Freedom (n) : the quality or state of being free: as a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).
This is the definition that we associate with the events of July 4, 1776. It is the warm blanket with which we cover ourselves as we watch fireworks displays while listening to Sousa marches and patriotic speeches. It is our guiding principle in dealing with foreign governments. With all the talk (and sometimes hysterical shouting) about freedom, there is rarely any mention of the costs, responsibilities and consequences of freedom.
The Revolutionary War (for the most part) was fought under the medieval concept of war: Two opposing forces met on a field of battle and the last man standing was the victor. Under this concept, the slogan “Live Free or Die” didn’t really apply to everyone because although everyone shared in the “Free” part, not everyone was liable to “Die”. As man progressed, this changed also. During World War II, “Live Free or Die” was applied equally to soldier and civilian. Mankind plumbed new depths in atrocities, from the attempted extermination of the Jewish people to the totally destruction and firebombing of cities, to the annihilation of Hiroshima. During the height of the Cold War, monthly air raid siren tests, drills and movies like “Fail-Safe“, made me constantly aware that my hometown (NYC) could be reduce to ash in the blink of an eye.
Today, many of us don’t think about the consequences, responsibilities and cost of freedom. Without a military draft system, only those who choose to join the military bear the heaviest cost of freedom. Back when there was a military draft system, everyone had a direct stake in whatever military incursions our country participated in since all Americans faced the possibility of having a son, brother, father or husband drafted to serve and perhaps to die. Today, unless we have friends or family serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, our only connection to those wars are the repetitive (and generally ignored) news reports of a road side bomb here or a suicide bomber there. By displaying our “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers, many of us think that we’ve made our contribution towards the cost of freedom.
The cost of freedom is much greater; it might be more than we are willing to bear.
The immediate cost is in the lives that are lost on both sides of these conflicts. These lives had the potential for good and to contribute to the betterment of their families, friends and society, but that will never be.
The intermediate cost is the necessary treatment of our wounded soldiers and their families. We, as a society, have shamefully abdicated our responsibility to help our returning war veterans. One-third of the adult homeless population in our country have served in the Armed Forces (see report). The families of these soldiers, whether wounded or not, have suffered tremendous emotional and economic hardships which have not been adequately addressed. Congress debates over the price tag of an expanded veteran’s benefits bill. Dear reader, if “…conquer we must, when our cause it is just“, then there can be no price put on the sacrifice of those who are serving in our armed forces. If we were to award each veteran a $1.54 million pension (cost of a human life), it would still pale in comparison to the sacrifices made. After all, would $1.54 million satify you for the loss of a father, mother, brother, sister, wife or husband?
The long-term cost is incalculable. Society loses it’s young people, families are broken, a generation of doctors, lawyers, leaders, workers, mothers and fathers disappears; our fallen enemy’s descendants hate us even more and probably will be looking for ways to ‘get even’, leading to the possibility of future conflicts. Furthermore, if we are to ‘save’ our enemies from tyranny then, as the old Chinese proverb says, “If you save a life, you become responsible for it”. Our responsibilities do not end with the defeat of our enemies or the liberation of a country. That is only the beginning.
Let us think seriously before gallivanting around the globe espousing our concepts of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. While all people are entitled to freedom, not all are ready to make the same sacrifices we are prepared to make. Freedom cannot be forced down the throats of those who are not willing to swallow.
Let us, therefore, never forget the price tag that’s attached to this word.
“Live Free or Die!” I sincerely believe in this ideal.
Are we ready to pay the price? When the time comes, we’ll find out.