Thursday, October 28, 2004

My first Columbia Spectator opinion piece

In the days and weeks immediately following 9/11, I was frustrated and angry at the weak pro-America response by the student body while the organized anti-American groups took over as the voice of Columbia. I made my own flyers to put up around campus, no organization behind them. I sent a long essay to the New York Times, no response.

I eventually figured out to send an opinion piece to the school newspaper, the Columbia Spectator. Published September 26, 2001, "Protecting Our Earned Freedom" was the start of my student activism at Columbia. I'll tell that particular story later. For now, enjoy.

Protecting Our Earned Freedom
by Eric
September 26, 2001

I am a Columbian now, but five months ago I was serving with the United States Army in South Korea. It was a different world then. When I joined the Army over four years ago, I gave an oath to defend the Constitution. With it, I inherited a lot of pride and responsibility. Being a soldier meant that I accepted sacrificing my life, if necessary, so that my country could provide the conditions in which Americans could sustain the Constitution's freedoms and their way of life. Any illusions I may have had that our freedoms were not earned were drilled out of me very quickly in Basic Training.

The first priority of any country has to be the protection of its citizens and itself as a viable nation-state. If our freedoms are the pinnacle of our country, then our security is its foundation. Our security was ripped from us on Sept. 11. We had been safe for so long that we had forgotten that the freedoms we value so highly are actually hard-earned luxuries. As they do in all societies, issues of life and death have always superceded our freedoms. The horrific wounds inflicted on our nation forcibly reminded us of the price of those freedoms.

The defense of our Constitution cannot be separated from the defense of our homeland. The concepts that we hold so dear in our Constitution are like water. They both take on the form of the vessels that contain them. With enough damage to its vessel, water will change form or even drain away. In the same way, our American freedoms and way of life depend on the integrity of our country.

A childish part of me wants to believe that the United States is so inviolable that nothing could affect our power to define ourselves as a nation. An even more childish part of me wants to believe that if we just heal our disturbed spirits, preach world peace, and move on with our lives, we can somehow return to the country we were on Sept. 10. The part of me that was analyzing the North Korean military five months ago, however, forces me to think harder.

Clearly, we need to change our international policies, and we have to accept some responsibility for what has happened. Our priority, though, must be to eliminate the terrorist threat and reestablish our strength, our ability as a nation to dictate our own fate, our way of life. If we accept the terrorist threat, then our nation loses that ability. The allied mistreatment of Germany after the First World War contributed greatly to the creation of Nazi Germany, but we had to destroy the threat before we could rectify our mistakes.

We face a similar situation now. As an American, I dread the prospect of the United States on the international stage, grievously wounded, fearful, unable to respond to a savage attack on its own heart, and stripped of any illusion of potency. As a soldier, the prospect holds great shame for me.

Each of us now needs to reexamine his commitment to our country and to himself as an American. We are at war with an enemy who believes Americans have become a weak, irresolute people; that belief feeds his confidence to attack us. This enemy is the great test of our generation. We must remember that our freedoms have never been free, nor have they ever existed wholly unto themselves. They were earned, if not by us, then by our fathers, or our fathers' fathers.

Our generation must now take its turn earning our freedoms and protecting the country we love. If we fail, the nation that we inherited, that we have known our entire lives, will change forever. We face a skilled, determined enemy whose will is undeniable. He will use his expertise at psychological warfare to divide us, to sow doubt, fear, and chaos among us. He will attack our resolve, our willingness to sacrifice for our country. Our every show of weakness will feed his strength. To defeat this enemy, our generation must respond to his challenge with both strength and the utmost faith in our cause.

We at Columbia University are considered the future leaders of our country. We have been nourished on privileges commensurate to our standing as the best and brightest of our generation. In exchange for all that has been given to us, we have been entrusted with a great responsibility. The people of our wounded nation will look to us to lead them in the dark times to come. It is time now for us to put away our childish fears and doubts, and to embrace the mantle of leadership. The crisis is upon us, and we are involved. Our country needs us now.

- Eric

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