As I count the blessings in my life this Thanksgiving—among them family, friends, faith, football, and freedom—I also keep coming back to the debt owed to the “otherwise minded.”
Allow me to explain.
A few years ago, I traveled to Lithuania to collaborate with free market leaders from the across U.S. and Europe in our mutual quest to increase liberty and prosperity in our respective countries. While there, I took time to visit the capital city’s Museum of Genocide Victims.
The museum, housed in the old KGB headquarters, vividly chronicles the violent intimidation and brutal tactics carried out against the Lithuanian people by the Soviets—spying, arrests, deportations, torture, and murder. The exhibits are not for the faint of heart.
In the basement of the museum, the KGB prison ends abruptly in a small room where chunks of the brick walls remain broken off by executioners’ bullets. The bleakness and the missing pieces of solid bricks silently testify on behalf of the victims and their suffering in that same chamber.
As you enter the museum, a plaque explains that the targets of the KGB’s special attention were those dubbed the “otherwise minded.” These courageous otherwise minded Lithuanians were the men and women who questioned government authority, resisted Soviet oppression, and stood up for the rule of law and human dignity.
These otherwise minded were the 20th century’s freedom fighters . They fought for freedom of speech . For freedom of association. For property rights. For freedom of religion . These brave and dignified heroes established a line across which they would not bear government intrusion, and they honored that boundary with their lives.
Over time, the ranks of the otherwise minded grew. On August 23, 1989, approximately two million people peacefully joined hands to create a single chain of human solidarity that stretched the 419 miles spanning the Baltic capitals from Vilnius (Lithuania) to Riga (Latvia) to Tallinn (Estonia . Later that same year, of course, the Berlin Wall would fall—the otherwise minded having toppled the first domino.
In the United States, we are fortunate to live in a country where we enjoy the freedoms that too many otherwise minded Lithuanians died to achieve and which the founders of our own country fervently sought to protect through our Constitution. As a result, we are blessed not to live under communist oppression. Nonetheless, there remains a temptation to enforce politically correct speech and use other tactics to intimidate the otherwise minded today.
There are those who remain threatened by the ideas of liberty and freedom of speech and association that we will not renounce.
I am thankful for those who boldly resisted the communist political regimes of the 20th century and also to all of you who are pushing back in the 21st century against the subtle but steady erosion of our precious First Amendment rights in this great nation.
May you—the otherwise minded—and your families enjoy the enduring and hard-fought blessings of peace, prosperity, and liberty this Thanksgiving and always.