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Last Statue at Dachau—Afterthoughts

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

Man sitting at picnic table contemplating

The previous story, “Last Statue at Dachau,” goes to personal responsibility: the role of the individual in a democracy. No, not the role, the obligation of the individual. Spend time with those who live without the freedoms we consider unalienable rights—live for a while within a country with oppressive leadership—and you come away stunned.

Our democracy has provided us with generations of sunshine; we’ve come to expect this. Living without it is to step outdoors in a summer shirt and find yourself in a heavy and empty mist, with the door locked behind you. Soon things begin to move within the shadows. Everything about The Forum shares the central purpose of encouraging the reader to understand this, believe this, and realize it is up to each of us to preserve the freedoms we have. And as trite and banal as it sounds, to appreciate and protect the freedoms others have given much, if not all, of their lives to defend.

Here a long-ago event comes to mind, an event from what seems like another era. On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy took the oath of office to become the nation’s 35th president. Against a backdrop of deep snow and sunshine, more than twenty thousand people huddled in 20-degree temperatures on the east front of the Capitol to witness the event. Kennedy, having removed his topcoat and projecting both youth and vigor, delivered what has become a landmark inaugural address.

His audience reached far beyond those gathered before him to people around the world. In preparing for this moment, he sought both to inspire the nation and to send a message abroad signaling the challenges of the Cold War and his hope for peace in the nuclear age. He also wanted to be brief.

Kennedy studied other inaugural speeches and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to glean the secrets of successful addresses. Like Lincoln’s famous speech, Kennedy’s was comprised of short phrases and words. He recognized that captivating his audience required a powerful delivery.

What many consider to be the most memorable and enduring section of the speech came towards the end when Kennedy called on all Americans to commit themselves to service and sacrifice: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” He then continued by addressing his international audience: “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Having won the election by one of the smallest popular vote margins in history, Kennedy had known the great importance of this speech. People who witnessed the speech or heard it broadcast over television and radio lauded the new President. Even elementary school children wrote to him with their reactions to his ideas. Following his inaugural address, nearly seventy-five percent of Americans expressed approval of the President.

I remember listening to President Kennedy’s speech; I did not know then that my life would be moved, and directed, by his request. I am in fact realizing it only now, at the moment of this writing some 63 years later. I remember, too, during a fire drill at El Canino Jr. College in Torrance California, hearing the rumor that JFK had been assassinated.

I do not know of anything more difficult than to discover what it is that you can do for others, and then to set out to do it. This does not have to interfere with making a living, caring for a family, or tending to yourself. Rather, it defines and gives purpose to all of the above, and leaves you with a smile.

Thank you for reading this. I am not asking you to like, subscribe, share, or follow us—that’s up to you. I do ask that you consider what it is that you would like to do and share this with others of like mind through commenting on The Forum. You may even choose to submit your story for publishing consideration here. You never know what may follow.

Stanley W. Odle

5 Novermber 2023

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