This weekend we celebrate Presidents’ Day in honor of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. These two presidents respectively brought freedom to millions everywhere. Washington helped to fight the tyranny of the British crown and create a new nation, while Lincoln is remembered as the president who freed the slaves and allowed them to pursue personal happiness instead of a ball and chain. In both cases, many lives were lost in confrontations for and against these goals. Being far and away from those periods in history, we can view them from a rather sterile position – recalling strategy, reducing the moments to particular battlefields, crunching numbers. We don’t necessarily acknowledge the emotions, the fear, the adrenaline that had to be present in every soldier. Not to mention the sense of the unknown – what the future was going to hold as a result of the battles. How many of those young men watched their friends fall beside them, never to return? Would their deaths be in vain? No one knew if they would make it off the battlefield alive – what must those soldiers have been feeling and thinking during such battles, considering their own mortality. These were precarious moments in everybody’s lives, yet they fought for a purpose, a reason, a cause.
We look back on these historical fights – the Revolutionary War and the Civil War – and though we may loathe the bloodshed, we regard them with a certain reverence because of what they have produced: Freedom. Some may even regard them as necessary wars – the battles as absolute requirements to victory, thereby insisting the demise of soldiers (on both sides of the aisle) as prerequisites to the birthing of freedom. If we from 2011 were to meet one of these soldiers from the past, we would be honoring them for their bravery, and had they been killed in battle, we would be bowing to their sacrifice. For those people who have fought in the battlefields of our freedoms, we would be remiss to not grant them an almost god-like status, for so much of our lives have depended on the giving of theirs, whether they battled for our side or for “the enemy”.
Will we pass on this reverence to those in the Middle East?
The protests and emergent fighting rising out of the Arab nations may result in similar battles as those of our forebears. If freedom from tyranny is what the people want, we must face this possibility. Will we grant the freedom fighters or even their adversaries the same respect we would give the soldiers of our Revolutionary or Civil wars? I’ve been following some of this conflict on the web and reading a lot of the personal comments posted by viewers and my perception is, probably not. It seems most people are afraid that as soon as an Arab dictatorship is toppled, it will be replaced by a much more oppressive tyrant: religion, in this case Islam. But yet, even in the past, the Crown had its fears of what a “free” New England would produce – especially from founding fathers who wanted a cornucopia of freedoms that were downright akin to anarchy in the “real” world: freedom of religion (which was really freedom from religion), separation of church and state, the right to organize, bear arms, and GASP – the freedom of SPEECH without being dictated to by a sovereign lord! Blasphemy! And likewise with the freedom of the slaves; here was another group looking to be released of a kingly “steward” in order to realize their own potentials and have a say in the manner of their own destinies.
Right now in the Middle East, we are only seeing the start of potential fury. Knowing what we do now of our two wars for freedom, if we were able to go back in time and stand amidst the stirrings of these fights from their beginnings, would we be viewing an uprising of British colonists in the 1770’s as something to be feared, or something to be praised, also knowing how many battles and lives were to be lost in the coming months? Would we also pause for concern if we were able to go back to the 1860’s and watch the first blacks in concert with neighboring whites stand up against southern slave owners, knowing that it would literally rip the country (and many families) apart?
From the window of history, freedom rarely comes peacefully. Let’s be honest with ourselves –we weren’t able to do it. So as tensions in the Middle East ramp up, if the people truly want freedom and a change in government – whether it be to a democracy or theocracy – chances are high it will be paid for in blood. Let us not knee-jerk our response to this outcome by thinking because they are from the Middle East and they follow a religion that is not “western” that they are somehow barbaric or less evolved than we are and scowl at the sight of their battles. The fight for freedom, the flame for the right to pursue the potentials inherent within any individual, knows not the bounds of religious doctrine and has no attachment to geography. Like our own wars, there are many variables that are pushing and pulling on both sides of the aisles … for those who want freedom and those who wish to stay in power.
It may be hard to let the Middle East go because of our concern for oil and how that translates into dollars. So, too, was it hard for the Crown to release us because of our goods and tax money; for the south, who would tend the orchards and keep the landowners wealthy? No, we don’t know what the outcome will be in the Middle East, but neither did our forefathers in their wars, and yet we are still here today, thriving and blossoming. The Crown didn’t die with the loss of the colonists; the south didn’t shrivel up with the freedom of the slaves. The foundation of American civilization didn’t collapse by giving women the right to vote (Yes, this was an argument during the time of women’s suffrage).
We had our time, and our ancestral family members chose to fight and die for what we have today. People back then were willing to charge into battle, not knowing if they would see the sun rise the next morning, or be left to rot in the open field. And we honor them for that bravery. It’s now their time in the East. Many on the comment boards are saying Egypt (and the rest of the Arab countries) will be another Iran, yet fail to see that they may be another United States, or perhaps something completely different. The entire region may produce something that as yet has not been seen. Nobody knows. When one is caught in the heat of battle, things get confusing; it’s not always black and white.
When we look back into history at the battles, we can view them from a rather sterile position … But when you are watching in the here and now, you are seeing those things you’ve missed from being so detached: the raw emotion, the adrenaline, the fear, the uncertainty …
But if we can honor those that came before us who were willing to pile ruined bodies on tortured fields for our freedoms in this country, should we not be willing to extend a modicum of respect for those that may end up doing the same halfway around the world, no matter what their religion and what type of land they are living in?
Are they really any different than we were when we cried out for freedom?
We honor George Washington for ordering men into battle, killing the British enemy and also losing members of our own Continental army in the name of freedom. We honor Abraham Lincoln for trying to bring equality no matter what color of skin, and willing to sacrifice lives in the name of American unity and abolishment of slavery. In both wars, it was unknown the outcome, and people still pressed forward, with untold scores dying.
There may be a George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the Middle East. (They may even be there as a newly reincarnated personality!). Do we honor their course, witnessing and blessing each encounter as we would our own from the past, or do we react with scorn, prejudice, and “evolved” thinking?
Remember … Everything is wrapped up together. Time and space. There is no real division.
‘Til next time