This post is not likely to be popular. Confronting uncomfortable truths rarely is. So before anyone jumps on my case about somehow diminishing Veterans Day, I’m going to do something I almost never do here, and that’s tell you something about me.
I’m a veteran. Of more than 20 years. Of more than a couple trips overseas. Given all the ‘hero tributes’ I routinely see on November 11, then, maybe this is the day for me to speak my peace. I don’t pretend to speak for every veteran — we’re not the faceless mass of conformity Hollywood likes to portray. But what I have to say is this:
Stop thanking me for your freedom.
There are several reasons I say this. First is a realistic assessment of what I’ve actually done. Alone in our actions, we in uniform do not create freedom. At our best, we can create conditions in which a people can choose to be free and self-governing. At our worst, a military/security apparatus is one of the greatest threats to freedom — something the Founders well understood. It’s like the old story of Benjamin Franklin: A woman is supposed to have asked him what the Constitutional Convention accomplished. He is said to have replied “we have given you a Republic — if you can keep it.” Whether anecdotal or not, the tale tells a truth: we are ALL responsible for freedom, not just some of us. The main trouble I have with these holidays since 9/11 is that it further separates the soldiery from the citizenry, assigning the former the “active” part in defending freedom, and only a passive role to the latter. If that model is accepted, it’s fatal to any free society.
The second reason I say this is that far too many of our overseas adventures have had only a marginal relationship at best with actually protecting America. Sure, they’re all sold that way. Look closer, though. Was our security enhanced by removing Saddam Hussein? As despicable a leader as he was, is ISIS really an improvement, for Iraq or for us? Consider how close we came to actively toppling Assad in Syria — how much MORE would that have aided the latest threat du jour? Americans are always so concerned about the emergence of a threat that we fail to see how our own actions are perceived by others as threats… and thus become self-fulfilling prophecies of a sort. Even worse, we have short memories and never ask whether our past actions achieved anything beyond setting up tomorrow’s problems.
But the primary reason I say this is that I am no longer convinced we live in a ‘free country.’ Sure, we don’t see the trappings of totalitarianism run amok — nobody’s goose-stepping down Pennsylvania Avenue or holding Nuremberg-type rallies in Times Square. Yet. But evil rarely reappears in an easily recognizable form — it’s too subtle for that. Ask yourself: in a free society
– Do police routinely seize your property simply because they can? (Even if they don’t bother charging you with a crime)
– Do communities seize your home for whatever reason they (and the politically well-connected) deem fit… because they can?
– Do laws apply more stringently to “the little people” than “the big fish” whose misdeeds cause far more damage to the nation?
– Do leaders privately flaunt how they passed controversial bills through a ‘lack of transparency’ and despite ‘the stupidity of the American voter?’ (After all, ve know vats best for
– Do nine unelected people get to torture repeatedly the plain meaning of the highest law of the land to suit whatever the prevailing political whims of the day are?
– Does the chief executive threaten for months to unilaterally ignore established law, even though the clear majority of the electorate opposes such an action on this issue?
– Does the government collaborate with or coerce major companies to assist in creating a surveillance state?
– Does the government threaten, if you decide you’re paying too much tax and decide to emigrate elsewhere, to confiscate a huge chunk of your estate?
Why did I compile such a list on a day like this? Because these issues have at least one thing in common: THERE IS NOTHING THE MILITARY CAN DO ABOUT THEM (at least, not in a way any lover of freedom would want). While veterans swear to uphold the Constitution against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” the reality is we are focused on the former. THE CITIZENS have to be vigilant and energetic about identifying and marginalizing the latter.
In this, we have failed as an electorate. For decades we have complained about government inefficiency, ineptitude and corruption, all while asking that same government to do more for us. Does it not occur to anyone that the more you ask of your government, the more it will demand of you? Instead of our first instinct being to employ government force (“…there oughta be a law…”), find ways to fix issues as individuals and communities who organize voluntarily.
That is, of course, the main problem. Most people don’t want to invest the time and energy it takes to be free agents. They’d rather somebody else do the heavy lifting, even if it means higher taxes to hire people who give a questionable return on investment. But to the extent you depend on others to do things for you, you are not free. When Tocqueville traveled through America in the early 1800s, this is what he observed:
…Americans naturally formed groups when they wanted to hold a celebration, found a church, build a school, distribute books or do almost anything else. “Finally, if they want to proclaim a truth or propagate some feeling …they form an association. In every case, at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government … in the United States you are sure to find an association.”
So. If you want to thank me, and other veterans on this day:
– Stop demanding the government do things you are capable of doing for yourself. Only then do you have any chance of being “free.”
– Stop reflexively supporting every military action our leaders propose overseas. There are times we have to fight. And there are times certain interests choose to have us fight. As citizens, you have to discern between the two, and not just rubber stamp every war that’s offered. And sometimes, the best way to “support the troops” is to demand they stay home.
– Stop electing people you believe are “the lesser of two evils,” and start finding people you can honestly vote FOR, because they seek to be the public’s servant, not its master. If you want to hold Congress in the same high esteem you apparently hold the military, you’re the ones who have to fix it.
– Hold your leaders accountable. Show up en masse to let them know when they are out of line. If necessary, refuse to comply with unconstitutional or immoral legislation. Take a stand. It might cost you something, yes. Freedom usually does.
We will never remain the “land of the free and the home of the brave” solely because of the choices of less than 1 percent of Americans. The other 99 percent have to be in the struggle as well.
Do you really WANT to be free, America? Or do you just hope for a tolerable master, and content yourself with complaining when you don’t get one? The freedom of our children and all future generations depends on how each of us, uniform or not, answer those questions.