We recently marked another anniversary of the Ohio National Guard shooting of students at Kent State (May 4, 1970) over the invasion of Cambodia which escalated the war in Vietnam. Four died, nine were injured, one of whom has spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. I’ve thought about this event more this year because the man in a wheelchair was featured in a short article in the AARP Newsletter not too long ago. He spoke of the gift of life and how he had been blessed, which statement amazed me and elicited my admiration.
This isn’t the first time we’ve been at war with ourselves. Nor was it the first time during the Vietnam Era, but it was my time and a tumultuous part of my life. I lived in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in 1970, but I was one month away from marrying my late husband, an American, and I knew my future lay in this country. On May 5 of that year, he and I were on a bus to Kent State. The campus was shut down completely, but we marched the perimeter, round and round in circles, a vigil for the dead and injured. As someone on the verge of entering the U.S., I had seriously mixed feelings about doing so and about this country. How it could get to a point where it shot its own citizens for their beliefs, especially when this country throws around the word “freedom” as if it were 100% clear what it means.
According to the Human Freedom Index for 2021 (https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/freest-countries), the U.S. has dropped to 17th place. The report “ranks 165 countries and territories in two distinct categories: Personal Freedom and Economic Freedom, which are then combined to form the final Human Freedom score. This score is then compared to that of other nations to determine which countries are the freest in the world.” We may be 17th, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that we say the word “freedom” more often than anyone else, even if we don’t agree on what it means.
And we don’t. We toss the word around and use it for every limitation and perceived limitation that affects us. Countries that rank higher on the freedom index — Switzerland, New Zealand, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland… even Canada, which I left — would never have screamed the word “freedom” over such things as the use of seat belts in cars (1986), the helmet law for motorcycles (1992), and a host of other laws and requirements for human safety.
Move forward to our own times and we’ve gone to extremes. Guns, vaccinations, socialism, communism, the list goes on. My assumption is that we don’t understand the second amendment, the science behind vaccination, or the true meaning of the terms socialism and communism. We certainly don’t want facts to interfere with our opinions and we’ve stopped teaching civics in school. Perhaps the biggest threat to our freedom is education or the lack of it. Only time will tell.