Medal of Freedom the right medal? Few would dispute the courage of most of the people Noonan lists (although some might question the choices of Oprah and Paul McCartney). Those who did their all at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon deserve a medal. But would it not be better if the president created a new medal, one specifically related to the bravery of the day and of the days after? A Sept. 11 medal or perhaps a Presidential Medal of Courage—one considered as prestigious as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but nevertheless an honor in its own right. Opponents might argue that a new medal isn’t necessary, and why create two pantheons when one will do? Yet celebrating freedom and recognizing courage are different concepts. Moreover, those who did so much on Sept. 11 have marked themselves out as special; they therefore deserve a special honor that befits their deeds. Rather than ask them to join the ranks of Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees, those who acted so courageously in September have won the right to ask the rest of us to join their ranks, when and if equal courage must be called upon again.