Sometimes we encounter ordinary people that have extraordinary things to say that need to be heard by all Americans. Such is the case with the following words that a 14 year old youth wrote as a tribute to her grandfather who served his country in not one, but two, armed forces. He served in the United States Army and Navy and gave our country many years of his life. We hope you take her words to heart and honor all those who give us freedom with their dedication and sacrifice.
by Katherine Nunez
February 14, 2008
Is freedom too costly? Everybody has a different perspective concerning freedom. The literal definition, taken from the World Book Dictionary states,
“1. The state or condition of being free.
2. Not being under another’s control; power to do, say or think as one pleases; liberty: freedom of religion, freedom of the press, [and] freedom of speech.”
Liberty is an awe-inspiring concept. The question, ‘is freedom too costly?’ is even more so. Being free or having freedom is not an object on which you can literally exercise your five senses.
Freedom is an idea innumerable men and women have died to attain. A famous American patriot, Patrick Henry once said, “Give me Liberty or give me death!” The American colonists who fought for independence for my country purchased freedom for me. Not only did the American colonists pay the price, but those who stormed the beaches of Normandy, stood against the Nazi’s during World War II, fought for American civil rights, battled against communism in Vietnam, and those who are currently fighting in Iraq have paid and are paying the price for my freedom.
Let’s look at the Revolutionary War. The patriotic colonists, American soldiers, the authors and signers of the Declaration of Independence, were willing to be hung until they were almost dead and then maimed for freedom, rather than be oppressed by England. Many of the leaders and supporters of the American Revolution lost everything. They lost their wealth, homes, farms, families, friends; some even lost their lives. Many were treated as outcasts because of their beliefs. John Hancock, the governor of Massachusetts and the wealthiest man in Boston, risked everything for liberty. He helped provide the men from Massachusetts with necessities bought with his own money. During the war, his luxurious estate was turned into a British meeting ground and headquarters.
The spark that ignited the American Revolution was lit when King George III, of England, had the idea to tax the people of the colonies to pay for the expensive French and Indian war that had just ended. He also thought that England could and should tax the items that were imported from Great Britain to America. King George started taxing the colonists without their representation in Parliament. A tax was levied on luxuries like almanacs, papers, sugar, and wine. Although the tax on paper, almanacs, wine, and additional imports were eventually repealed, the taxation on necessities continued. The anger escalated in the colonies following the Stamp Act.
Shortly after, the King levied taxes on the tea. The delightful beverage was not only a staple, but also an English tradition of the colonial life. Putting tax on the tea infuriated the colonists. The patriots, led by The Sons of Liberty, which included John Hancock and Samuel Adams, decided to handle the tax situation by boycotting the East India Company. Not purchasing the tea, which arrived by ship, greatly injured the Company’s profit. Sales went from 320,000 pounds of tea, to 520 pounds. Not only did they boycott the tea, they later disguised themselves as Indians, went aboard the vessels transporting the tea, and emptied the cartons containing the tea into the Boston Harbor. The rebel act perpetrated by The Sons of Liberty is known as the Boston Tea Party. This incident is considered to be the dawn of the American war for freedom.
The American Revolution started in 1775 and didn’t end until 1783. During those years, the colonists formed an army; they named George Washington the Commander-in-chief, declared independence from Britain, lost four thousand, four hundred men in battle and, against all odds, won the war.
One of the most important Untied States manuscripts was written during the Revolutionary War. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. This document states, “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.” According to this text, freedom is your birthright, which was bestowed upon you by your Creator. Unfortunately, the Americans were only referring to those with white skin, which did not include black men and women.
In the eyes of white American’s, the black slaves did not have a birthright because they were considered property. They were bought, sold, beaten endlessly, and treated worse than livestock. This was the life of most slaves.
Some slaves waited until nightfall, kissed their loved ones good-bye, and ran towards freedom. Others took off whenever they had an opportune moment. If they ran, and were caught, they would most likely get severely punished, or sentenced to death. If they ran and were not captured, they were one of the few lucky ones. The slaves that ran gambled everything they had, as well as the lives of their loved ones. But to them, the sweet fragrance of freedom was worth it.
Many slaves made it to freedom, but many died in captivity. Some thought it better to be dead or die trying to escape than live in bondage.
Slavery was officially eradicated in the United States in 1865 by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, but that didn’t mean everybody treated those of the black race with equality. They were still treated like pigs. Being pushed off the sidewalk, called the most horrific names, arrested for looking at a white woman, or lynched because of their skin color.
