Our Freedom and the Nature of Equality

  • Published
  • By Nadine Leavitt Siak
Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and the other Founding Fathers who endorsed the Declaration of Independence 235 years ago established as the nation's bedrock the ideal that: "... all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Wikipedia states that this sentence is sometimes considered as "one of the best-known sentences in the English language" and "the most potent and consequential words in American history." But when they were first drafted, the meaning of those words were interpreted very differently in American society. At the birth of the United States of America, all men were equal only if they met a certain set of exclusionary conditions.

As our country has grown into a great nation and our society has become more inclusive, the notion that "All men are created equal," has come to mean "All Americans are created equal," independent of ethnicity, gender, race or religion.

This doesn't mean that everything is perfect in the United States today. Problems of prejudice and harassment appear all across the nation. But we Americans are still trying to realize the ideal. We are striving to better ourselves and to respect the contributions that all Americans make to our democracy.

I've heard it said time and time again:  You Airmen and other American servicemembers make up the greatest fighting force in the world because you know you are fighting for the noblest principle of all time - the fundamental equality of all humanity. Since you are prepared to fight for that "self-evident" truth overseas, I believe you also need to embody it every day right here. That's because it's the power of that principle, which is the basis of our democracy, that makes this a country worth fighting for.

I know that sometimes it's not easy to avoid relying on old stereotypes; I know that sometimes it is hard to be open and accepting . But it is essential for all of us -- and especially you members of the military, as the vanguard of our country and freedom -- to strive to live by this principle. Furthermore, each of us must strive to ensure that we live in a country free from intolerance, injustice and intimidation.

As you respond to the challenges you face in today's military, those of you in the Air Force should keep in mind that your creed identifies you as "Guardian[s] of freedom and justice." You thus should uphold the principles of freedom, social justice and equality. Only by building a better future for all men and women, regardless of race, color, creed or other differences, can you then honor the sacrifices of those American heroes who have come before you.
Chaplain Roland Gittelsohn, a Marine Corps chaplain during the battle of Iwo Jima, dedicated the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima with a sermon noting the valor of the men who died there and the fundamental equality of humanity. He said:

"Here lie officers and men of all colors, rich men and poor men together. Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews together. Here, no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color... Among these men there is no discrimination, no prejudice, no hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy. Any man among us, the living, who failed to understand that, will thereby betray those who lie here. Whoever lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in a minority, makes of their sacrifice an empty, hollow mockery. Thus do we consecrate ourselves, the living, to carry on the struggle they began."

Although I've never been Active Duty or Reserve, as a fellow American I would urge you to continue your work of furthering freedom and democracy for people around the globe and of supporting these "self-evident truths" here at home in the United States. As you carry on this important work, I wish you and your families a safe and enjoyable Independence Day celebration.