Friday, October 2, 2009
Freedom has many Faces
A few years ago I visited the American war cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer above Omaha beach, one of the landing points for the invasion on June 6, 1944, where thousands of American troops lie buried. While wandering among the many gravesites in this poignant and eminently beautiful and peaceful place overlooking the English Channel, I was approached by a man easily recognizable as a German national.
“May I ask you a question, sir? You are an American, are you not?” he asked in heavily accented English.
Puzzled and somewhat unsure of how to answer the stranger I replied that yes, I was.
The stranger looked around and pointed an accusing finger at a group of American children running playfully between the Crosses and Stars of David in pursuit of some kiddy play known only to them.
“Look at that. Isn’t this shameful? Desecrating a hallowed place like this? You as an American, should go back and ask your president to order Hollywood to stop making gangster films and instead make movies that teach people, especially the children, respect for their dead soldiers. You ought to be ashamed.”
The man’s presumptuousness in lecturing me, and by extension my country, provoked me. I felt I had to answer him in kind.
“You obviously don’t know much about the United States,” I said, trying to sound as condescending as possible. “First of all, in my country the president cannot order Hollywood or anyone else what to do or not do. We call that freedom. That’s exactly what those who are buried here fought and died for. Freedom. They gave their lives protecting that very freedom,” I finished, and turned away.
The above event came to my mind today while listening to the acrimonious and often offensive invectives many conservatives in Congress throw against those who are seeking a comprehensive health care reform; seeing our society being polarized as never before; watching our overpolitized Congress as it leads us to the brink of social, economic and political catastrophe. A Congress where our elected representatives shamelessly give their own twist to our forebears’ ideals of a government of the people, by the people and for the people, where freedom and opportunity are distributed equally among all the people.
Contrary to what I said to that man in the cemetery above Omaha beach, I now do ask the president to rally his party’s majority in Congress to crush the rabid opposition to a public option in a reformed health care system. A public competition to the entrenched private insurance companies is the only way to arrest the insatiable greed of a private sector gone wild and repair the mess caused by decades of political negligence.
In a way, this too is a fight for freedom. Freedom for every American to have the health care we all deserve, without being gouged by the private insurance companies.