Saturday, August 19, 2006

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave


I was never enamoured of the Star Spangled Banner. Like most national anthems, it is stilted and awkward and just a bit creepy, like joining strangers in a group hug. I guess I've just got too much "true patriot love."

Ever since the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, I keep coming back to the last line of the American anthem and I've come to really appreciate what it says. To me at least, it's the best, single line of any anthem I've ever heard.

Land of the free, home of the brave. Even if that was always a blend of myth and reality, the past five years have shown how directly linked are a people's bravery and their freedom.

In the greater scheme of global conflict, the casualties inflicted in the al-Qaeda attacks were actually pretty modest. Roughly 3,000 killed. You would have to look pretty far down the list of human suffering before you got to that one. But look what it did to the American people, the folks from the Home of the Brave.

The September 11th attacks inflicted real terror on the American people. Who watched the WTC towers collapse, one after the other, and wasn't profoundly troubled? Outside of bin Laden's inner circle, those images sent shockwaves around the entire world.

No one can fault Americans for being fearful on that day and in the days immediately after when they had to wonder if there were more attacks looming. What surprised me, however, was how persistent and deep that fear turned out to be. Remember the day when Tom Ridge asked his fellow citizens to lay in supplies of duct tape and plastic sheeting, just in case? Store shelves were torn bare of the stuff and across the U.S. people raced to hermetically seal up their homes in fear of a non-existent danger. It was then that I realized how far America had fallen from being the Home of the Brave.

As I watched Americans being fed a diet of fear by al-Qaeda and then by their own leaders, I saw how ready they were to give up their freedoms in exchange for empty assurances of their safety. The Patriot Act, warrantless wire taps, secret and indefinite detention without charge or benefit of counsel, data mining, illegal warmaking, each marking a surrender of basic freedoms and human rights.

Bravery is only tangible when the brave resist what threatens them. If they capitulate to those who infect them with fear, they just as quickly lose their hold on their freedoms.

Those of us lucky enough to have been spared this defining moment of truth need to profit from this lesson. We need to reflect on our rights and what they really mean to us and our society. We need to recall how each of those rights has been paid for - in blood - and often more than once. We need to understand that, if we fail to defend those rights, there are and have always been those who would strip us of them.

1 comment:

Na said...

Very profound. I like!