(The following unpublished op-ed piece was initially written on Feb. 5, 2005, just after the 2nd inauguration of President George W. Bush.)
In 1863 more than half of all age appropriate Americans were ineligible to vote. In the two years leading up to that, more than 200,000 Americans had been killed, there was no end to the Civil War in sight, yet Abraham Lincoln knowingly inflamed the southern resistance and signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Two years and a quarter of a million more deaths later, more than half of all age appropriate Americans were still not eligible to vote.
In this land of the great democratic experiment, women were not allowed to vote until tens of thousands more died in World War I, 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And still, after tens of thousands more American deaths from World War II, many blacks in many states were still not eligible to vote more than 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation - though many died trying. They died at the end of police batons, police dogs, and fire hoses and at the hands of hooded insurgent night riders and church bombers.
And as late as the mid 1970s, 20 years after Brown v. Board of Education, black children and their parents were stoned and beaten in Boston, Massachusetts for seeking an education in the same schools as white children. Our very own history, checkered with violence, sexism, racism, wisdom and vision is testimony to the inherent desire to be free. History is littered with people from Mosul to Mississippi and from Kabul to Kentucky, having never known freedom, willing to risk their lives to mark a piece of paper as a sign of their thirst for liberty. Iraq is merely the latest in a centurys long history of opposition to slavery, tyranny and oppression.
The present challenges to President Bush's military intervention in Iraq and his overall War on Terror belie the obligation of our elected representatives to live up to their oath to defend us from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Yet between the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and a series of attacks aimed at Americans leading up to that 21st Century Day of Infamy, the enemy was known but no defense was sought. As soldiers, sailors and civilians were repeatedly targeted for destruction, those congressional members of the Foreign Relations, Armed Forces, and Intelligence Committees mourned and wept but they did not protect and defend. Along with our protectors of freedom and liberty in the Fourth Estate, they were content to tell the American people how lucky we were to have President Clinton - how President Clinton was at his very best when he was calming our fears and soothing our pain - and how President Clinton gave us hope and confidence when he vowed that "We will hunt them down and make them pay!" However, after each successive terrorist attack no one in the Congress and no one in the Fourth Estate demanded a progress report on our mission to hunt them down and make them pay.
Suddenly, they have all become smart about fighting terror. Suddenly they know how we could have captured bin Laden. And suddenly they know how we could have disarmed Saddam Hussein without a shot being fired or an American life being lost. The hue and cry that the sacrifices in lives and resources have been too great flies in the face of history. Through the sorrow and tears of their sacrifice we saw it when Solidarity rose up in Poland. Through their sorrow, tears and inestimable poverty we saw it when the Haitians drove out the Duvaliers. We saw it at American lunch counters, at the doors of our schools, in the open casket of Emmett Till, and the mass grave of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. And we saw it again on the ink-stained fingers of the Iraqi people.
Freedom is not an Anglo-American, Anglo European or burgeoning Third World concept. It is a genetic characteristic intrinsic to the human DNA. However, freedom is rarely born without great vision. Just and noble causes require great visionaries. September 11th was the clarion call to search farther and deeper. In the tradition of Lincoln and FDR, President George W. Bush has the courage to look farther forward. And it is an abomination when the representatives and beneficiaries of the world's greatest democracy insult the bravery and sacrifice of those who march toward freedom and those who lead the way.