Wicker Gives Thanks for America’s Enduring Freedom

Threats to Liberty Remain in Eastern Europe, Iraq

November 24, 2014

One of the greatest blessings to remember this Thanksgiving is the gift of freedom, which brave Americans have fought for throughout our history. This year is an especially meaningful time to celebrate the enduring strength of liberty in America. Two hundred years ago, Francis Scott Key penned the patriotic poem that would later become the lyrics to our national anthem.

Defending the Land of the Free

Often overlooked in U.S. history, the War of 1812 proved the might of a young America, which was once again engaged in war with Great Britain. On the morning of September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key saw the U.S. flag raised above Fort McHenry in Baltimore after a prolonged attack by the British. He wrote the question, “Does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” American forces had prevailed through the night amid “the rockets’ red glare,” but the victory was hardly a guarantee of lasting freedom. With this question, our “Star-Spangled Banner” challenges each generation to defend and protect the land of the free. We are eternally grateful for the service members and their families who have responded to this call.

Remembering Vaclav Havel

We should be proud that America’s legacy of freedom has become an example for countries around the world. One of the greatest defenders of democracy was Vaclav Havel, an outspoken critic of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. During the Cold War, his message of hope, broadcast by uncensored outlets like Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), gave people under oppressive regimes the belief that they could demand change. Today, RFE/RL broadcasts in 21 countries where a free press is still banned or compromised.

Earlier this month, I was part of an important tribute commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, when Czechs and Slovaks peacefully overthrew the communist government. I was honored with the Vaclav Havel Defender of Freedom Award for my longtime support of a free press, including the continued broadcast of RFE/RL in the Balkans and Iraq.

The award was presented to me by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who fled Czechoslovakia with her family as a child. It celebrates the inspiring legacy of Vaclav Havel as a playwright, activist, and first president of the Czech Republic. On November 19, he became the fourth international leader to be honored with a bust in the U.S. Capitol’s Freedom Foyer.

Freedom’s Current Challenges

Despite the progress that has been made since the end of the Cold War, freedom is still threatened in many places of the world, from Ukraine to Hong Kong. Particularly heartbreaking is the religious persecution escalating in the Middle East. Americans were horrified to learn earlier this year that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was ruthlessly targeting Christians and other religious minorities for their faith. In an attempt to establish a 7th-century-style Islamic caliphate, ISIS has forced thousands of Christians to flee, convert, or be killed.

I am hopeful the pursuit of freedom will overcome these challenges and that the will of the people can be heard. As President Ronald Reagan reminded us, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”