Attending a celebration service recognizing the birth and accomplishments of Dr. King is not altogether unusual on a day set aside as a holiday in memory of the man and his impact on the future fabric of our nation. What makes this year’s attendance unusual is that I’m in Iraq. I’m deployed to the northern-most airfield in Free Iraq. As a member of a medical unit assigned to Freedom Air Base, I have seen much that tells me of wounds caused by the blustery winds of war.
How many times have we heard that freedom isn’t free? Martin knew that sacrifices for freedom were part of the deal. Freedom truly isn’t free. We hear the noisy complaints of the cost to the treasury of bringing the ideals and principles of freedom to the Iraqi’s. We listen to the dialogue of those who do not support the decision to take action here. We find news of some who believe that our motives are not pure. We are told by some that the exportation of freedom is not our business. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
I think Martin would wonder what has happened to us? He would wonder, “What happened to this Nation whose founding principles are ‘certain inalienable rights’ ”? He might question those who dismiss his dream, that all of God’s children might one day be free. Martin didn’t restrict his dream to only black Americans. His dream was for all people…everywhere.
How strange it is to sit in body armor and Kevlar helmets in the sanctuary of a chapel celebrating the life and ideals of a man who talked the talk, and walked the walk of peaceful civil disobedience and protest. We listen to the words of those who bring to mind the power of this man and his movement. We listen, too, for the telltale sound of rockets headed our direction as a direct response taken against our actions to bring freedom and the seeds of democracy to a nation’s people, long suffering at the hands of a tyrant.
It is seems incongruous to ponder a man of peace while dressed in full “battle rattle”. A man who believed that freedom was a God given right for everyone. It seems inconsistent investing in war to bring about peace. Freedom, indeed, isn’t free. It isn’t free from mental scars, bodily wounds or pain. It isn’t free from disruption, destruction or death. Martin knew that. He accepted the price of freedoms investment. Can we as a nation step up to that plate? Or are we only stepping up long enough to declare a quick victory and then leave without planting and tending the seeds of freedom? As a nation, we’ve been nurturing freedom for over 200 years...and we’re still working on it. Just as the soil is prepared for planting, so must a nation and its’ people be prepared for freedom. As seeds are sown for planting, so must the seeds be sown for democracy to flourish. As seeds of freedom grow and mature, so does a nation. And when the crop is harvested and freedom won; it is then that the fruits of our labor are returned on our investment and ultimate cost thereof.
I think Martin would have said that when the planes slammed into the heart of America, they were not targeting black people, or white people, or Asians, or Native Americans, or Hispanics, or Hindu’s, or Catholics, or Jews, or Protestants. They were intent on killing Americans. What they didn’t count on was the unity found among our people. They uncovered a system of beliefs that say freedom, and the rights and responsibilities that go with it, is our strength. I don’t know what Martin would have said about bringing peace and freedom on the wings of war; but I believe he would fight for the cause of justice and freedom and he would lay down his life for others, just as others have done in this foreign place far from America’s shores.
As I write this piece, a day is ending here, just as a new day is beginning in the mid-west. Embrace the day and hold each other close. Be reminded of your liberties and take time to remember the legacy of a man who taught us love. It seems that the basis for most of the troubles in the world is fear; fear of the unknown, fear of allowing others to be on equal footing. Fear can be driven by false evidence appearing to be real, because we have heard the lies, the innuendoes, the myths and fables, the false evidence we choose to believe over the reality or the truth of a situation about a person or a people. Where there is love, there is no fear. Where there is love, there is peace.
We bring peace and love to the people of Iraq. If they are to be free of oppression and fear we have to show them what freedom is. We have to teach them the difficult responsibilities of freedom and that it is a gift. Freedom is a gift of great value and worth fighting for to preserve. It will take time, just as Martin knew it would take time for America to come of age, and give the gift of equality and freedom to all of her citizens.
Dewayne Knott, Lt Col, USAF 506th Expeditionary Medical Squadron Kirkuk Air Base Northern Iraq
Post Script January 16, 2012:
As I post this missive, America has removed her military men and women from Iraq. We have brought the people of Iraq the opportunity for freedom and democracy to take hold. We must be patient and continue to support their efforts to find the path to a functioning freely elected government. It took our forbearers 300 years to declare independence and form “a more perfect union”. In this fast paced world of drive by fast food, drive by banking, drive by pharmacies and drive by shootings; we must remember that which is done well take time and patience to temper the product to the best it can be. Let us be patient and remember the lives lost and lives broken as freedom was given an opportunity to a people we don’t know well but in a place trodden by the disciples of Christ 2,000 years ago.