One man, even though he was born free, thought slavery was despicable. Although slavery had been formally abolished, he wanted blacks and whites to have equal rights. He thought people were entitled to their birthright no matter what their color. His name was Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK Jr.). He stated on August 28, 1963, quoting the Declaration of Independence, in his ‘I Have A Dream,’ speech, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." Martin Luther King Jr. started peaceful boycotts against segregated bus companies, led marches promoting civil rights and he protested against segregation. The boycotts lasted 382 days and during those days, he was apprehended, his home was bombed, and he was subjected to personal abuse.
Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished a great many things in his lifetime. He is not only a symbol of hope for Negros, but men and women of all colors all over the world. Sadly, the night before he was to lead a protest in April 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, he was slain. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested over 20 times, assaulted 4 times, and assassinated for freedom.
Freedom is a precious gift, not just for people in America, but all over the world. Vietnamese not only risked and lost the lives of their countrymen for freedom, but also the lives of Cambodians, Laotians, and Americans. To date, 58,000 American lives have been lost, 304,000 men were wounded, and all suffered from wounds that might not ever heal—for Vietnamese freedom.
The Vietnam War was the longest battle America has ever fought. The deadly conflict started in 1965 and didn’t end until 1975. The war raged between North Vietnam, aided by the National Liberation Front (NLF), against the United States army, along side of the South Vietnamese forces.
Not only was the Vietnam War the longest war in American history, but also the most opposed. The most heartbreaking part was not the war, but the aftermath. The American soldiers were not congratulated when they set foot on their homeland, but were treated as outcasts. They served their country, lost their friends, saw what no human being should ever see, and went through hell—for not their own, but for Vietnamese freedom. Richard Nixon stated, in 1985, “No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.”
People have a desire to be free and they always will. Those that fought for freedom changed the world with that one decision to fight. In 2001 American soldiers went into the Middle East to protect our freedom--our birthright.7
If America turned into a communist country, rights were taken, and friends were shot for speaking out against the government, would you fight? If you were thrown in jail for saying, “The President is an ass!” or for some unknown reason, would you fight for your right to be free—your birthright?
If freedom were too costly, why would every freedom warrior bother fighting? The colonists were not being silly when they made a fuss over tax, and when they started a war. They were fighting for liberty. The slaves were not wagering too much when they ran. They ran for freedom. Vietnamese and Americans were not risking too much when they tried to extinguish communism. They fought for Vietnamese freedom. To them, freedom meant everything, but does it mean everything to you?
After defining the meaning of freedom, and reviewing world history regarding the people who fought for liberty and those who are fighting now, allow yourself to walk in their shoes. Paint the explicit picture in your mind. Imagine what freedom fighters went through, and what they are going through now for freedom. Imagine…
Now slavery is your legacy…
Smell the blood as it drips off your sons back when he is beaten savagely for attempting his escape. You watch in despair as he coils in pain. The cry of his agony tears at your heart. You yearn to take the burden of his pain onto your back. Standing, feeling helpless your heart shatters when you hear the ring of his screech as it fills the crisp, night air. You beg over and over for mercy, but your master is fuming with anger as he draws his fist back, clutching his whip, back again, and again, and again. After receiving 100 lashes with the thin, strip of leather, you run to your son. Holding him near to you, comforting him as best you can, whispering words of hope. After you manage to calm his painful cries, holding each other, you silently drift off to sleep.
Listen to the shrieks of your little girl as she struggles to escape the strong grasp of the Nazi soldier. Screaming, she reaches for your hand, while you kick, and
push the German. While you beg the Nazi soldier to leave her alone, he slaps you across your face leaving a stinging sensation on your cheek. After the man drags your beloved daughter out of your house, another combatant enters your domicile to seize you as well.
You are moved thru checkpoints again and again, and your hunger and thirst grows every second. Homesick and confused, you are forcibly pushed onto a train. Watching in despair, your beloved hometown in Germany swiftly evaporates into the foggy distance.
During the long journey, on an overcrowded train, to a place that is said to be quite pleasant, you try to move in the little space that you have been given. Subsequent to being checked, pushed and shoved, and standing still on a train for two days, you finally arrive at the destination in Poland. You walk to the entrance of the enclosed area. You notice a barbed wire fence surrounding the inside, and each wall ending with a guard tower. Confused, you think, “This can’t be the marvelous place people have told me about.” You see that the cast iron front gate bears the words, “Arbeit Macht Frei”. You can’t read or understand the German expression, so you listen silently as a woman behind you translates. She recites the words carved between the iron bars, atop the gate, “Work makes one free”. As the words drift into your ear and registers in your mind, your heart drops to the depths of the earth. You whisper words for mercy, “God, help me”.
