November 11, 2011
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
November 11, 2011
Two hundred and thirty five years ago- not even an instant on the cosmic clock- America took her first tentative steps towards freedom. Since those tumultuous days, this nation and the freedoms she represents, have grown, prospered and has served as a source of inspiration for billions of people in their own search for freedom.
When we see Americans proudly marching in a Veterans Day parade, we are watching the men and women who are a living testimony to those who would defend the principles and ideals of freedom. They fought for more than geography and they fought for more than country.
From the time of our inception as a nation, there have been forces determined to destroy what it is we stand for. Entire political ideologies are predicated on vilifying us and our belief that freedom serves all of mankind. Even some religious ideologies, under the thumb of the oppression, have become a tool of those who would sooner kill others and their own, rather than see people live free.
Some people regard culture and society as an extension of Darwinian theory. Current versions and models are the ‘latest and the greatest,’ with past cultures and societies seen as flawed and limited. The leaders of other cultures and societies co opt and rewrite the past to support their own ideologies, reinterpreting that past to fit, support and endorse their particular vision.
Americans are different. We are raised with the conscious understanding that those that came before us were giants, and that we are obligated to defend and build upon those principles and ideals of our Founding Fathers. They were not perfect but we are not better than them. Their legacy serves as our guiding light- we do not need to reinterpret freedom with each new regime or to serve successive generations. We are beholden to our founding fathers and those who came after, for having elevated successive generations and for having instilled in us the morals and obligations that come with freedom.
Indeed, when we think about, consider and debate our freedoms, we go back in time and become participants in the meetings that that took place in Philadelphia. We share in the arguments, passions and dedication to an ideal that will shape the future.
Americans talk about freedom so passionately because we are passionate about that great ideal. Freedom is the foundation of our beliefs. Because of freedom we free to choose the things we believe in, without fear of violence or repercussion.
Freedom is the only ideology that wants to make the world a better place, a place where each and every one of us can author our own destiny- and do so without without stripping others of their rights. In a free society, we are free to exercise free will. We can choose to believe in God or we can exercise that free will and choose not to believe in God. In a free society, God takes care of His affairs. In many places, there are those who take it upon themselves to handle God’s affairs for Him.
The fight for freedom has not been easy. It never is. There are those that see the cost of freedom and want us to abandon the citizens of nations that so desperately need liberation from tyranny. It is tempting indeed to walk away, in the myopic and absurd belief that we would be forever extricating ourselves from a problem.
There is an undeniable truth. Freedom supports righteousness and make the world a more civilized and moral place. Notwithstanding the reality that much of the world doesn’t care about those ideals, that truth about freedom is unassailable. Those that resist and resent our involvement in helping to secure freedom for others, may at times, seem to prevail, but in the end, even that is illusory.
There are those that will go to great lengths to keep us from bringing freedom to others. They will excoriate us, berate us, laugh at us and even support violence against us. There are those who would align themselves with evil so as to hurt us- and rejoice in our pain. There are those that would support the propaganda and ideologies that would demoralize and weaken us. With all their might, deceit and hatred, they would relentlessly attack us- but in the end, it will all be for naught. Americans will defend freedom, from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
They may at times kill the messenger, but the world cannot kill the message.
There are really only two ways you can hurt someone. Take away their dignity or take away their hope. When a tyranny oppress a citizen, they take away dignity. When that oppressed citizen no longer believes that there are free and good people who care about them, there are left without hope. What is hope? Well, it is an average American, from an average place, that put on a uniform and fought to liberate oppressed people- and then went home.
Of the 7 billion people on this planet, only 300 million are Americans. In other words, less than 5% of the population of this planet are Americans- and yet, the world is obsessed with our existence. In the course of the last 235 years, we have provided the world ideas, contributions and realities that are in the consciousness of virtually every human being on the planet. Given our numbers and short history, we should not have had this profound influence on history and mankind.
The secret to our our successes and influence can be attributed to one powerful word: Freedom.
