With the Fourth of July happening tomorrow and Bastille Day just around the corner I thought it would be appropriate to talk about what freedom means in this day and age.
One of my favorite Pink Floyd songs is called ‘A Great Day for Freedom,’ and if you look at the lyrics, I think they hold a lot of meaning.
The song is about the fall of the Berlin wall, which was a pivotal time in history and not so long ago. The fall of the Berlin wall signified the end of oppression and reunification of Germany.
The wall began to go up on August 31st, 1961, and it came down on November 9th, 1989. That’s 28 years of something that was designed to keep some people in and some people out. After World War Two, Germany was divided into occupied zones, the United States, France, and Britain occupied the West, and the Soviet Union occupied the East. Germany became two nations.
Before the wall was built, Western and Eastern Berliners were able to move freely from one side to the other, but as the Cold War heated up and tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States became increasingly strained, the Soviets felt the need to stem the flow of refugees from East to West and thus- the wall.
The wall was about oppression; the wall was about barriers, locking people away, keeping people out. It was about having to watch what you said in public, not being able to speak out against your government, having your rights curtailed, and living in fear. When it came down, it signified an end to that oppression, a progression into a new era of freedom.
But as the song suggests, with a new era comes new challenges and new ways to take away freedoms, further attempts to oppress and control others. In the lyrics, promises lit up the night like paper doves in flight it’s a warning that the promises ‘never again’ and ‘never forget’ and the vow to never let it happen again fly back and forth and yet, as it’s memory fades, so do those promises.
The Fourth of July and Bastille Day (July 14th) are celebrated to commemorate the freedom from oppression as well. The American Colonies won freedom and independence from Britain, the freedom to govern and dictate our destiny, to become the nation we are today. And in France, the toppling of the aristocracy’s absolute power over the people heralded our progression into a new modern age. Revolution ended the tyranny of the nobility and forced kings to be held accountable for how they treat their subjects.
But as we all celebrate this freedom, as we enjoy out barbeques, our fireworks, as we take a moment to appreciate what we have and as patriotism runs wild through the population, it’s important to remember what the celebration is all about. Remember the past and think of the present and always remember that with freedom came promises to uphold that freedom and its vital that we never forget those promises.
The lyrics continue with, the lines now life devalues day by day as friends and neighbors turn away.
And I think this is an essential reminder of how easily oppression and cruelty can begin to seep back into society. It happens gradually when a particular group is singled out for whatever reason, and an atmosphere of suspicion, hatred, and animosity begin to grow. Soon, these thoughts become entrenched into society, often without anyone even realizing it. Before long, there are ideas, calls for change, a lack of understanding of anything different, and the oppression begin, and the promises are forgotten, and sooner or later, the walls start to go up.
Independence day and Bastille day come around at the same time every year. It’s good to have that ability to celebrate how far we have come because we have. As a Human species, we’ve progressed so much in our some 10,000 years of civilization. But we have a lot further to go, and this is an excellent time to remember this fact.
This is a great time to come together and celebrate the things we all share: a desire for freedom and the pursuit of happiness. We all have differences, and we all have similarities, and any time a person’s freedom is trodden on, we begin to slip backward, and we do a disservice to what these holidays are all about.
So enjoy the spirit of the celebration. Enjoy the backyard barbecues, poolside parties, and night skies lit up with fireworks. But don’t forget that freedom is not free, people have paid a high price for it, and that there is always someone out there who is eager to take it from you. It should never be taken for granted.