Before It’s Too Late

January 7, 2009

by Tammy Drennan

Is there a window of opportunity for choosing freedom? A window that, ignored, will close and open again only by force?


Andre Trocme was a courageous man who rallied his village and risked his life to save the lives of thousands of Jews during Hitler’s Holocaust. He was also a life-long pacifist.


When Andre was a young man, he served in the French army during World War I. One day he was sent on a mapping mission with 24 other men. He was issued a gun for the mission but left it behind because of his pacifist convictions.


When the mapping crew arrived at its location, Andre’s commander discovered that Andre was without a weapon. He reprimanded the young soldier for endangering the entire crew with his belated commitment to his conscience.


“The lieutenant told Trocme that his refusal to bear arms had come too late. He already embarked on a military campaign; he was already committed. He should have refused at the very beginning, when he could have avoided making the march into the desert. With his whole mind and his body he should have made his choice sooner, in time.”


Trocme did not forget this lesson of his youth. Timing matters. The sooner you stand on your convictions the better the outcome. The longer you wait, the harder you make it on yourself – and often on others. Sometimes the hardships are disastrous.


When Hitler took over France, Trocme’s home village of Le Chambon fell under the Vichy leaders who worked at the behest of Germany. Citizens were commanded to take an oath of absolute allegiance to this new government. Trocme refused from the outset. He did not give the government time to feel its strength. He did not give it a chance to become accustomed to bullying him.


Not only did Andre Trocme position himself with an advantage over the people who wished to crush all he stood for, he strengthened his own resolve with every act of independence – and there were many to come. Further, his early and uncompromising actions set the tone for the entire village – it showed them it could be done and it infused them with courage.


The greatest illegitimate authority in America today is our public school system. It robs us of our independence, of our children and our future.


Those who say no to this system from the outset, who never entangle themselves with its demands and controls, are the ones who suffer the least from its aggressions. These are the people who set an example for others, who show that freedom is doable and that any sacrifices involved are well worth it.


But most people find themselves compromised and entangled early on, and they come to embrace convictions late in the game, when acting on those convictions is hard – hard because they have little practice, hard because they are already ensnared by a system that doesn’t want to let them go and that assumes its authority over them because they have conceded it for so long.


It is certainly best to know your convictions early and to stand on them from the start. But we all make mistakes. The best time to remedy our mistakes is now, before the situation gets any worse.


And the situation is getting worse. Every year, government at all levels assumes more authority over the lives of our children and thus over the future that will be America. We are no longer a land “of the people, by the people and for the people.” We are a land “of the government, by the government and for the government.”


But the window of opportunity is still open a crack. We still live under the protection of our Constitution. It’s not as strong as it once was, but it’s still just strong enough to shield us so we can take that first step into freedom.


As more of us choose freedom, our community and solidarity will protect us from usurpers of legitimate authority, and it will strengthen our Constitution and the laws of our land that guard against tyranny of both body and conscience.


Many have stepped into the war innocently, not thinking ahead about the repercussions of government schooling. Others have lunged head-long into the war, thinking they can shape into their own image a system that shares none of their values or convictions. And a significant number are simply trapped by default – they have no choice at the moment.


We need more Harriet Tubmans in the world – those who see the wrong for what it is and take daring risks to right it. We need more Andre Trocmes – those who say no to illegitimate authority from the outset, then stand by their convictions come what may. This is how freedom is won and kept.


We can be thankful for those who ease the suffering of the enslaved, we can even try to ease that suffering ourselves, but ultimately, bondage only turns into freedom when it ends.