The notion that all men are created equal and are deserving of freedom is a biblical concept. It took America to make that a reality, in those ideas called freedom and democracy. “They will beat their swords into plowshares…nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore,” can only come about as the result of freedom and democracy for all mankind. It is an illusion to believe that anything less will bring about peace. The one thing we have learned is that democracies don’t wage war with each other. They do not take up arms to settle disputes.
To presume that we must somehow persuade populations that freedom is better than tyranny is absurd. It presumes that tyranny and freedom are of equal value and standing. In fact, we appear foolish and weak when are forced to plead our case. In reality, when we argue the case for freedom as equal to tyrannical regimes, we belittle freedom. A casual observer would ask why we would denigrate ourselves in such a manner.
Nationhood is earned, not bestowed. Great nations are formed to build societies, not to destroy others. Healthy cultures define heroism as saving lives. Failed cultures define heroism by those who take lives. Healthy cultures elevate their citizenry. Failed cultures deprive and steal from their citizenry. Yes, it really is that simple.
What kind of impression do we make if we are willing to belittle ourselves to plead the case for democracy over tyranny? That is like lowering ourselves to argue the merits of kindness over cruelty.
The men and women marching today fought wars to bring freedom and liberty as opposed to those who would take them away.
The men and women marching today fought wars for to defend the highest principles, that all men should be free.
Those men fought a war in the hope, naive perhaps, that through their efforts, blood and tears, there would be an end to all wars.
Believing in those principles, some of those men were never to come home. Some are buried in fields, close and far away. Some graves remain unmarked, at the bottom of a forever cold ocean, with young and good men entombed in deep dark waters, never to have the sun shine on on their final resting places.
Families too, paid for their sacrifices.
Children who never again would see their father.
Wives learned that, ‘what God hath brought together‘ can be ‘torn asunder’, at the hands of other men that held close evil to their heats.
Parents, had to live through nature in reverse, burying their sons and daughters.
When you see an average looking man or woman today, marching in parade, walking around or even on TV wearing a veterans cap, beret or hat, remind yourself that is what hope looks like- and that is more precious and beautiful than anything in any museum, anywhere.
Happy Veterans Day.
Portions of this post have been previously published.
November 11, 2011
The Berlin Wall was a tangible symbol of the suppression of human rights by the Eastern bloc during the Cold War… was it more convenient to the Western democracies than their rhetoric suggested?
The building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 divided families and neighbourhoods in what had been the capital of Germany. The Wall represents a uniquely squalid, violent, and ultimately futile, episode in the post-war world. And we know that the subsequent international crisis, which was especially intense during the summer and autumn of 1961, threatened the world with the risk of a military conflict, one that seemed as if it could escalate at any time into nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union.
But was all as it seemed, with the noble democracies vainly opposing yet another Communist atrocity? Did the leaders of the West genuinely loathe the Wall, or was it – whisper if you dare – actually rather convenient to all the powers concerned?
In 1945, the victors of the Second World War, the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and by special dispensation the French, had divided Germany into four zones of occupation and its capital, Berlin, into four sectors. To the wartime Allies, Germany had been a problem ever since its unification in 1871, a big, restless country in the heart of Europe. The over- mighty Germany of the Kaiser’s and Hitler’s time must never be allowed to re-emerge.
Then came the Cold War. From the late 1940s, Germany itself – what was left of it after the Poles and the Russians had carved chunks off its eastern territories – became a creature of the Communist-capitalist conflict. It divided into West Germany (the ‘Federal Republic of Germany’) and the smaller East Germany (the ‘German Democratic Republic’), the former a prosperous democracy of some 50 million anchored into what was to become the Western NATO alliance, the latter a struggling social experiment, a third as large, allied to the Communist Warsaw Pact. The Iron Curtain ran through Germany, with a fortified border between the two Cold War German states.
Until 1961, however, Berlin remained under joint occupation and kept a special status, still more or less one city in which fairly free movement was possible. It represented an ‘escape hatch’ through which East Germans could head to the now booming West in pursuit of political freedom and a higher standard of living than their Stalinist masters were prepared to allow them.
