Freedom Isn't Free

12/26/2005 06:09 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It doesn’t take courage to throw a punch. It takes courage to take a punch.

Nelson Mandela isn’t a hero because he was the most vicious. Mahatma Gandhi didn’t save his nation by being the most violent. Martin Luther King wasn’t courageous because he was the most vengeful. All of these men had one thing in common – they knew how to take a punch … and not punch back.

Is America that brave? Is America that courageous? Is America that heroic?

We got hit on September 11th. And what was our reaction? Courage under fire? Grace through trying times? No, blind, angry, purposeless vengeance. Not just at our enemy, but at ourselves.

What would have taken courage is a measured, just response. What took easy cowardice was fire in all directions. For the love of God, we attacked the wrong Middle Eastern country – and we’re not even sorry.

We lost 3,000. We killed over 30,000 in the wrong country. There were no Iraqis on those planes. Saddam had nothing to do with those attacks – and yet, we callous, wrapped in freedom’s glory, are unmoved. We say in our boastful ignorance, they had it coming.

Who? Who? Who had it coming? The man who hit us sits comfortably in northern Pakistan – in allied territory – laughing at the blind, dumb beast swinging wildly to and fro. Creating more bodies and souls for his fight.

But worse than our grotesque disregard for a just fight and the right enemy, we have done violence to ourselves and to our principles.

Is this all it took for us to throw our values away? We get hit once, and we run from our principles like untested men who lack the courage of their convictions. We say we believe in rights, we believe in liberties, we believe in freedom. And the minute we’re struck, we’re ready to throw those away in the name of unattainable absolute security. Is the price of freedom so cheap?

Snake oil salesmen have been trying to sell people a false sense of security for time immemorial. Our founding fathers tried to warn us of men like these. They tried to protect us by writing inalienable rights into our founding document. Are we going to give up what they fought so hard for just because we’re scared now?

Brave men have defended that constitution for hundreds of years through many more wars far bloodier than this. And for all that sacrifice, we are ready to roll up those rights they died for at the first sign of trouble. Will we be remembered as the generation of cowards who gave up our freedom after the first volley?

It’s easy to succumb to an authority figure who promises more security. It’s hard to stand together against what might be more violence directed at all of us. It’s easy to give up your rights for what you think is a little more safety. It’s hard to fight for those rights in the face of bullies and enemies, foreign and domestic.

Their leader says his people don’t need liberties, they just need his divine guidance. Our leader says something similar. He says he will protect us by taking away some of our rights and that we should put our trust in him because he is led by God.

I say he is a charlatan and a coward.

If a man believes in America, he fights for her principles. He doesn’t cut and run from the US constitution. America isn’t the people who live in it. There have been many people who have come and gone and called themselves Americans. Our soldiers didn’t fight for them. We will come and go, and our soldiers do not fight for us. They fight for something more noble, more grand. They fight for the idea that is America.

They fight so that men may be free. They fight so that we do not bow to one man who rules us all. They fight so that we may have rights that cannot be taken or given away. They fight so that we may believe whatever we choose. That is called liberty. That is called America.

If we give up on this dream today, history will never forgive us. It is easy to punch back, it is easy to launch bombs. It is difficult and brave to brace yourself for another hit while having the courage to say I will not buckle, I will not crumble, I will not betray myself.

Will we stand for American principles of justice and show the world what we’re made of? Or will we run from ourselves and fight the ghosts of enemies that never were and fears that never end?

I believe in America. Now, I wonder, does America believe in itself?