BOSTON - Following Sept. 11, 2001, a day of infamy on which nearly 3,000 died at the hands of terrorists, The New York Times began publishing the names and pictures of the dead. I made a deliberate effort to look at those pictures and to read the names and hometowns of each victim. I wanted to identify with them as much as possible.
Now the Times has published more pictures, names and ages, this time of American war dead. They are part of the 4,000 casualties to have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan since those wars began. They - and their families - deserve our gratitude.
Some politicians who oppose the war - mostly Democrats, but a few Republicans - offer obligatory and oblique references to "the troops" and their bravery, while undermining their sacrifice and objectives by calling for their immediate withdrawal. That is not a policy, unless one regards surrender and retreat only to fight a bloodier war another day policy.
What is remarkable is that America continues to produce the kind of young men and women who are willing to lay down their lives for a principle: the principle of freedom - for others and for us.
This is a characteristic that may not be uniquely American, but it is one this country has fully embraced, as time and time again it fights wars to liberate others and protect itself. As the excellent HBO series on the life of John Adams portrays, the notion of freedom was conceived in the hearts of our countrymen even before America became a nation. It is a story about sacrifice, separation from loved ones and the forsaking of familiar and comfortable surroundings in favor of misery and hardship. The fight for independence involved emotional and physical pain and unenviable loss. But it also produced gain for those willing to pay the price. "John Adams" tells another truth: freedom isn't free. It must be bought and paid for by every generation and sometimes more than once within a generation.
Freedom is not a natural state - otherwise more people would be free. Tyranny, oppression, dictatorship and the denial of human rights are the norm for much of the planet. Mankind's lower nature dictates that far too many seek to reduce others to servitude in order to elevate themselves. President Bush has repeatedly said that freedom is a God-given right that resides in the heart of every human. Maybe, but sometimes one must fight to extract it from the hardened hearts of others who want it exclusively for themselves.
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