Understanding the price of freedom

November 14, 2018

Courtney Dentlinger said she believes that it’s entirely too easy for Americans to take their assortment of freedoms for granted.

It’s not something they do intentionally, it’s simply the result of freedom playing such an integral role in their society that it’s inadvertently overlooked.

It’s like asking a fish to describe water and it being unable to because it’s simply something that’s always been there, the governmental affairs manager for the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) said while serving as the keynote speaker during Monday morning’s Veterans Day celebration held at Scotus Central Catholic High School.

“Do we really totally understand it?” Dentlinger asked a crowd comprised of students and community members inside the school’s gymnasium. “Freedom for Americans is ever-present just as the air we breathe. Most of us don’t really know any different.”

Those who know differently on a very personal level are the men and women who serve and served in the Armed Forces. It’s the acts of selflessness and sacrifice that ultimately equates to freedom being readily available, Dentlinger said.

During the gathering, those in attendance watched the American Legion Honor Guard advance the colors, listened to the Shamrock Singers and American Legion Chorus belt out patriotic ballads and recognized dozens of people in the crowd for their service while the Scotus Band played each branch’s recognized song.

“For Scotus Central Catholic, it’s a real privilege for us to host this today,” school president Jeff Ohnoutka said. “It’s very important for our students to see all of the veterans that are among them on a day-to-day basis. And I also want veterans to know that those students up there in the stands will work hard, as well, to hold fast to all the things you value … to carry that forward.”

During her address, Dentlinger spoke about her father traveling internationally when she was growing up. She learned that while she was in the States soaking up a wealth of knowledge with her whole life in front of her that not all women – and people as a whole – had the same opportunities.

He would share stories with Dentlinger and her sister about what he experienced overseas. As a young girl, she said she was especially interested to learn many girls around the world weren’t able to receive an education. In fact, in many places girls were prevented from receiving formal education and had to study in secret.

Her father, she said, encouraged her to take advantage of all the opportunities that her freedoms as an American allowed.

“And so I did,” she said. “Maybe later he (dad) thought perhaps too much, after three degrees in college and a law school degree.”

Along the way, Dentlinger continued learning about the cost of freedom and what it means. While studying political science, she researched authoritarian regimes that occupied places like Chile and Argentina, places where freedom of speech was nonexistent and self-expression carried the potential weight of death. Where people who protested regime brutality simply vanished. Thousands of Argentinians who fought against the nation’s ideals were kidnapped, tortured and murdered from about 1976-1983, according to the International Federation of Social Workers. They were known as “Los Desaparecidos,” – The Disappeared.

On one occasion while studying abroad in Ecuador, she experienced firsthand the harsh realities facing many of its citizens. While traveling in the back of a taxi, she suddenly found herself in a high-speed chase after her driver sideswiped a vehicle.

“Instead of stopping – as you normally would do and exchange insurance cards – the cab driver just took off,” she said. “We were weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds in a pretty sizable city, and I found myself asking my cab driver, ‘what are you doing?! Why aren’t you stopping?!’”

She learned that if he would have stopped, the corrupt police department in that city would have confiscated his vehicle and he would never have enough bribe money to get the vehicle back. His livelihood would be taken away before his very eyes and he would be unable to provide for his family, she said.

These stories served as a way of illustrating why the luxuries Americans have shouldn’t be taken for granted -- because rights and luxuries come at a real price. Like the rights to peacefully protest and have the freedom of speech.

Where speaking one’s mind won’t result in disappearance and death, but rather, perhaps open up a doorway to productive conversation and maybe even change.

So what’s the best way to honor veterans? Although it’s nice, Dentlinger said it’s not saying ‘thank you’ a few times a year and shaking a veteran’s hand.

“It’s to fully understand what they have protected and preserved for us,” she said.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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