July 4th 2011 message
Where’s a patriot when you need one? Or where’s an American when you need one?
Failing that., where’s a Russian when you need one. Oh, not just any Russian, but a special Russian
Recently I was reading an article in the New York Times about Andrie Sakharov. Sakharov was a Russian scientist in the now defunct Soviet Union. He was, as the NYT put it “a gifted nuclear scientist who helped design the Soviet Union’s first hydrogen bomb.” So why would I be talking about a man that was really not one of us on this important American holiday, a man who used his scientific knowledge to arm our enemy, causing much consternation in our country.
The reason I praise Sakharov is because he is one of us. One of us in the sense that he was a defender of freedom and human rights. What most Americans take pride in is our efforts to establish human rights. We codified them the “Bill of Rights” and we hopefully support them in our daily lives.
Sakharov was a patriot and worked earnestly to create what ever weapons his country asked of him. One day he walked away from the privileged life he had always known and spoke out against the lack of freedom that he saw in his country. He was fed up with the lack of liberty and the brutality his government was dishing out to his countrymen. It is easy to ignore the pain and frustrations of others when you are allowed the privileges that are denied to your countrymen. He rejected his exalted status to fend off the oppressive powers of his country’s leaders. He became a crusader for human rights, the voice of freedom, and a big pain in the butt in the eyes of the Communist Party. He turned his attention away from science and dedicated the rest of his life to peaceful dissent.
I have said several times in the past that it takes little or no courage to speak out against a public official or the government in America. To varying degrees that is true. I believe that can go home at night and not worry about being dragged out of my house never to heard from again. I can even stand up in the halls of Congress and shout insults to the President, and have no fear of retribution. It would be rude and ignorant to do so, but I could, and some have.
If I really have grievance I can take my problem and lay it before the courts and seek redress. That usually works, but not always. I can go to the many new ways we use to communicate, or I can even go to the streets, and make my case.
Getting back to Sakharov, young people in Russia don’t even know this Nobel Peace Prize winner. When they are informed they often shrug and tell you they admire one of the Russian billionaires. They probably are thinking in terms of being one of them. They have sold their fathers dreams of freedom for a farthing.
Here is where we and the Russians converge, and it is disturbing. We, in America have done the same thing. Are some of us are lusting to be like one of our own billionaires? Don’t bother! They are not more or less happy than the rest of us. On the other hand testing the limits of our talents and achieving goals does make us happy. Living in a society that allows and encourages that personal growth is part of that happiness. Feeling free to be critical of our leaders and helping build a better society is all part of the happiness mix.
Here are some concepts about wealth on which I think most of us can agree. Being poor and hungry is a very unhappy state, middle class means having all of your important needs being met, and having the wherewithal to find happiness. Being truly rich gives you more mobility and status, but if you weren’t happy when you were still middle class, you’re not going to be happy when you are rich. Am I the only person who knows this axiom? No. We all know it.
I fear that there are powerful forces in the country today that would suffocate personal freedom that we have thus far taken for granted. In the words of Ben Franklin