Friday, July 04, 2008

Freedom Isn't Free, part II

Happy 4th of July! What a great day to celebrate this great country and the freedoms it gives us--freedom to speak, worship, assemble together--freedom to live! I know it sounds weird, but when I was a kid, this was actually my favorite holiday of the whole year. There's just something incredible about our country--not perfect, of course, but beautiful and open and growing and exciting and a beacon of freedom to the world. I know all that's awkward, but it's a feeling I really struggle to put into words.

I wrote last week that, it's a cliche, but freedom isn't free. So today I also remember and honor the sacrifices of all the men and women who have fought to protect this land. In that spirit, here's part of a speech Ronald Reagan gave in 1984, on the 40th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy in World War II (you can read the whole speech and listen to it here). It's about 225 brave U.S. Army Rangers, the "Boys of Pointe du Hoc," who climbed a cliff under enemy gunfire to seize a key gun emplacement and held it for two days before being reinforced. Only 90 were still able to fight by the time the main U.S. force fought their way there. This literally makes me cry every time I read it:

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge--and pray God we have not lost it--that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They thought--or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.

Something else helped the men of D-Day: their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''

These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies....

Strengthened by their courage and heartened by their value [valor] and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

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