Ben Franklin once stated, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Albert Einstein believed that “the basis of a democratic society is liberty.” Malcolm X would argue that “you can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a “day when his children would be free.” So what exactly does it mean to be free?
Was the freedom that Benjamin Franklin expressed the same freedom that Dr. King dreamed of? What determines a person’s freedom? Or better yet, who determines a person’s freedom? Is it a leader or some form of government? Is it God? Or is it the individual? Is the state of being “free” a feeling that one creates, or is there tangible evidence that freedom exists?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines freedom as “the absence of necessity, coercion (domination by force) or constraint in choice or action.” America defines freedom as one’s ability to pursue life and happiness. Are you free? Are you happy?
In President Bush’s recent inauguration speech, he uses the word freedom numerous times in defining the worldwide spread of democracy and the fight against terrorism. The war with Iraq has even been labeled as “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” implying that the war is designed to “free” the foreign country from their social, cultural and governmental constraints.
Using the method of war, America has destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, and then imposed elections forcing the Iraqi people to vote for U.S. selected officials. Consequently, not only are U.S. social influences being imposed, but America is now controlling the country’s governmental policies and decisions. This was forced on the Iraqi people. Was Iraq not “free” because they had what some might call an “evil” dictator? What determined if he was “evil” or not? Did Saddam kill innocent civilians in his own country? Do millions of Americans go to bed hungry every night? Is there a difference between these two ills on society? Doesone deserve more attention than the other?
In addition to the exaggeration of the word “freedom” in his inaugural speech, religious leaders even prayed for Bush and his presidency. What does this mean? By co-signing Bush’s agenda, these religious scholars imply that God is in favor of forcing another country’s people into submission of American government, beliefs and way of life.
Furthermore, this implies that God is only on America’s side and the rest of the world is evil and wrong. God bless America and no place else. What type of God would support war or any other form of imperialism? Is this our idea of freedom? With more than $200 billion dedicated to the upkeep of military personnel, less money is being provided for the social needs of this country. This means that the cycle of poor health care and education for many citizens will continue. In the land of freedom, how can one community have great resources and another lack them (West Chester vs. North Philly, for example)?
The philosopher Epictutus believed that “only the educated are free,” but poor education is not education. In an environment with few resources, how can one be expected to dream and pursue happiness when one is constrained by poverty? Why wouldn’t more money be dedicated to American communities? For example, in oneweek, America gave $350 million to relief efforts for the Tsunami victims (which is great), but what if that money was used for poor American neighborhoods? Is the world designed so only a few can have an opportunity at freedom? How can someone be “free” knowing that the field of opportunity is biased and unequal?
What do we mean when we say that we are “free” or that we are promoting freedom? These are the questions that not only Albert Einstein, Malcolm X, and others asked, but they are questions that we must continually ask as well.
Shane Daniels is a student at West Chester University.