Freedom must be kept alive
I sure am glad that the Fourth of July hits right smack in the middle of summer. The celebration of our country’s independence is worthy of big, loud public displays: outside parades, fireworks and community picnics. The gaining of freedom from tyranny demands shouting to the heavens.
While in Israel several years ago, we experienced the same exuberance as they commemorated their ‘Independence Day.’ My daughter, Jenny, had gone with some Israelis to a party held in a private home. When she returned, she explained that it was just like our Fourth of July picnics with the displaying of flags, family gatherings, fireworks, barbecues, picnics and concerts. Even the menu was the same: hot dogs, potato salad and baked beans. I remember this rather trivial similarity, because it demonstrated how limited I was in understanding the strong links between the United States and the State of Israel.
There is often a perception that those who are enemies of one are automatically enemies of the other. The constant turmoil in the Middle East is a concern to us all. The geographical area is small; the historical roots of various groups run deep and are associated with the origins of three great religious groups: Muslims, Christians and Jews. The associations that citizens have with their political causes are very emotional and are rooted in their religious beliefs.
This past Memorial Day, I turned on the TV to Turner’s Movie Classics. The movie this night was ‘The Pianist.’ This was the story of a musician’s fight for survival during the Holocaust in Warsaw, Poland. The actor, Adrian Brody, with his sorrowful facial expressions, played the role of the pianist. Seeing this movie helped me understand the passion for a safe state for the Jewish people.
It also reminded me of how insidious the slow corrosion of people’s freedom can be. The Jews in the Warsaw ghetto could not have conceived that they would be attacked by the Germans. After all, they were a population of 375,000 well-educated and successful citizens. And so they tolerated one infringement after another of their dignity, opportunities, rights and, finally, their lives. Being very passive in the face of threats is not an easily accepted option to most Israelis today. We, as a powerful country and a world leader, need to be reminded of such facts as we think about our own Independence Day.
The Holocaust was the result of the basest sinful elements of mankind. The Germans were in a great financial depression. A dictator with a shrewd tongue, evil intent and a skill in organizing unified his country by finding a common enemy to label as the cause of all troubles. The Jewish people became the scapegoat, and they were methodically killed in what was called ‘the final solution.’ We aren’t in a war or a depression today, but we do face many uncertainties and challenges. There is a temptation to seek out those groups or leaders who say they have all the answers to our problems. Labeling minorities with different lifestyles as the cause of our woes is not a new game by those who would lead us from our intent as a democracy of free men and women under a governance of laws.
This Fourth of July let’s celebrate with family, friends and neighbors with lots of laughing, eating and noise making, but let’s also give an earnest ear to the speeches of patriotism. Don’t fall for the first silver-tongued orator. Think what the words really mean for life in our country. Take some action to encourage those in public life to leave their turf wars for the consensus building of strong leadership. Politics is not a game. This is serious business. We need a call to action for those citizens who back off from civic engagement with the statement that ‘it is all too complicated or too corrupt’ for their involvement. This attempt at a participatory representative democracy is a brave and difficult task, but the alternative is chilling.
In ‘The Pianist,’ the musician found his life was saved from the gas chambers and he had to hide for months until Poland was liberated. He could not make a sound for fear of being found, but he still performed music in his head. He practiced the music with his fingers and imagined the sounds. He never gave up hope that he once again would play for his fellow Poles. And, with the liberation at hand, he was prepared to play.
We, too, must keep the faith, get prepared and do what we can to keep freedom alive. Here in Harrison County, we shall commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Corydon on July 12 through 14. It, too, was a battle for the right of everyone to have the opportunity for full and equal participation in all that life affords. Southern Indiana helped bring freedom from slavery and a strong united federation of states. We celebrate with gratitude for those heroic Hoosiers and with a sense of purpose for the future.