Freedom is worth its very steep price

Freedom is worth its very steep price By David Lias As I write this, four days have passed since Vermillion celebrated Veterans Day.

Enough time has passed for us to once again get back into our daily routines and simply take for granted the freedoms we enjoy today.

Some of us can't take our minds completely off the topic of veterans and war, however, as we exercise this nation's cherished freedom of expression.

There has been much hand-wringing lately as our military has advanced farther and farther into Afghanistan.

There are people who are calling for the fighting to stop. Civilians are being killed by stray American bombs, they claim. Thousands of others are fleeing into surrounding countries, forced to abandon their dwellings, quaint and barren as they might be, for the horror of overcrowded refugee camps.

So, is the military effort by the United States, sparked by the attacks of Sept. 11, worth all this suffering?

It would do well for all of us to remember the words of former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, who spoke at USD only two weeks after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

Kerrey stood behind a podium at Slagle Auditorium on his one good leg (his other was blown away in a jungle battle in Vietnam) and asked his listeners to reflect on the outcome if the United States and other allies hadn't gone to war in Korea five decades ago.

He said the Korean War experience teaches Americans that U.S. leaders must have victory as their goal when they launch a new war.

"We must come to the American people and say that the strategic objective is victory, and we will settle for nothing less," he said.

Kerrey said he has no problem putting the Korean War in its proper perspective. It is important for Americans, he said, to look back and see what the conflict accomplished.

Kerrey asked his audience to compare life north of the 38th parallel in Korea to life south of that boundary.

* The 48 million people who live in South Korea generate $16,000 in per capita income, compared to $1,000 per capita income in North Korea.

* South Korea has an infant mortality rate comparable to the United States. North Korea's infant mortality is comparable to what one would see in the worst living environments.

* North Korea is an importer of food, Kerrey said, and its people struggle just to make ends meet.

"All one has to do to understand what this war produced is look at what it produced both economically and in terms of political freedom for the 48 million of the Republic of Korea," he said.

Approximately a month later, Lech Walesa spoke here. Walesa, who fearlessly took a stance against a repressive communist regime in Poland, noted that freedom makes the United States' efforts against terrorism worthwhile.

"You must realize one thing, that many people around the world resent you," he said. "Not because it is your fault, but because there is no leadership in the world, because there is no empowerment for the (other) leaders to lead the world.

"Actually, the United States is there to do all of the dirty work for everybody else," Walesa said. "You enjoy such great prosperity, you are such a powerful nation, because it was to the United States that the best daughters and sons of all the nations around the world did come."

Generations of people traveled across oceans to America, he said, because they felt confined living in countries like Poland and under similar regimes in countries around the world.

"With hard work, with a lot of sweat and tears shed into the American soil, you built up the power of the United States," Walesa said. "The world must not allow any madman to destroy this power of the United States."

The former electrician, who knows firsthand what it is like to live without personal freedom, shared a most profound political observation.

"I believe the United States is even more badly needed to the world than to the United States itself," Walesa said.

As our military continues its offensive in Afghanistan, this likely is starting to become a common observation in that country.

Thanks to a relentless pounding from U.S. air and ground forces, the Taliban lost grip of the city of Kabul this week, allowing the Northern Alliance to move in. The result?

The street markets of that Afghanistan city were full of people after the Taliban fled, and hundreds walked or rode bicycles down a street through the presidential palace compound that previously had been off limits.

"We welcome the Northern Alliance forces because they are our people, not foreign forces," said Sher Agha, 43, a former Afghan army officer who has been jobless for the last three years. Agha, who is the father of six, including three daughters, added, "My wife has not been able to go outside alone without being beaten by the Taliban, and they also beat our girls."

With the Taliban gone, some residents indulged in activities banned by the hard-line Islamic group during its five years in power there. People flew kites and played music cassettes, both prohibited by the no-nonsense militants. In one public square, a bus fitted with loudspeakers blared a patriotic song as young men danced on top of it.

The fighting is far from over in that part of the world, but some Afghan people are already beginning to taste something they have long wished for � freedom.

Freedom is the legacy we all take for granted. And, as an old cliche goes, freedom isn't free. But as the Afghan people will agree, freedom is worth its rather steep price.

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