[box] “It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated to the great task before us – that from those 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, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.” – President Abraham Lincoln [/box]
On Memorial Day, Americans from all walks of life pause to honor those soldiers who have fought and died for our freedom. Reminders of their sacrifice will blanket social media and many sincere thanks will be expressed. But, there will be little discussion amongst those who pause to remember about what exactly the freedom these soldiers died to preserve means and what we, the beneficiaries of their sacrifice, can do the other 364 days of the year to honor these men and women.
Merriam-Webster provides two definitions of “freedom” – “the quality or state of being free” or “a political right” – neither of which provides much context for individuals to recognize what freedom means to their daily lives. Reference to our nation’s Constitution and other founding documents affords a more refined view of what “freedom” means in America, yet, mere recitations of the words and phrases contained therein still falls short of fully defining the concept of “freedom.” “What is freedom” is a question which Americans should ponder as we remember those who have sacrificed. Below are some thoughts on this question from politicians, philosophers, scholars, and authors who have opined upon the meaning of freedom.
“Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.” – Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson
“Freedom is not an ideal, it is not even a protection, if it means nothing more than freedom to stagnate, to live without dreams, to have no greater aim than a second car or another television set.” – Adlai Stevenson
“Freedom is not worth fighting for if it means no more than license for everyone to get as much as he can for himself.” – Dorothy Canfield Fisher
“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” – President James Garfield
“Freedom to learn is the first necessity of guaranteeing that man himself shall be self-reliant enough to be free. Such things did not need as much emphasis a generation ago, but when the clock of civilization can be turned back by burning libraries, by exiling scientists, artists, musicians, writers, and teachers, by disbursing universities, by censoring news and literature and art, an added burden is placed on those countries where the courts of free thought and free learning still burn bright. If the fires of freedom and civil liberties burn low in other lands, they must be made brighter in our own.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Freedom of conscience, of education, of speech, of assembly, are among the very fundamentals of democracy and all of them would be nullified should freedom of the press ever successfully be challenged.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of the government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people.” – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black
“The function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it invites a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to action.” – Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
“True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“In health there is freedom. Health is the first of all liberties.” – Henri Frederic Amiel
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” – President John F. Kennedy
“Freedom is not constituted primarily of privileges, but of responsibilities.” – Albert Camus
Honoring the Fallen
As the beneficiaries of the sacrifice of the many we remember on Memorial Day, Americans should make use of those freedoms these soldiers died to protect. The responsibility of preserving those freedoms is not limited to those who have served, but is a crucial part of every American’s role as a citizen of this nation.
“The nourishing of the American system,” Nelson A. Rockefeller said, “requires a sense of responsibility, not only on the part of individual citizens, but especially on the part of America’s leadership. I am not speaking alone of political leaders, but of the leaders of all phases of our society as well. To the extent that they do not exercise their power and influence in the direction of the common good, they are undermining the very system that has given them that power and influence.” Leaders in the public and private sector should exercise their power and influence in such a way that enhances and furthers the common good. When they do not, individual citizens should hold those leaders to account.
As individual citizens, Americans should use our freedoms to ensure that our elected officials use their power and influence to act on behalf of the people of this nation, rather than on behalf of monied interests and campaign financiers. As President Thomas Jefferson said, “the care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government.” It is the responsibility of each individual American to act to ensure that our government adheres to this principle.
Americans should use our freedoms in our daily lives to speak out against injustice. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We should hold our press accountable in its duty to expose injustices committed by our government. We should support those who blow the whistle on unjust practices in the public and private sectors. We should recognize the rights of protestors to make their grievances known, even when we may not agree with their particular grievance. In short, to honor those fallen soldiers who gave the last measure of full devotion to enable all Americans to continue to have our freedoms, we should take action to use those freedoms they have sacrificed all to preserve.
[box] “Posterity: you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it.” – President John Quincy Adams [/box]