Authored by: JD Green, Crisis Services Manager
Veteran’s Day is a celebration of Armistice Day which was the end of WWI.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.
President Eisenhower in acknowledging the 1954 congressional act changing the name of Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day Proclaimed; “As President of the United States of America, I do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe November 11, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
Many people talk about freedom during this time of year but I’m not sure some know what it means to be free. Freedom is usually defined from a personal perspective and subject to interpretation. Freedom seems to vary from one cultural to another, between religions, politics, and any number of philosophical ideals.
There are many people who believe that the freedoms we have in this country are automatic, as common and accessible as the air we breathe. Freedom is not free. There is a price to be paid and not just in money or material things. Freedom doesn’t remain free, it needs defending and protecting.
Why should this or any future generation care about Veteran’s Day? Because it reminds us how important our freedoms are and the price paid to have and protect them. Take the First Amendment in our Constitution. Is this something worth having, worth keeping, worth defending? Keep reading then decide.
The First Amendment’s protection of speech and expression is central to the concept of the American political system. There is a direct link between freedom of speech and a vibrant democracy. Free speech is an indispensable tool of self-governance in a democratic society. It enables people to obtain information from a diversity of sources, make decisions, and communicate those decisions to the government. Beyond the political purpose of free speech, the First Amendment provides American people with a “marketplace of ideas.” Rather than having the government establish and dictate the truth, freedom of speech enables the truth to emerge from diverse opinions. Justice Louis Brandeis (Whitney v. California 1927) wrote that “freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth.”
On a communal level, free speech facilitates majority rule. It is through talking that we encourage consensus, that we form a collective will. Whether the answers we reach are wise or foolish, free speech helps us ensure that the answers usually conform to what most people think. Americans who are optimists additionally believe that, over the long run, free speech actually improves our political decision-making. Just as Americans generally believe in free markets in economic matters, they generally believe in free markets when it comes to ideas, and this includes politics. The best test of intelligent political policy is its power to gain acceptance at the ballot box and what history teaches about the idea. After time, the “free markets” of ideas will challenge, reform or attempt to change a decision and the process repeats itself.
On an individual level, speech is a means of participation, the vehicle through which individuals debate the issues of the day, cast their votes, and actively join in the processes of decision-making that shape and forms government. Free speech serves the individual’s right to join the political fray, to stand up and be counted, to be an active player in the democracy, not a passive spectator.
Many Americans embrace freedom of speech for the same reasons they embrace other aspects of individualism. Freedom of speech is the right to defiantly, robustly and irreverently speak one’s mind just because it is one’s mind. Freedom of speech is bonded in special and unique ways to the human capacity to think, imagine and create. Conscience and consciousness are the sacred precincts of mind and soul. Freedom of speech is intimately linked to freedom of thought, to that central capacity to reason and wonder, hope and believe, that largely defines our humanity.
While the language of the First Amendment appears absolute, freedom of speech is not an absolute right. Certain limitations and restrictions apply. Conflicts involving freedom of expression are among the most difficult ones that courts are asked to resolve. This ongoing process is often contentious and no one simple legal formula or philosophical principle has been discovered that makes any of this easy. But, where would we be without it? What would your life be like without the freedom of speech? Is there anything you would like to say? There is a lot more to this idea of freedom. Happy Veteran’s Day!