Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Freedom, Liberty and Iraqi Baseball 

I suppose it's a disappointing critique that I have to ask at all, but has it finally gone out of fashion for (almost) grown men to cry in public? Not that it matters much, since I'm fairly confident that I was among the large minority at Wrigley Field anyway, by virtue of my wearing a shirt with a collar (now there's a sight: someone at the game other than the shortstop who has his shirt tucked in). Monday nights being half-price, and the promise of fireworks without the requisite 6 hour commute on public transportation being too good to pass up, I hustled out of work a few minutes early, hopped on the Red Line, and found myself watching my childhood favorite Orioles embarrass the hometown Whitesox.

I imagine that something as simple and commonplace as a Major League Baseball game must be astonishing to a first-time observer, particularly one who doesn't come from the background of commonplace excess and supersized proportions. A lot of thought is given on the Fourth of July to the immigrant experience, and more generally to the many pleasures, small and large, that we as Americans enjoy, and certainly baseball is mentioned in many of them. That we take it for granted is natural, there are more than 150 games in any season, and most Americans will attend at least one in their lifetime. Perhaps the miracle of this country is that we can be so aloof in the presence of such feats of engineering as sports stadiums, so un-astonished that we routinely gather in numbers nearing 6 digits and no one is trampled, or knocked off by an IDE or a stray round. Baseball will need a while before it gets a real foothold in Iraq, I would imagine.

Far off in Iraq, probably with fireworks of a different sort, it's likely that the soldiers and sailors commemorated the 4th in their own way (for whatever reason, Chicago did their celebrating on the 3rd, but the point remains). It is a perplexing place to be I imagine, a soldier in combat on such a day. Perhaps it is a reminder of why you fight, but I can't imagine they need much of a refresher course. It's a shame the same can't be said for the people for whom they fight. Pete Mehlman, pontificating about the coming construction of the "Freedom Tower" in New York, makes the absurd comment that "New York already has a Statue of Liberty. Liberty, freedom - synonyms, no?" I must object, and upon further reflection, adamantly so. The very essence of this war, what makes it both unique and imperative, is the distinction of the two. Paul Hartman writes that
"Freedoms are things that people EXTRACT from their government; Liberty is less derivative, more formative; a thing GRANTED by the people to the people in common...Freedoms end when they encounter a contrary freedom of another person. You are free to smoke, until you encounter my freedom not to inhale your smoke. Liberty lacks that distinction: my liberty never contradicts or limits yours."

In our War against terror we are dealing with an adversary who is hell bent not only on destroying the freedoms that define our modern way of life, but more fundamentally on destroying the sense of liberties that make such a way of life possible. Baseball games, with their raging drunks and scantily clad female fans, must certainly enrage Osama types, but not nearly as much as the idea that this is not only a part of our culture, but commonplace, accepted, and occasionally celebrated. To paraphrase, shamelessly, I realize this is elementary stuff, but sometimes it needs to be said.

The outcome of Sox game was a welcome surprise, being a Baltimore fan at heart, and the post-game pyrotechnics were surprisingly well put together, complete with a slew of patriotic tunes. The combination proved remarkably moving, at least for me. I am occasionally surprised by the sorts of events that can trigger memories of September 11th, or a surge of pride for our troops, and unleash a well-spring of entropic emotion. The rockets did glare that night, much to our collective delight in the stands, but the backdrop only served to remind me, yet again, that in a conflict with terrorists of such a foreign state of mind, we are in many ways living on borrowed time. That men and women are dying every day to stave off the next tragedy, or to prevent it all together, seems somehow larger than life, yet it is the very essence of liberty and freedom diverging once again. They forego many freedoms afforded to Americans, and are subjected to terrible conditions, arduous endeavors, torture or worse. Yet the liberty with which they are instilled, the fundamental human liberty that is uniquely recognized in the founding documents of our country, can never be taken from them. In fact, it seems to shine all the brighter as they trudge into the unforgiving dark, knowing all the while that we are behind them, albeit some distance away, seeing only the glow of the rockets and the distant thunder. And it is that which I celebrate on July 4th, and which admittedly still causes at least one grown man to cry.

Happy Fourth of July.

A well-written and thoughtful post. Thanks for the reminder of how freedom and liberty should be regarded.
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