No one knows his name. Or whether, when he was whisked away by several people who suddenly appeared in the square, he was rushed to the safety of friends or into police custody.
He’s “Tank Man.” His claim to fame is largely symbolic, blocking a whole line of People’s Liberation Army tanks for several minutes as they were taking a victory lap through Tiananmen Square mere hours after crushing the encampment of protesters. Tank Man stood in front of these massive treaded war machines, moved with them when they maneuvered to go around him, and, once the tanks stopped, he climbed on top of the one in front, banging on it and yelling at the driver.
For seven weeks, protests had taken over much of Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital. Students began the demonstrations, which were then joined by working folks. They spoke truth to power and crowds swelled to hear calls for press freedom and individual liberty and basic democratic rights to control government.
But on this day 25 years ago, the Chinese communist leaders, the Butchers of Beijing, ended this Springtime burst of life and liberty by ordering the military to fire on civilians* and roll their tanks over people to clear the square. The Chinese government acknowledges that hundreds died; others put the death toll as high as 6,000.
Tank Man and the pro-freedom movement lost.
An obviously emotional ABC reporter told American viewers that “the voices of those who died calling for freedom and liberty are likely to be remembered long after the sound of the gunfire that attempted to silence them has faded away.”
Tragically, to this day, the Chinese government imprisons pro-democracy activists who speak out, blocks Internet searches for “Tiananmen Square protests,” and uses a massive police presence and arbitrary detention of “radicals” to prevent any commemoration of what happened a quarter century ago.
Still, the image of that lone Chinese worker, satchel in hand, serves as a symbol of the desire for freedom, for the defiance of tyranny. It is forever etched in the minds of liberty lovers everywhere.
We cannot bring freedom to the Chinese people. They will have to continue to struggle to achieve that on their own.
What can we do?
We can remain inspired by the bravery shown by Tank Man — and by bloggers and activists in prisons throughout the world. Working through non-governmental organizations, such as the Human Rights Foundation, we can assist the cause of individual freedom by bringing attention and pressure against tyrants trying to eliminate those who agitate for it.
And we can let these courageous people know they aren’t alone against the tanks and truncheons.
The most important thing we can do is to make certain that our freedoms, the rule of law, and citizen control of government through constitutional limitations and democratic checks on power continue to be defended, protected and expanded.
That really begins when responsible, caring, freedom-loving individuals come together with their neighbors, online, in social networks, at the workplace, through civic groups, at church or school to stand up for our right to be free.
This is Common Sense … and helping to inspire, inform and organize for freedom is our mission. I’m Paul Jacob … and working together I believe we can make a difference.
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