February 4, 2011

Egypt's Greatest Generation

A big lesson from my childhood experiences behind the Iron Curtain has been a deep gratitude for the freedom and relative prosperity we enjoy in the United States. I actually get "warm and fuzzy" when I see the American flag flying over one of our embassies overseas, or when I hit passport control upon my return. 

I have watched people risk prison just to stand outside a U.S. Embassy, let alone to enter and use the library. And if they really could swim here, many would. Regardless of any developments or negative propaganda, the United States of America remains a beacon of hope to billions worldwide.

This week, watching the courage and anguish of ordinary Egyptians -- amid systemic poverty -- I am reminded again of what sacrifices came before me, here in America and among my forbears in the Jewish dispersion. And again, this reinforces the tremendous gratitude to live in 21st century post-industrial liberty, security, and comfort.

Waiting on the station platform for my express train to arrive, I look across to Battle Hill -- today just another middle-class neighborhood, but 225 years ago the scene of a pivotal battle between American and British forces. Even World War II is a pensioner's memory. We have it pretty good over here.

Battle Hill, 1776-2011
Clearly, the United States has a duty to its own principles and an obligation to its recent past to play a constructive role in Egypt's evolution as a pillar of Middle East civilization. And obviously we face momentous decisions and policy challenges here at home, and an eternal struggle to defend our own rights. But we should never lose sight of the unprecedented and unparalleled benefits of living here and now.

As President Obama affirmed last week in his State of the Union address, "I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth." A benefit, and a responsibility.

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