Freedom, God and Right?

My five year old son loves to sing Men of Harlech. He fell in love with the Welsh anthem after hearing a stirring rendition by folk singer Charlie Zahm. He requests the CD every time we get in the car together, and randomly belts out the first verse without hesitation and, generally, without mistakes:

Men of Harlech, in the hollow,
Do ye hear, like rushing billow,
Wave on wave, that surging follow
Battle’s distant sound?
‘Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen –
Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen;
Be they knights, or hinds, or yeomen,
They shall bite the ground.
Loose the folds asunder-
Flag we conquer under!
The placid sky, now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder!
Onward! ‘Tis our country needs us;
He is bravest, he who leads us!
Honor’s self now proudly heads us –
Freedom, God and Right!

Here it typically devolves into Daaa na naaa na naa naa naa naa – which, considering the gory detail of the second verse, is good enough for a five year old boy. I’m in no hurry to shatter his innocence with the realities of war. For him, Men of Harlech is just his favorite “marching song.”

It happens to be one of my favorites as well, though in a more complex way. I have never heard it sung without having to fight back tears. Men of Harlech is a story of tragedy on so many levels. The image of common citizens rushing to the death against an invading army in defense of their homes and villages is always powerfully moving. From an historical perspective, knowing how the story ends (in a long siege and the ultimate defeat of the Welsh) doesn’t help. For the Christian, the violence anticipated in the second verse is a chilling reminder of the depravity of fallen humanity and the brokenness of God’s once perfect creation; for one who loves his fellow man, it is an equally chilling picture of the effects of war on the better instincts of human nature.

Rocky steeps and passes narrow
Flash with spear and flight of arrow;
Who would think of death or sorrow?
Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over,
Let the earth dead foemen cover;
Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow!
Strands of life are riven,
Blow for blow is given
In deadly lock, or battle shock,
And “mercy!” shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story?
Strike! for home, for life, for glory!
Freedom, God and right!

But what saddens me the most every time I hear this song is the repeated line, “Freedom, God and Right!” Oh yes, these are things worth fighting and giving one’s life for. But how often these words are subordinated to a self-interested agenda that has nothing to do with them! How many American soldiers have died thinking they were defending our freedoms, when in reality they were pawns in a global chess game? How many are killing and being killed in the Middle East, believing that their actions and sacrifices are saving the lives of Americans here at home, when in fact the terrorist threat against us only intensifies? How many soldiers know the obscene amounts of money being pocketed by businessmen and politicians as a result of the wars they are called on to fight? How many American taxpayers believe that the daily killings carried out at our expense are somehow connected to our freedoms, or the survival of God’s chosen people, or whatever cause the war lobbyists have appended to their latest scheme?

Then, too, I can’t help but note the contrast between the circumstances of the Welsh peasantry and America today. The Welsh, like America’s founders, fought an invading army on their own doorsteps. But these days our country is too often the aggressor, making insolent demands of other nations while benevolently extending the twin inducements of billions for the compliant and bombs for the recalcitrant. The America that once was a beacon of hope and a symbol of freedom is now a global exporter of death. The America that went beyond any nation in history to limit executive and military power now claims a lawful right to invade anywhere it sees fit, without even declaring war; to assassinate anyone it sees fit, even its own citizens; to execute citizens of another nation en masse, in peacetime, on their own soil, without even an illusion of due process to protect the innocent.

That, for me, is the foremost reason this song evokes such an emotional response. I can’t help but grieve that America has lost, or rather abandoned, her historic place in the world. Sure, she is still a “world leader” – a superpower – for whatever that is worth. But it was freedom that made America great, and it was a distinctly Christian view of law and government that made America free. Her greatest influence for good in the world preceded, rather than followed, her superpower status. Today, even as America daily trashes her founding ideals, most Americans seem to care only about remaining great. But at what cost? We’ve collectively abandoned the moral foundations, the respect for life, liberty and property, that made self-government possible. We have rejected the proposition that all men are created equal, in favor of arrogance wrapped in red, white and blue. That arrogance, sooner or later, will bring this nation to her knees more effectively than any number of terrorists ever could.

So what of these powerful words? When we think of “Freedom, God and Right” do we think of moral standards by which we should measure our actions on the world stage? Or are they slogans that we get to use because we are America? Do we seek to be right and to do right, or do we presume to define “right” to our liking? Like many empires before us, I fear we are guilty of the latter. That is a tragedy, not just for us, but for the entire world.

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About Patrick G. Kocher
Patrick G. Kocher is a liberty minded Republican activist from southeast PA. He is a constitutionalist and history junkie whose political thinking is heavily influenced by Jefferson, Madison, Bastiat, Hayek and, most recently, Ron Paul. A committed Christian, Patrick is a member of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He and his wife, Georgina, live in Chester County, PA with their four children.

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