This morning, three days before the most significant, in my mind, of the three government holidays i think should be the only government holidays, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day being the other two, i sat down at my desk in the early morning.
i have taken to taking my blood pressure (it’s relatively okay, but like my weight, a little more than it should be, correctable by better personal discipline, something i manage to forgo for personal likes), then i will start an exercise regimen, one at a time in between sitting down at the computer. i check my email, Facebook, this site to see if there are any comments. Then, i link to a couple of news media to see if anything really important has happened. This means i rarely read more than one headline item and often just go on about my business. Of course, i check the sports links, not as thoroughly as i used to, but after all, i was a sports editor, and in spite of continual ranting about “sports” no longer being sports, it’s in my blood.
This morning, however, a link positioned at the bottom of a news story where there are “sponsored” crap most of the time, i found this link: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-the-last-nuremberg-prosecutor-alive-wants-the-world-to-know/. Out of curiosity, i checked it out.
i couldn’t stop reading until the end. Many thoughts came rushing to my mind.
The first thought was what an incredible hero Ben Ferencz is and how his story is subjugated to all of the crap — i struggled for a better term here, but decided to call a spade a spade — above it about name calling, line-drawing, hate, one-sidedness, and acts Ben Ferencz has fought against all of his ninety-seven years.
Another thought was i am sitting here almost completely separated from the horror Ben Ferencz saw and pursued justice for those horrors while maintaining a perspective the vast majority of us have abandoned. i’m sitting here enjoying my coffee, my exercise regimen, my morning routine, even writing this post, because i have freedom, independence.
i reread Lesley Stahl’s report on her interview with Mr. Ferencz.
More thoughts kept hitting me in the head.
i was stunned i was not aware, or hopefully didn’t remember…no, that’s not right. i’m not hopeful i didn’t remember: i am ashamed i was not aware or did not remember the Einsatzgruppen’s crimes against humanity. i was stunned their horrible acts could have been swept under history’s rug altogether because of the busy slate of prosecution facing the administrators of the Nuremberg Trials except for the insistence and passion for justice of one Mr. Ben Ferencz. And i was appalled i actually could comprehend how Einsatzgruppen “killing more than a million people — not in concentration camps — but in towns and villages across Eastern Europe” could have been completely ignored.
i almost wept when i discovered Mr. Ferencz’ wisdom when Ms Stahl asked if these international criminals might have otherwise been normal people: “Of course, is my answer. These men would never have been murderers had it not been for the war. These were people who could quote Goethe, who loved Wagner, who were polite–” and “Do you think the man who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was a savage? Now I will tell you something very profound, which I have learned after many years. War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.”
i paused and considered the horror of the concentration camps and the chilling mass murders of the Einsatzgruppen against today’s backdrop of murders across our country, the insane murder of innocents in wars across our world, ISIS, Taliban, the Syrian government, and on and on and on. It doesn’t seem like we’ve learned very much from history.
Then, Leslie asked Ben if he was naive. His response: “Well, if it’s naive to want peace instead of war, let ’em make sure they say I’m naive. Because I want peace instead of war. If they tell me they want war instead of peace, I don’t say they’re naive, I say they’re stupid. Stupid to an incredible degree to send young people out to kill other young people they don’t even know, who never did anybody any harm, never harmed them. That is the current system. I am naive? That’s insane.”
Yet he remains optimistic. Why? He sees progress. “Look at the emancipation of woman in my lifetime. You’re sitting here as a female. Look what’s happened to the same-sex marriages. To tell somebody a man can become a woman, a woman can become a man, and a man can marry a man, they would have said, “You’re crazy.” But it’s a reality today. So the world is changing. And you shouldn’t– you know– be despairing because it’s never happened before. Nothing new ever happened before.”
Maybe we are moving toward freedom and independence. But as long as we have countries, politicians, lobbyists, and religions promoting their beliefs over everyone else’s (and i’m not excluding any of those groups here), and their beliefs deny freedom to others, then we have not reached the end point.
To a large degree, i am free and independent. But with freedom and independence comes responsibility, the responsibility to honor all others’ freedom and independence. As Major Kenneth Morgan told my Latin I class at Castle Heights in Lebanon, Tennessee in the spring of 1959, “Freedom is the right to do anything you want to and long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else’s freedom.”
i also had some thoughts to add outside the content of the article and interview.
Even Ben Ferencz took action to prevent crimes against humanity and bring about justice and freedom. He was in the Battle of the Bulge. Our country, the United States of America, was founded by fighting for independence, freedom. That is what we are celebrating (and what will be often overlooked in the fireworks, barbecues, picnics, and even the glut of speeches) in two days. We have fought for freedom from tyranny and independence throughout our history. Mr. Ferencz rhetorically asks if the man who dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima was a “savage.”
It occurred to me there are many gray lines in this concept of fighting for freedom. How many lives on both sides were saved by dropping those two atom bombs rather than invading Japan.? Would the world wars have been drastically shortened had our country entered them earlier? Would Southeast Asia be better off today had we not even committed troops in the first place or didn’t draw political lines in the conflict itself, hampering the effectiveness of our fighting forces? i can’t answer those questions.
But i do think after reading about the incredible Ben Ferencz and considering freedom, it really isn’t free. Our country was founded and built on the idea of freedom for all mankind although even our founding fathers did not completely understand the concept. And yes, Mr. Ferencz, we are getting there. It’s a rocky road with still a long, long way to go. But we are getting there.
i hope, pessimistically, everyone in our country will pause three days from now for just a few seconds to remember what the Fourth of July is really all about, and how we all need to think about freedom and independence, not just for ourselves and our families but all mankind, and consider what we might do to continue our progress toward real freedom, complete with our responsibility to get there.
2 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts About Freedom, Independence, and Ben Ferencz”
Sometime ago, I heard a scholar say that democracy is very messy, no getting around it. It’s similar to planting a garden. It requires continuous tending and nurturing to thrive and survive. So, we can’t just stand back and say “Well, now we have a democracy” and move on to the next venture. Democracy is hard work after a long hard battle.
Nice work Jim. I especially liked the sentence defining freedom. Happy forth you all!