June 4th means something to us all
On candlelight vigils, the essential "Frontline" documentary, and the way one solitary individual stands for us all
Every June, everyone who has the freedom to do so should watch the riveting documentary "The Tank Man". It is not only one of the best stand-alone episodes of "Frontline" ever broadcast, it is an exceptional reminder of two powerful forces that shape the modern world.
■ The first is the shocking lengths to which authoritarians and their hangers-on will go to hold power over other people. "The Tank Man" documents the extraordinary measures used by the Chinese government to expel pro-democracy protesters from Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Thousands of people were killed, according to the secret estimates of China's own government.
■ And nothing has really changed in the more than 30 years since: 1.4 billion people still live under a wretched Communist regime that tolerates no meaningful dissent, no real competition for the consent of the governed, and no real individual liberty -- even for those who live abroad. The regime controls through fear, not through the willful choice of the people.
■ Yet the second force of which we are reminded by "The Tank Man" is human nature knows it is meant to be free. Liberty isn't an artificial construct; it is the natural order of things, and any system that uses might to interfere with the expression of liberty is inherently wrong. Individual liberty must be well-ordered, of course, because to leave things to a free-for-all would invariably lead to anarchy -- which in turn leads to the imposition of power by force.
■ But with the supporting help of the rule of law, the fundamental and natural longing for liberty results in the dignity of the individual. Even today, that remains a force so powerful that the Chinese regime cannot even tolerate a candlelight vigil in memory of lives lost 33 years ago. Thousands of lives, symbolized awe-inspiringly by one individual who stood in the way of a tank and whose personal fate remains a mystery.
■ That one "tank man" is all humankind. No matter how hard authoritarians try to quash dissent and hide the truth, every human heart knows the truth -- that freedom is its birthright and its dignity cannot be rightly denied.