The Struggle for Freedom is Hard

The 21st Century could be seen as a time where instant gratification has become a preeminent value in society. Now is more important than later; easy is seen as superior to hard; and fast is better than slow. These principles have seeped into many areas of society; nowhere more obvious than the fight for liberty. We think in slogans, debate in bumper stickers, and interact in 140 characters or less. For this reason, it’s sometimes important to step back and acknowledge that the ongoing struggle for freedom is hard. The fight is often long, carried out in anonymity and it is unpopular.

The fight for freedom is long and sometimes boring. Before Nelson Mandela brought South Africa into a new age of freedom, he served twenty-seven years on Robben Island as a political prisoner of the apartheid regime. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spent more than twenty years in exile – watching as Charles Taylor plunged Liberia into chaos – before being allowed to return and successfully run for president. Before Aung San Suu Kyi was elected into parliament – a sign of gradual liberalization of that country which we greatly applaud – she spent fifteen years under house arrest after being deprived of her true prize, the presidency, by the military junta. The Dalai Lama still grieves for his people from a foreign land, decades after he was forced into exile by the communist Chinese government. The valiant Venezuelan democrats like Rodrigo Diamanti continue to plod forward, convincing their oppressors one-by-one that there is a better way. And the overwhelming weight of Cuba’s endless dictatorship seems interminable to activists like Bertha Antunez who has suffered discrimination and brutality not only for her beliefs but because of the color of her skin.

The fight for freedom is also most often anonymous. To be sure, we celebrate great names after epic battles for freedom – names like those aforementioned. Here at the Bush Institute, through the Freedom Collection we are even trying to give names and faces to some of the voiceless. But the great tragedy is that the vast majority of those who fight, and sometimes die, for the own liberty will remain in the shadows. Those executed by Fidel Castro on the Malecon; those who died attempting to cross from East to West Berlin over a perilous wall; and those tortured in Iranian jails for the simple act of wishing that their votes be respected will be remembered by their families and mourned by their loved ones, but their stories will probably never be told.

Finally, the fight for freedom is unpopular. We have become accustomed to the awarding of Nobel prizes; the celebratory lunches and the laudatory documentaries. In point of fact, those who really fight for freedom are all too often reviled for their trouble. Natan Sharansky was called simplistic when he divided the world into “free” and “fear” societies. President Uribe has faced judicial persecution as his thanks for bringing peace to Colombia. Farther back, after saving his country from Nazi Germany Winston Churchill lost his bid for re-election.

All these realities make the struggle for freedom difficult and frustrating. In a society which sometimes seeks immediate gratification and special rewards or applause, it might seem a fool’s errand. Nevertheless, despite the trying nature of the task, there continues an unbroken line of activists who are willing to embrace the fight for freedom. It is to them – and those that they fight for – that we owe our endless gratitude.

This post was written by Joel D. Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. Find him on Twitter: @joelhirst.  This article originally appeared here on the Freedom Collection web site.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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1 Response to The Struggle for Freedom is Hard

  1. Insightful indeed Joel, you have disected the problem faced in the fight for freedom; where there is almost no gratitude, or the fight for freedom is so dangerous and rewards so minimal if any, and few live to see the results of their struggles.I would like to say that it is those unsung heroes who are the real ones, the true patriots who would shy from cameras and avoid public recognition. Those anonymous ones are the true heroes. It is not about who recognizes whose struggle, but about who brought about what change. That is why I believe that those whose songs are never sung by bards are the ones we must recognize.When fighting for a cause, the true heroes will lay down their lives for it, while the false ones will keep eyeing the reward at the end and preserve their lives so they can gain it.Keep up the good work Joel, I really like reading your posts.


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