may 27, 2007
Rededicating Ourselves to Freedom
It is once again time to reflect on the sacrifice of the brave men and women who have fought to keep our country free since its' founding. Thomas Jefferson, who penned and signed the stirring Declaration of Independence, commented on the cost of maintaining freedom, declaring; "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
We live in a difficult and confusing time. We are at war, and we salute the brave men and women who have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. We comfort their families who have paid the supreme price for their country. We stand behind the brave wounded as they recover and rehabilitate. We owe a great debt to all who are serving in our armed forces around the globe.
But we struggle with this war, because it is unlike any we have fought before. It is not a nation that opposes us, with a flag, uniforms, and military insignia. Instead, we face terrorists who subscribe to a tyrannical, maniacal philosophy, intent on world domination.
They hate America and all free nations, because freedom is a foreign concept to them. They are slaves to their philosophical masters, and they do not grasp that freedom is even a possibility for mankind.
But Americans and free people around the world stand on the ground that a just and loving God in heaven has given His creation the gift of liberty. America was founded on the notion that the true state of mankind under God is, in fact, liberty. As Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
In the darkest days of the American Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine wrote these immortal words that solidified the cause of freedom in the hearts of the patriots.
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
Every war brings with it difficult moral dilemmas. It is fitting and proper that we should question the rightness of our cause when taking our nation to war. This is not the first time that Americans have questioned the wisdom of going to war to preserve liberty.
President Woodrow Wilson's re-election campaign slogan was, "He kept us out of the war." Longing for peace, he worked to avoid open conflict with Germany while maintaining a firm commitment to democracy. But Wilson never promised to stay out of war regardless of provocation. In his acceptance speech, after narrowly winning the election, Wilson warned Germany that any submarine warfare that took American lives would not be tolerated:
The nation that violates these essential rights must expect to be checked and called to account by direct challenge and resistance. It at once makes the quarrel in part our own…
When Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 and attempted to enlist Mexico as an ally, Wilson led America into World War I, declaring that it would be a war to make "the world safe for democracy."
Americans again bore the burden of defending liberty while defeating fascism and totalitarianism when we fought the Nazi's, the Italian Fascists, and the Japanese in World War II.
Winston Churchill was the heart and soul of Great Britain in the midst of this titanic struggle. In many ways, it was his stirring oratory that kept that great nation in the fight under the horrific bombardment of Hitler's blitzkrieg. Churchhill implored his countrymen to fight without ceasing for the cause of liberty:
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…
And yet after securing victory over the Nazis, Winston Churchill lost his position as Prime Minister in the 1945 election. But in 1951, Churchill once again became Prime Minister before finally retiring in 1955. He was recently voted the "Greatest Briton Ever" in a poll by the BBC.
After the grueling worldwide depression of the 1930s and then the Second World War, Americans desired to be free from foreign entanglements. But President Harry Truman, a veteran of World War I, knew that the Communist threat of world domination was real and was to be taken seriously. When North Korean Communists invaded South Korea, the United States was compelled to act. Contacted hours after the invasion had begun, President Truman was convinced the initial stages of World War III had commenced.
Truman's popularity plummeted as the Korean War dragged on, and he left office with one of the lowest popularity ratings of any president in American history. But as the Cold War dragged on, pulling the United States into the nuclear arms race, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War, Americans came to realize the wisdom Truman showed in defending freedom by sending our G.I.s into Korea. Truman is now considered one of the greatest presidents in American history.
In Steven Spielberg's 1997 motion picture, "Amistad," Anthony Hopkins plays the role of the great American president and statesman, John Quincy Adams. In this historical account, President Adams is called upon to defend a group of Africans who had mutinied on the slave ship Amistad, and killed their captors. In his speech before the Supreme Court, Adams points out that the true and natural state of man is not slavery, as some would have us believe. He declares:
…the truth has been driven from this case like a slave, flogged from court to court, wretched and destitute. … Yea, this is no mere property case, gentlemen. I put to you thus, this is the most important case ever come before this court. Because what it, in fact, concerns, is the very nature of man.
Now this is a publication of the office of the president. It's called the executive review… This is a recent issue, and there's an article in here written by a keen mind of the south who is my former Vice President, John Calhoun, who asserts, "…that there has never existed a civilized society in which one segment did not thrive upon the labor of another. As far back as one chooses to look -- to ancient times -- to biblical times -- history bears this out. In Eden, where only two were created, even there one was pronounced subordinate to another. Slavery has always been with us, and is neither sinful, nor immoral. Rather, as war and antagonism are the natural states of man, so too slavery -- as natural as it is inevitable."
Well, gentlemen, I must say I differ with the keen minds of the south, and with our president who apparently shares their views -- offering that the natural state of mankind is instead -- and I know this is a controversial idea -- is freedom.
The Supreme Court agreed with Adams' argument and freed the Amistad Africans.
But the ideas of Calhoun led to the horrific Civil War ten years after his death -- a war fougt to determine whether Americans stood by the Declaration's assertion that "all men are created equal." At the dedication of the Soldier's National Cemetery in Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln stood and echoed the sentiments of John Quincy Adams in his famous Gettysburg Address:
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
Americans have fought again and again to defend the cause of liberty -- and we continue to fight so that all people can be free. On this Memorial Day, let us recommit ourselves to "that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion" -- the never-ending cause of defending freedom.
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The Declaration of Independence
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The Bill of Rights
Understanding the Supreme Court
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