Today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square event. I remember the images of then. I had just graduated from high school, and was contemplating my future. I related to these young college students.
This is an excellent article I found here: http://www.stargazette.com/article/20090603/LIFE/906030318/1115/life/We+have+freedoms+that+others+die+for
We have freedoms that others die for
June 3, 2009
by Jennifer O'Hara
It is hard for me to believe that 20 years have passed since the People's Liberation Army of China (under the direction of Deng Xiaoping) began forcibly removing students and other pro-democracy demonstrators from Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 3, 1989.
I was a college student at the time, with convictions and a history of peaceful demonstration. As such, I found myself particularly grateful to be an American with First Amendment freedoms. Twenty years later, I find myself pondering my idealistic perception of these freedoms. If you think nothing like this could ever happen in our nation's capital, think again. It already has.
First, recall events that precipitated the Tiananmen catastrophe. In April 1989, students entered the square to publicly mourn the untimely death of their pro-democracy party leader, Hu Yaobang. The mourning led to protests in which millions of sympathetic Chinese filled the streets. Unable to convince the protestors to leave and unwilling to meet their demands, on June 3 of that year the military was authorized to forcibly remove the demonstrators. Hundreds were murdered in the process.
Remarkably, changing only a portion of the words in the above description creates an accurate account of the events leading up to the forcible removal of World War I veterans from the streets of Washington, D.C., on July 28, 1932.
In May 1932, 15,000 World War I veterans organized a march on Washington to force Congress to pay them a previously awarded bonus. The veterans had originally agreed to have the payout delayed until 1945. But poverty and starvation occasioned by the Great Depression changed their position. Calling themselves the "Bonus Expeditionary Forces," they and their families, totaling 43,000, used whatever they could find to set up makeshift camps throughout the capital.
Despite the protestors' efforts, on June 17 the Senate voted against the House bill that would have accelerated the bonuses. The veterans remained in their tent city, most being homeless with no place to go. On July 28, President Herbert Hoover authorized Gen. Douglas MacArthur to forcibly remove the veterans. In the process, several were killed, hundreds injured and the camps were set afire.
I'd like to believe that, 77 years later, the same can't happen in America. But, a government (with no intention of capitulation) faced with dissenters who similarly refuse to leave must either allow the protest to proceed ad infinitum or exert force. Either can be dangerous.
All that we enjoy is a delicate balance between personal liberty and the government's need to preserve order. The beauty of democracy is that with our ability to vote we are able to direct the government in drawing that line. And, with a free press, we can vet ideas and exert that pressure to effect the change we desire. In remembrance of those who died in Tiananmen Square fighting for freedoms we already enjoy, let that be our duty.
Jennifer O'Hara, of Big Flats, is a full-time mom and visiting lecturer at Corning Community College.
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