Between 1945 and 1961, some 2.5 million had fled in this way, reducing the GDR’s population by around 15 per cent. Ominously for the Communist regime, most emigrants were young and well qualified. The country was losing the cream of its educated professionals and skilled workers at a rate that risked making the Communist state unviable. During the summer of 1961, this exodus reached critical levels. Hence, on that fateful August weekend, the Communists’ vast undertaking to seal off East from West Berlin, to close the ‘escape hatch’.
Sunday, August 13th, became known as ‘Stacheldrahtsonntag’ (barbed wire Sunday). Within a few weeks the improvised wire obstacle across the city started to morph into a formidable cement one that would soon become known as the ‘Berlin Wall’, a heavily fortified, guarded and booby-trapped barrier almost a hundred miles long, dividing the city and enclosing West Berlin.
Since the end of the war, Berlin had been a constant running sore in East-West relations. In 1948-49 Stalin had tried to blockade the Western sectors into submission by closing off all the land routes into the city, which lay almost a hundred miles inside Soviet-occupied territory. The West surprised him with a successful airlift that kept West Berlin supplied with sufficient essentials to survive. Only Stalin’s death had prevented a wall, or something like it, being constructed in 1953. In 1958, his successor, the ebullient, unpredictable Nikita Khrushchev, had started threatening West Berlin’s status once more. The Soviet leader compared the Allied-occupied sectors to the West’s testicles. If, he joked, he wanted to cause NATO pain, all he had to do was squeeze …
Most Germans experienced the building of the Wall as a devastating blow. It was not just a brutal act in itself but also final proof, if proof were needed, that the reunification many still hoped for must remain a distant, even an impossible, dream. There was genuine outrage in West Germany (and to some extent in the East, though this was rapidly suppressed by the Communist secret police, the Stasi, who carried out thousands of arrests).
However, given the renewed dangers of conflict during the previous few years, the building of the Wall, although it unleashed a brief East-West showdown, was – seen from a global perspective — not necessarily the catastrophe that it first appeared.
None of the former victors of the Second World War was about to go to war in order to prevent the division of Germany. The Western powers were unanimous in declaring their horror at the Wall, in making the right public noises – it wouldn’t do to upset the West Germans – but what was going on behind the scenes?
The West officially promoted the recreation of a unified German state. In reality, however – as the crisis made clear – it privately accepted the division of Germany and saw no reason to oppose it by force.
At the end of July 1961, the newly-elected American President John F. Kennedy, had already ordered a military build-up to cope with possible Soviet and Warsaw Pact designs on Berlin (and by implication West Germany). However, his actual response to the building of the Wall was downright muted. Washington made it clear that only if the Soviets and their East German protégés tried to blockade or invade West Berlin would war become a possibility. In private, the US Secretary of State Dean Rusk even confessed – within days of the East German border closure operation – that ‘in realistic terms it would make a Berlin settlement easier’. In other words, so long as American prestige was not affected, the Soviets could do what they liked with the bits of Germany they controlled, including East Berlin. The extension of the Iron Curtain to the heart of Berlin might even help stabilize the situation.
The reaction of the other two occupying powers, Britain and France, was even more ambivalent…
November 11, 2011
Why the “talkinest child” understands women and the power of television better than anyone else
THE THREE-EPISODE FINALE of The Oprah Winfrey Show consisted of a two-part spectacular at the United Center in Chicago and a final sermon delivered from the show’s studio at Harpo Productions. Together, these three hours of television encompassed many of the program’s enduring concerns: celebrity, philanthropy, Dale Carnegie–style positive thinking, and—the true foundation of the show and its creator—the theology of the black Baptist Church that raised her. “To God be the glory,” were her final words to us from her stage, a sentiment sure to inflame her legion of critics (what a pompous way to sign off from an afternoon chat show!), and one that explains, more than anything else, how this remarkable woman created a vast financial empire and became one of the most influential figures in the private lives of millions of American women.
