Late last night the BBC on our local public radio said that some scientists think they detected a planet orbiting a star some 90 light years away which they analogize to our planet Jupiter. The notion advanced seemed to be that if there can be a Jupiter-like planet, then maybe there can be an Earth-like planet. The radio spot closed with a note that while right now scientists haven't figured out how to look for such a small planet orbiting a distant star, they will have the problem worked out in the next year or two. I love that sense of progress, of things being learned. I love feeling as though I live in the last times before the real search for knowledge begins.
Last night I listened to radio reports of military trials for suspected terrorists. Today I happened upon material about Kate O'Hare, the Kansas socialist who was imprisoned under the Espionage Act in World War One for making an anti-war speech in 1917 which included the lines: "the women of the United States were nothing more or less than brood sows, to raise children to get into the Army and be made into fertilizer."
During her sentencing, she said:
"You can send me to prison, but thank God, you cannot send a great principle to prison. You can shut me behind a cell door, but, thank God, you cannot put principle in a cell and turn the key on it. You can degrade my body; you can put it in stripes; you can make me go down and live with the lowest and most degraded and contaminated on earth, and still cannot injure me, for greater men and women have done this".
The North Dakota judge sentenced her to five years in prison.
Although I do not agree with many of Ms. O'Hare's views, I shudder that we imprisoned her for expressing them.
Former New Jersey Superior Court judge Andrew Napolitano, now a Fox News commentator, said something interesting a couple of years ago. It went:
"In a democracy, personal liberties are rarely diminished overnight. Rather, they are lost gradually, by the acts of well-meaning people, with good intentions, amid public approval. But the subtle loss of freedom is never recognized until the crisis is over and we look back in horror. And then it is too late."
On this July 4th, I revel in the freedoms I do have, but I wish for a nation (and a world) in which scientists reach for the stars, but AIDs is cured; in which not only democracy but also inherent human rights are respected; and in which tolerance for opposing views is expanded. I wish for a world in which people do not use religious or economic arguments to try to set the clock back hundreds of years on human progress.
I wish for a world in which dictators don't allow their people to suffer while fielding idle armies of one million men.
Thomas Jefferson felt that the solution to preserve the vitality in a democracy was to permit each succeeding generation rewrite the constitution. He said:
"Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness; consequently, to accommodate to the circumstances in which it finds
itself, that received from its predecessors; and it is for the peace and good of mankind, that a solemn opportunity of doing this every nineteen or twenty years, should be provided by the constitution; so that it may be handed on, with periodical repairs, from generation to generation, to the end of time, if anything human can so long endure".
They say that the second generation of the Society of Friends lost the zeal to progress that so marked the ecstatic, eccentric early Quakers. They settled down into being eccentric yet well to do merchants. I don't really want to discuss religion in this post, but it seems to me this is the danger in any movement.
On this Independence Day, we celebrate the American Revolution and the American ideal. Yet as we listen to reports of global military adventures, military tribunals and new espionage acts, I hope never to forget that freedom and tolerance are not birthrights. They must be fought for in every generation. We take our hats off to those who fought before us, but then we put them back on and get ready for the next round.