Fighting for Freedom

Recently, I published some thoughts on America’s relationship with its soldiers, both past and present. If you haven’t checked it out, I would advise doing that first, lest this post seem unnecessarily harsh.

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Every Memorial Day, every Veterans Day, every Fourth of July, every possible moment of patriotism, we thank our brave soldiers and veterans for fighting for our freedom. Like I’ve said before, I think there’s better ways of serving your nation than killing or dying for it, but I still wholeheartedly agree with all the praise.

…Until the “fighting for our freedom” part.

When was the last time we actually fought for our freedom? When was the last time the United States fought a war in which our liberty or our way of life was in true peril?

The American Revolution, War of 1812, and the American Civil War are no-brainers. However, things get pretty shady after that. The Mexican-American War was a rather blatant war of aggression (President Polk had his war speech written before he sent US troops into disputed territory). The collective “Indian Wars” were rather blatant land grabs. The Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars were imperialist conflicts. World War I was a mess. Most of our Cold War conflicts were fought against Communism, rather than for anything. Korea and Desert Storm were fought for the freedom of others. World War II was probably the last time America’s freedom was in legitimately in danger.

That’s not a great track record, even if it is both par for the course and incredibly understandable. It’s also, however, not the point. The point is that the uncritical use of “fighting for freedom” contributes to a societal belief that our brave servicemen and women are dispensable.

Freedom is good, right? Liberty and self-determination are worthy goals. So if these vague, but appealing, concepts are what our soldiers are dying for, then we aren’t going to question why those deaths occurred. We aren’t going to question why 4,487 Americans died in Iraq on bad information. We aren’t going to question why 2,260 Americans have died in Afghanistan so that the United States could protect its people without changing its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. If our soldiers are fighting for freedom every time they go into battle, nobody is going to think twice about doing it. “It’s sad that those soldiers are dying, but hey, freedom isn’t free…”

I don’t say these things to demean sacrifices or implicate the US government in some grand conspiracy. But we are a democratic society. If American soldiers are dying for our foreign policy, we should probably have a frank discussion on that policy’s merits, rather than cloaking our actions in the ideals of the American flag.

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