What is Freedom?

Did the Greatest Generation sacrifice for nothing?

The further removed we are from that era the greater the life of ease we’ve gained. Returning Sailors and GIs came home to an American economic machine powering the world. Old military barracks were turned into housing while the forerunners of Levittowns were built. Suddenly, suburbs were springing up all across America, dads were using the GI Bill to earn degrees worth something useful, kids raised on wartime shortages and sacrifice were going off to college, and mom and dad were buying second homes on lakes they discovered in real estate brochures.

Well, not everyone. Shantytowns and ghettos, “The Projects,” as we called them when I was a kid, somehow were left behind. Black Sailors and GIs returned home to much the same America they left. Segregated hotels, restrooms, public transportation, schools and colleges, and so much more.

Think about that for a minute. Put yourself in Steward 2nd Class Smith’s place. Just a few months earlier, you were serving side by side on a battleship fighting the Japanese. Well, not exactly side-by-side; Smith was serving coffee to the officers while Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Pennington was serving out 16-inch shells to the Japanese. But, Smith’s blood ran as red as Pennington’s blood. He cried out in agony the same way Pennington did when he was hit. His family cried the same salty tears Pennington’s family did when they received the Western Union telegram from the War Department.

Now back home, Smith can’t be seen in a public facility with Pennington for fear of humiliation or arrest. Pennington waves at Smith from a distance after surreptitiously looking around to make sure nobody sees him wave.

Pennington goes off to trade school and goes on to have a good life.

Smith? He has to wait until Rosa Parks makes waves and Martin Luther King Jr, makes noise before his lot starts to improve. But he’s still not really “free.”

What’s it take to be free?

As they gained the luxury of idle time, the more thought Pennington and his kind gave to things outside their immediate sphere of influence. One thing they wanted to do was make the world a better place. But for foreigners, not for the people right under their nose.

Smith? His world wasn’t getting any better. Welfare didn’t help. Arguably, it made things worse. Dependence on another isn’t freedom.

What’s it take to be truly free?

Pennington’s fortunes hit a bump and he had to feed his family with food stamps for a while, but opportunity soon presented itself again and he prospered, paid off the mortgage ten years early and retired at 55. That Honda Gold Wing sure felt good between the thighs as he and the Missus tooled around the country visiting family and old shipmates.

Smith? He did all right, got a decent job, scraped up every penny, got off welfare, sent his kids to a “Black” college, died of a heart attack at 55.

Now Smith was free.

His kids fared better, but it wasn’t always the same freedom the Pennington kids enjoyed. They could never be sure if that was the same slight a White person would get from that salesman. Was their promotion merit-based or affirmative action? Would a traffic stop leave someone bleeding or dead? Was the jury of their peers fair and unbiased? Would they ever be accepted as equals in a White neighborhood?

But I’m not the one who has to wonder if that was a genuine snub by the waiter or if it was racism. Until we solve that problem, none of us are going to be truly free in the land of the free.

What is freedom?

It’s hard to believe we’re still fighting the same Civil War we fought 155 years ago. One Hundred and Fifty-Five. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FIVE YEARS AGO. But now it isn’t White against White. It’s become White against Black.

We’re still not free. Oh, some of us are freer than others, but, really, can any of us be truly free if some of us don’t feel welcomed in our own country?

People like me are complicit in others’ lack of true freedom when we deny there’s a problem. We can stand around the scuttlebutt all day long and complain about what’s going on or we can ask why? Why is this happening? Is it racism? Or is it something else?

I think it’s something else. I believe racism plays a part in it for some people, but I don’t believe it’s nearly the same problem it was in 1968.

Part of it is security and part of it is hope. Until every one of us has the security to live without fear of dying lonely and destitute, and every one of us has an equal chance for a bright and secure future, and when every one of us has the same sense of hope that our children will enjoy the same beautiful lives we had with nothing holding them back but themselves, no American can say they are truly free.

Freedom is not free.

We’re still paying for it in blood. White and Black will pay together until all the chains are removed and buried. We can force freedom with violence, or we can do what Americans have always done in time of need: work together to find a solution to defeat the enemy. After that, we can work together to make America truly the Land of the Free and a beacon of liberty for others.

I understand why Black Lives Matter came to be. It shouldn’t have come to this but it did. But, it’s wrong to condemn an entire system for the act of one bad policeman and the inaction of three others. It’s wrong to let your movement become an accessory to rioting, pillaging, burning, and killing. You haven’t even condemned the way your movement has gotten out of hand. Your inaction has led to open warfare of Law Enforcement Officers 99% of whom are just like you and me and working hard to make ends meet. Thugs act this way with threats and intimidation.

But it got noticed. And that’s a start. Let’s hope virtue-signaling gives way to concrete action.

That, my Dear Rosie, is why I called them thugs. I gave you away while wishing you were my blood. You know I love you, my Daughter.

17 thoughts on “What is Freedom?

  1. This was one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve read on the mess I see today. I, myself, never really noticed a difference in people except male/female or drunk/sober. I was learned how to play Yahtzee as a tot from a Hawaiian native and her black husband. Later, I hung out with another family with a Korean mom and a white dad. One of the teachers in my elm school was black, she was just as unforgiving as anyone else when it came to failing to turn in homework. Yet, I was shocked when my youngest told me racism didn’t exist. I almost cried because I saw myself as raising him in a white world without seeing. Living in small town rural farming America is not all it is cracked up to be..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great piece of writing, Will. I’ve wondered about your perspective on all of this as someone who was willing to risk his life for our freedoms. You’ve made us all think and see things (hopefully) with different eyes. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My perspective has evolved somewhat, John. I still have a lot of thoughts on race relations and this post is the first I’ve felt comfortable addressing my views in. I mentored a young Black Sailor in my last seagoing squadron and gave her away when she married. I was humbled and honored when she asked me to stand in for her father. That was in 2002. We’ve remained in touch over the years. Yesterday, in a Facebook post, I called BLM thugs. Her comment was, “Okaaaay….”
      That got me to thinking about how I could explain my position so she’d understand what I meant. That’s where this post came from.
      ❤❤Rosie still calls me Dad, and I will always call her Daughter❤❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand. My ideas are still evolving as well. And I thing that is good for all sides to have an evolving perspective. Some things I still do not understand. I think there is still a lot to be said for the police officers who are assigned extremely difficult neighborhoods to serve in, much like war zones due to drugs and crime. They have a story to tell as well. But we rarely hear their stories.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Congratulations on your nomination! You’ve earned it with your dedication to topics that strive to improve people’s lives. I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts. When your book is published, I want to be the first in line for a copy.
      Thank you for nominating me as well, it’s a very gracious gesture. I appreciate so much that you consider my writing of value in promoting people’s emotional health. That’s always been my goal. Making people think and helping them see things from a different perspective gives them extra tools for improving their lives and that of others.
      Thank you! ☺❤

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      1. You’re welcomed, Will! And thank you. 😊 I truly appreciate all the support. 🌹 And yes, for us (many) writers, whether it’s through fiction or non fiction, it’s important to deliver positivity and truth in our work. Have a happy Father’s day!

        Like

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