You feel the cold water envelop you to your neck as you jump off the ship into the salty ocean, on June 6, 1944. Moving as fast as you can, straining to see through water-filled eyes, holding your gun high above the blood-drenched waters of the English Channel, carrying a seventy-pound bag on your back, and struggling to survive the bullets as they hurtle past you, in the death-soaked sea.
Progressing towards land, you feel your water-laden boots as you tear away from the ocean, onto the shorelines of Normandy. Heading for shelter as your friends and fellow soldiers are falling, crying, screaming in agony, dying around you, you struggle to pull, not only yourself, to a safe haven, but your legless companion, shrieking in anguish. As you look behind you, on the beach you stormed for freedom, you see the red stained sand of the Normandy shores, the burnt remains of what once was your sergeant, the bloody faces of the dead.
A few decades further…
As you step off the bus, a year after you voluntarily stepped on, you feel the moist spit hit your cheek and you hear the hateful words, “You baby killer!” “Murderer!” and “Take that G-- d--- monkey suit off!” from your fellow Americans. Fighting the urge to punch someone in the face, you say to yourself “I fought for freedom, not for nothing—I fought for your freedom and your right to spit on me”. The thought of failure creeps into the back of your head.
Being beaten down with words of abhorrence, you reassure yourself that you fought for freedom in Vietnam, and you survived the deadly war. You fought for Vietnamese freedom, and to stop communism—you fought for freedom.
Grasp the paper that proclaims you and your son are free. You are not property; you are free. You can go wherever you want to go because you are free. You can do whatever you want to do because you are free. You can live the way you want to live because you are free!!!
Taste the sweetness of freedom, as you look out on the beach, and feel the joy start bursting out of you, tears welling in your eyes, as you realize that you have done the impossible. You have won the war…
Fall to your knees, watching unbelievingly, as the gates of Auschwitz swing open, inviting a friend, hope, joy, and freedom, that you thought left you a long time ago. Paralyzed with elation, you stare in amazement as the fragrance of freedom sweeps through the camp. Clutching your daughter in disbelief, the two of you sit staring, weeping, and whispering a prayer of thanks.
Accept the beer the man next to you offers, saying, “Here son, have a beer.” Giving your appreciation to the man he returns your gratitude with, “No son, you’re the one who fought in hell. Thank you.” Turning away from the bar, you see and hear your wife running towards you, arms spread wider than angel’s wings could stretch, saying, “You’re home! Finally, you’re home!”
Do you know someone that went through one of these horrific experiences?
Maybe your great-grandmother sat clutching your grandfather after a seemingly endless beating. Could it be possible your great-grandmother listened as the words on the gates of Auschwitz were translated? Perhaps your greatgrandfather stormed the beaches of Normandy. Perchance your grandfather fought for Vietnamese freedom and went through hell for your rights of expression.
If one of these familiarities applies to you, I hope you understand that the person who stood in defiance of their king, in the face of slavery, in the face of segregation, in the face of hatred, in face of communism, in the face of danger, and fought for independence, liberation, civil rights, compassion, and democracy--risked everything for you, your freedom—your birthright.
After imagining what it would be like to exchange places with these freedom fighters, would you endure the same pain for their victory? Would you fight for freedom, your freedom—your birthright? I believe the colonists did what needed to be done—I know they did not think it was too costly. I believe the slaves were not paying to high of a price—I know they didn’t think it was too costly. I believe the American soldiers were not risking too much when they fought for Vietnamese freedom. I know they didn’t think it was too costly. I know freedom is not too costly.
Is your freedom too costly? Only you can answer that question. Freedom is not without a price. You will always have to pay a cost, not just to obtain freedom, but also to maintain it. Thomas Paine once said, “What we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.” If you don’t know the price that was paid, you can’t recognize the value of the sacrifice. If you don’t realize the worth, you can’t appreciate the freedom. The price for freedom is set high. If you pay the cost, you may suffer physically, emotionally, or mentally. Those who fought took the risk, paid the price. America is the land of the free because of the brave. They were and are willing to give all they have. Are you willing to pay the price for freedom? Are you willing to let your son or daughter pay the cost for your freedom? What is your freedom worth to you? To me, my freedom—my birthright—is worth every breath. Although I have never personally paid the price for freedom, I am willing. The question is, are you?