Despite the grandeur and moment of the three-parter, despite its show-stopping intensity and buckled-down determination to sum up a 25-year mission, the true genome of the project was revealed in a run-of-the-mill episode weeks earlier. No Aretha Franklin belting out “Amazing Grace” to thousands, no Diane Sawyer announcing the planting of 25,000 oak trees in Oprah’s name, no funny pictorial of tragic hairstyles—just Oprah sitting down and talking, woman-to-woman, about certain aspects of the female experience.
The guest was Shania Twain, the country- and pop-music star who has sold more than 75 million albums, and who has been in relative seclusion the past seven years, for reasons detailed in From This Moment On, the autobiography she had come on the show to promote. The book stands as a compendium of the life events about which Oprah and Oprahcare most: deep childhood poverty made yet more harrowing by sexual molestation and domestic violence; the power of nothing more than an idea, a dream for oneself, to change a life forever; the triumph of material success after a harsh beginning; the particular, feminine joys to be found in buying and redecorating a beautiful house; the dirty rotten tendency of bad men and false friends to run off with one another, leaving you brokenhearted and humiliated; the ability of such betrayals to cause you—and this may be the single biggest theme of all of Oprah—to lose your voice, leading to the realization that, no matter what, you must regain your voice; and finally, the necessity of going Ancient Mariner on the whole experience, telling every secret thing to every available listener, until you and they are both free.
I happened to turn on the Shania episode a bit late, and I was standing out of sight of the television when the picture came on, so I didn’t at first see that the guest Oprah was interviewing was a superstar. I assumed the woman speaking in such plain, heartbroken terms about her divorce was a civilian. Her voice sounded thin and untrained, and the rush of words tumbled out quickly, as though she had only this one golden moment with Oprah to tell her story to the world, and after the camera switched off, she would vanish back into anonymity.
I have read a lot of celebrity memoirs, and their main shared quality is that they are slight. Not just short, and not merely ghostwritten, they usually emanate from the anonymous author’s scandalously brief time spent with the subject, and this paucity of material colors every page. I once had dinner with the most notorious of these ghostwriters, and he averred that he often types up a memoir after little more than a weekend in the company of the celebrity. (“Do you tape-record the sessions?,” I asked him, vaguely wondering if I should become a celebrity ghostwriter. “Yes,” he replied with a grossed-out shudder. “But I never listen to the tapes.”) But From This Moment On is not only 400 pages long, it’s also chockablock with detail—vivid sketches of minor characters, carefully rendered descriptions of places and states of mind. The acknowledgments seem to say that a married pair of professional writer/editors banged the thing into publishable shape, but Twain’s long description of the process of actually writing the book is clearly the plain truth. For this reason alone, it is substantially different from most other celebrity autobiographies; it feels intimate and unguarded, and it speaks of a particular and peculiar life. I liked the book, and I found that I also liked Twain, about whom I had known very little.
Twain’s early years were shaped by the kind of domestic chaos that is at once a cause and a result of poverty. Her barely educated mother—who at 16 had lost all her teeth in an accident that left her with a mouthful of cheap dentures—managed in the space of a decade to bear four children by three men, with a fifth child thrown in for good measure when his mother, a family relation, killed herself. The man with whom Twain’s mother ended her romantic run, and with whom she remained in an unhappy and often dangerous marriage until their early death in a car crash, was a wife beater who nearly killed her many times—often in front of the terrified children. He was also a fully participating member of the human condition, so that along with his violence were streaks of kindness and generosity (even broke, he would bring home desserts and little treats for the kids), in a mix of the sort that leaves children perpetually confused, even into adulthood, about the true nature of the person at whose hands they suffered.
During Twain’s adolescence, he would often come into her room at night—she was his adopted daughter—and seethe at her for being a “bitch” and a “slut.” He would beat her with a belt and kick her “in the ass.” Yet, like many an abused child before her, she has grown up into an adult who has plenty of good things to say about her monster; on balance, she thinks he was sort of a prince…