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Emaciated men shudder like skeletons. Rotting wooden bunks are the only respite for exhausted bodies. Asphyxiating pellets spew fumes of death. Stolen shoes accumulate as their owners’ bodies are turned to ashes. This is the Holocaust.
A concrete wall stands resolute. Colorful graffiti screams a silent protest to torture. A guard tower soars above the wall, housing those who do not hesitate to kill. There is no hope for severed families. This is communism.
Burning ashes fall from the sky. Horrified screams penetrate the air. People weep as they witness death. A building implodes as devastating fires explode around it. This is terrorism.
The haunted eyes of terrified soldiers are enshrined forever in bronze statues. A long black wall lists the names of fallen comrades. Rows of white tombstones stand as sentinels of the bodies beneath them. This is freedom.
This summer, my family and I visited Washington, D.C. As our nation’s capital, this great city is the home of many museums, monuments, and memorials. I visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I was stricken by the horrific pictures and videos of the genocide victims. At the Newseum, I saw a portion of the Berlin Wall and learned the story of those who suffered under the Soviet communist regime. The Newseum also showed news coverage and pictures of the terror of 9-11.
I also visited numerous war memorials honoring the Marines, the Air Force, the Navy, and the soldiers who battled in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Finally, I traveled to Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place of the courageous men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Although these memorials, like the Holocaust Museum and the Newseum, portray the horror of death, they also provide a glimpse of hope. It is because of these soldiers who fought and died that America has freedom.
Those without freedom are interred in concentration camps, barricaded by concrete walls, and taught to crash airplanes into buildings. Americans, on the other hand, have the liberty to live, travel, think, worship, and act as they please. It was in Washington, D.C. that I realized the true significance of this freedom.
The idea of total liberty was established by courageous men and women and has been defended by courageous men and women ever since. The founding fathers risked their lives to pen the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming that all men have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” In Washington, D.C., I visited Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington, and saw the price that American colonists paid during the Revolution to create a government that would secure their unalienable rights. In touring the Capital, the White House, and the Supreme Court, I saw the final product of those colonists’ sacrifice. Our freedom is secured under the Constitution and protected by the three branches of our government. Ultimately, however, our freedom is defended by the soldiers who protect our nation and prevent the spread of tyranny, communism, and terrorism throughout the world.
There is no way to thank the men and women who, over hundreds of years, have created what America is today. However, by visiting their memorials, we can honor the memory of their achievements. I had the opportunity to do this while in Washington, D.C. I hope many more Americans will travel to our nation’s capital and pay homage to their predecessors. It is a small price to pay compared to the price of the freedom that we all enjoy today.