Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Will you be slaves, or free?

Essential reflections on Liberty, and what it means to be an American from James Riley.

Every American-born, college-"educated" liberal needs to learn the same truths.
Americans Made Here

By James Riley

As I have told dozens of the teachers who visit our farm, when we first began conducting Revolutionary War field trips on Riley's Farm, I thought we would perform--if we were lucky--perhaps 10 or 20 tours a year. I thought my own passion for 18th century history, and the whole story of universal human rights on display in the story of Lexington and Concord, would have--at best--a limited audience. I thought, in other words, I would be preaching to the choir for a few kindred souls who knew Sam Adams was more than a beer label.

I could not have been more wrong.

From January to the end of June and from October to the middle of December, we are performing the Revolutionary War Adventure for hundreds of visitors a day, five days a week. I had my first inkling of the story's universal appeal one day when I was leading a group of Korean American boys through the orchard, in military formation, and I heard one of them shout it out behind me, "this is COOL!"

The simple truths are universal. They transcend all cultural, economic, and ethnic boundaries. An Italian American and an African American an Asian American a Mexican American and an Irish American and a Greek American all applaud long and loud when they hear Patrick Henry's immortal words, "Give me Liberty or Give me Death!" When they stand on the battle line and I shout out the rallying cry, "will you be free or slaves?" they all respond, without hesitation, "free!" When I strike up the tune that was once "God Save the King," but that is now "My country 'tis of thee," the voices start in, and they begin to swell, and some afternoons you can hear hundreds of American voices singing, with deep conviction, "from every mountain side, let freedom ring."

Again, the simple truths are universal. No one wants to be a slave. No one wants to have their parents rounded up and put in cattle cars. No one wants to be told who or where to worship. No one wants to have their earnings, their homes, their children stolen from them, by arbitrary, arrogant, un-bridled authority.

Thomas Jefferson had it right. We are endowed by our "Creator with certain unalienable rights." This isn't just an outdated baroque English notion--it's a universal conviction--a granite pillar at the center of our souls. Tyrants can't stand the notion that we--as Americans--derive our rights not from neighborhood committees, not from academic studies, not from tepid consensus, but from God Himself--from our "Creator." Tyrants hate this conviction with a passion. That's why China rounded up another 80 Christian pastors this week. That's why Stalin and Hitler and Castro and Pol Pot had to subjugate their churches before they could subjugate and torture their own people.

Americans HATE tyranny and whether it takes the form of an English aristocrat or a Taliban zealot, they will--as Jefferson predicted--water the tree of liberty with the blood of the tyrant every time. Freedom is what we have in common as Americans, and that is what we teach here. I'm struck--over and over again--by how completely universal that notion is. Left, right, or middle of the road-- Americans lock arms on the story of liberty.

We spend a lot of time these days talking about--and even celebrating our differences, and I love some of those differences. I married a Greek girl and she feeds me well--with foods that I never grew up with as a child. I love Mariachi bands and German Oktoberfests and Irish music. I am fiercely proud of my pioneer stock--of ancestors who braved the wilderness in four different American centuries. I love New England architecture, but I also love Spanish courtyards and Swedish log cabins and Irish stone walls.

I will tell you, though, that--as Americans--there is one difference we should NOT celebrate. There is nothing particularly joyful about Castro's Cuba or the moral lethargy of modern day France. I see no real cause for celebration in pondering Saudi Arabia's total lack of religious tolerance or the brutal rape squads of the Sudanese Muslims. The canine appetite for power demonstrated by China's political leaders isn't something I quietly celebrate whenever I order--and thoroughly enjoy--Mushu Pork. America's immigrants should be taught that their cultural traditions are valuable, but their political assumptions should be left at the border. They left slaves; they arrive sons and daughters of Liberty. It isn't about the differences between the cultures and the ethnicities; it's about people who believe in freedom and those who don't.

And, perhaps just as important, they need to know that Americans fight for that liberty. A friend of mine has a ministry to recently arrived Christians from the middle east. These are folks who have endured tyrannical Muslim majorities most of their lives, and some of them don't really believe any government will ever truly honor freedom and promote justice, but immigrants from all nations need to know that Americans will gladly lock arms with people of every color to protect what their ancestors have purchased with blood. Americans don't stand quivering at the door, asking quietly for their God given rights. They demand them. As one commentator put it, liberty is not really ever given. It is taken.

Well, at Riley's Farm, we teach that story. Along with their teachers, and their parents, we are happy to be teaching a new generation of children the most vital of American truths, and in so doing, we are proud to be, literally, making new Americans every day.