Sunday, August 13, 2006

Liberty and Justice for All

230 years ago it was commonly believed that the masses needed to be ruled and they wanted to be ruled. The French Revolution had failed with Emperor Napoleon filling the vacuum and Monarchs ruled throughout the known world. Meanwhile, many in England were appalled that, in the Americas, a handful of ungrateful antagonists had the audacity to rebel against the best form of government on Earth. These Nobles perceived themselves genetically and divinely superior to their subjects and considered it their god given right and responsibility to rule over them. They continually misunderstood this and the many previous rebellions that arose as ingratitude rather than the base desire of all men to have more control over their own lives.

Over the past couple of decades I have personally lived on five of our planets six populated continents. Almost every time I have traveled to another country I did not live on fortified military bases but among the local population. I lived in homes like theirs, walked their streets, ate their food, and frequently attended religious services with them. I have talked with them and made many friends among them. One thing was obvious within every person I talked with; they may have different customs but every one of them desired freedom.

In the fall of ’94 I flew into Gonaives, Haiti to stop crimes against the population there committed by the ruling body. I was on the fourth CH-47 of a flight of five into the city and stepped off the helicopter to a sea of black faces cheering our arrival. Many spoke English and they all expressed extreme gratitude for the freedoms they had just received when our first helicopter landed.

In Jinja, Uganda, I met Linda, a young woman crippled by polio. She owned a style of wheelchair common only in Africa. It was more a tricycle with peddles where the handlebars would have been. This device was her freedom. It allowed her to do things she normally would not have been able to do like attend services with a new-found Christian church; a new freedom many of her fellow countrymen enjoyed since recently emerging from decades of dictators like Idi Amin.

In Brazzaville, Congo I was spending a day at the U.S. Embassy helping install a new communications system and needed some additional parts. The embassy official I was working with could not leave at the time but he gave me directions to a local shop and I violated the two man rule and began the walk. The directions he gave me were not nearly as good as they should have been and I made a turn into the wrong part of town. I found myself walking along the docks of the Congo River facing a crowd of disgruntled looking young men. The Congo, at the time, still had its own internal strives and, since I was wearing the distinct uniform of an American soldier, I felt like I was wearing a Klan outfit in the Watts neighborhood. While I was formulating by strategic withdraw the most amazing thing happened; the crowd began to cheer. I have had many years to contemplate the event and can thing of nothing that would have elicited that response other than the freedoms my uniform represented.

I served my first Afghan tour in Western Afghanistan along the Iranian border. A great deal of trade is conducted along a single border crossing and consequently the first city on the Afghan side had many Iranian citizens. Of the many we talked with, they all asked the same question, “When will you do for Iran what you did for Afghanistan?”

Of the countless people I have met from dozens of different countries one thing has always been there; the basic desire for freedom. Why then do we allow dictators and despots to rule over and terrorize their people? I understand that we cannot invade every dictatorship and have no desire to do so. What we can do and should do is to promote and support the many people in these countries who advocate freedom. This support, however, must go well beyond the support we gave the Kurds in Iraq and the Cubans at the Bay of Pigs.

If history has taught us anything, it is that freedom only comes at the cost of blood and it has to come primarily from those who want it. Freedom cannot be given as a gift but we must help pay the price since no insurgency ever succeeded without external support.

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