Recently, I was reminded of the value of freedom while attending a military retirement ceremony in Washington D.C. Driving down the hill after the ceremony, my soul was stirred as my eyes caught a glimpse of the late-summer sun reflecting across the sea of white-washed stones at the adjacent Arlington National Cemetery — and wondered what it is that defines a person who is willing to give his or her life in exchange for freedom.
As I wrote in an article, “Obama standing on Bush’s shoulders,” written just after Osama bin Laden’s death, it seems like only yesterday when the eyes of the world were fixed on television screens filled with ghastly scenes of fellow Americans forced to make the decision as to how they would die that dreadful September 11, 2001 morning.
Some chose skull-splitting skyscraper-to-sidewalk jumps, while others chose to be charred-alive in a steel-melting inferno. On airplanes, some decided to sit in their seats and silently pray, while others shouted “Let’s roll,” and took matters into their own hands.
As the stench and smoke from human infirmaries colored the skies gray, a cloud of grief descended over the country – and America’s enemy celebrated.
Pictures of Old Glory intermingled with homemade signs displaying the words “Never Forget” sprang up on street corners and front yards throughout America. And, for a brief moment, it appeared that the patriotism of yesteryear was awakened from its long slumber as Americans chose to cross racial, political and religious barriers to join hands and hearts to celebrate our commonality.
The nasty partisan divide resulting from the 2000 presidential election seemed to be temporarily patched with the bandage of brotherhood, as our nation swallowed a bitter pill of truth: We were at war with Islamic extremists seeking to destroy our freedoms.
These extremists strategically attacked when we were distracted and weak from political divisiveness.
Time seemed to stop for most Americans who found themselves caught up in grief.
Nevertheless, the sun continued to rise and fall, and the seasons changed. We bandaged our wounds the best we could, and were forced to move forward, although it seemed inappropriate. Ten years-removed, and amidst wars on three fronts, war-weary Americans have fallen into a regimen of “normalcy” and have adapted to a necessary post-9/11 mentality.
Great strides have been taken to weaken our self-avowed enemy, but we are still at risk. Only months into President Obama’s presidency, Americans grew to understand that having an American president with Muslim heritage makes little difference to a terrorist.
Attacks and attempts continue; just last week, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a five-page bulletin, warning of potential homeland al Qaeda attacks via small aircraft.
Nor does a president possessing a Middle-Eastern name improve America’s standing in the Middle East.
A July 13, 2011 poll conducted in six Middle Eastern countries by Arab American Institute found Obama’s approval rating never got above 10 percent.
Ninety-nine percent of Lebanese, 90 percent of Egyptians, 88 percent of Moroccans and 77 percent of Saudis believe Obama did not meet his 2009 Cairo speech expectations. The survey found Obama’s approval ratings lower than George W. Bush’s second term and lower than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s, with the exception of Saudi Arabia.
Be it war-weariness, human nature, the divisiveness of the current administration, or a little of each, patriotism has paled, and our unity, diminished. This writer included, many have forgotten who the real enemy is, and have forgotten to remember those who willingly pledged our freedom with their blood.
We are eternally indebted to those who satisfied the yearning for freedom within their souls by running headlong into the face of death, realizing they would never fully taste the freedom for which they were dying.
And, most certainly, in that moment of self-denial, their souls inhaled freedom in its purest form.
May we never forget.
(E-mail Susan Stamper Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org)