The Cost of FreedomHerbert Douglass July/August 2000 Ask the question again of the remnants of that same Second Ranger Battalion, now reinforced and assigned to Hill 400 in eastern France, late in November. The First Army had already thrown four divisions at Hill 400 with crushing losses. The conditions were even worse than at the Pointe. Still the Rangers went in, knowing the risk. Outnumbered 10 to one, their original strength of three full companies eventually reduced to just five officers and 86 men, they took the hill in two days. The cost of freedom is incalculable.
Ask those 19?year?old teenagers, the average age of the First U.S. Marine Division, who landed August 7, 1942, on the north shore of Guadalcanal, a small tropical island not far from Australia. Guadacanal was the first time that American forces stopped the Japanese sweep in the South Pacific, turning the tide of war.
But at what cost? Under fire during the landing, the naval forces pulled away, leaving the young marines without air support, without most of their heavy weapons, tanks, and all the rest of their supplies. But those teenagers hung on in that rain?soaked, malaria?ridden land, fighting off the snakes, leeches, jungle rot, and a well?entrenched enemy. For the next six months Guadalcanal became hell for both the young marines and the defenders. When, in early 1943, the Japanese pulled out, only 10,000 soldiers were left of their original 40,000. The First Marines required a full year of rehabilitation before they could be called a fighting unit again, having lost many thousands, dead and wounded. The cost of freedom is incalculable.
Think of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Individually, each of them had more to lose than to gain in a revolution. Most of them were already men of standing in their communities, highly educated and owners of substantial property. John Hancock, the richest man in America, became a wanted man, with a price of ,500 on his head. They did not choose to revolt; they merely wanted to be treated the same as other Englishmen were in England. And they all knew that the penalty for treason was death by hanging.
Each signer became a marked man, pursued relentlessly by the British retribution. None who had property or family were spared. Most lived to see their families killed or separated forever and their property sacked. Nine signers died of wounds or hardships during the war. Many died in poverty-the fathers of our country! Their pledge-"our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor"-was no idle boast. The cost of freedom is incalculable.
Why does freedom cost so much?
Because throughout history another principle seems too often to prevail-the principle of selfishness that seeks, often at great cost also, to control the mind and property of others. The principle of freedom must be our first commitment, for without this no one is immune against the virus of aggrandizement-the impulse to grab power, wealth, position, or reputation at the expense of others.
The cost of freedom is beyond words. So is the cost of exploitation wherein men and women lose their freedom to think, to worship, to invent. Such are forced to travel under the dark cloud of totalitarianism, no matter what name it might go by.
The purchase of freedom liberates the human spirit and frees citizens, worshipers, to lift their fellowmen to heights otherwise unattainable. But the cost of exploitation not only slams the door on human joy; it lowers the darkest clouds on initiative and progress.
Any page in any history book will shout out examples of "freedom's holy light" as well as sadder tales of human exploitation when that light went out and men and women were crushed in spirit as well as in pocket.
The principle of freedom and the spirit of exploitation are not philosophical constructs. They did not emerge suddenly in the history of humanity. Freedom and aggrandizement are at the heart of the great conflict between good and evil.
How much might freedom have cost Heaven? God has had to watch His creation make horrible mistakes and suffer appalling results, on the innocent as well as the guilty, in order to secure the universe against the desire to question His wisdom and justice ever again. What was at stake! Freedom of choice, nothing less!
Life is not truly defined without freedom. Freedom to love, freedom to become everything that you were made to be, freedom to live free from coercion, compulsion, and the tyranny of power. The principle of evil sooner or later coerces, controls, and aims to eventually destroy all opposition. But worse, evil is deceptive and persuasive, always working out its promises under the guise of liberation and more freedom.
How could God's universe ever see the truth of all this? There is the self-evident witness to all in creation of the power of life and the "dark" side that is so clearly working to destroy it. The Old Testament shows a God working to reconcile His separated creatures. A God who continues to rescue the faithful from oppresion (see "The Prince of Egypt"). A God who in the New Testament came to earth as Jesus Christ to tell His side of the freedom tale. Why? To demonstrate more clearly His message of freedom and to underscore the terrible end of rebellion and selfishness. And what did it cost the Messenger of love and grace? The cost of freedom is incalculable!
The most important words in all history are freedom and responsibility-two gifts that God has imprinted in the human soul. Whenever men and women have given up either or both, the iron curtain crashes down on reason, joy, and all of humanity's higher impulses.
To understand freedom, one needs to exercise responsibility. And to exercise responsibility, one needs to live in freedom. We really can't have one without the other. Human history is at its best when men and women respond freely in fulfilling their potential, in sharing the bounty of free enterprise, in permitting the God of grace and freedom to be reflected in their family ideals.
The purpose of this journal, for example, is to add its voice and swell the chorus, "Let freedom ring." Not primarily to protect its own right to publish freely. Not primarily to tell the world that this minority here or there deserves respect and its "rights." But to paint the big picture of why freedom is our most basic gift, to hold or lose. That freedom is more than a human emotion. That freedom has cost plenty, beyond even the best historian's ability to measure all the lives lost or impoverished in the fight to preserve it.
As responsible men and women, we must do our part to ensure that people in all lands, of all colors, whatever their politics, know that God has given them freedom to exercise their conscience, to stand up to coercion, to confront any power, whether religious, political, or tribal, that tries to destroy their freedom. In so doing, we say yes to God. At times that kind of responsibility is only, as Kipling put it, "a thin red line." But that "thin red line" has been all that was necessary in the big moments when freedom's light was dimming.
In 480 B.C. a small force of 300 Spartans died defending Greece against thousands of invading Persians and their allies. Thermopylae (Hot Gates), that narrow mountain pass in central Greece, would never have been remembered if not for the 300 men who paid the cost of freedom. They held the pass long enough for their countrymen to organize a defense that eventually saved Greek democracy and ensured the legacy our civilization owes to Greece. At that pass today is a monument with these words: "Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie."
We today should understand the cost of freedom paid by so many in the past. It is up to us to stand at our gates, adding to "that thin red line of heroes" and boldly say "No more" to coercion and control of any kind that would limit the ability of another to breathe free.
Romania was once held in the iron grip of Nicolae Ceausescu and his dreaded Securitate forces. Laszlo Tokes, pastor of the Romanian Reformed Church in Timisoara, spoke out against the horrible abuses of Ceausescu's regime.
A court order was issued for his exile from his church to a remote village. But on December 15, 1989, hundreds of loyal parishioners encircled his church in a human chain. When the police came, the church members remained firm. Then the massacre began. The officers who refused to shoot were themselves shot. But the revolution had begun. The news of Timisoara spread throughout Romania. In only a few days the tyrant Ceausescu became a hunted fugitive, his capture and execution soon to add to the horror of the upheaval.
The fanaticism of Ceausescu's Securitate, 180,000 strong, was not able to restrain the wave of freedom ignited by Tokes in Timisoara, the man who had publicly decried the horror of despotism.
The cost of freedom? Worth any price, because nothing can substitute for it. Nothing!
Herbert Douglass is an educator, author, and activist living in Weimar, California.