Like your freedom?

I saw —yet again—one of those bumper stickers the gist of which is “Like your freedom? Thank a veteran.” These things drive me nuts.

Let me see if I can parse this whole thing. First of all, I find the sentiment to be a snide bit of conservatism. (Hold that thought.) The implication is that without our armed forces deployed in Iraq, we would soon find ourselves without freedom of the press; that unless we use our soldiers to invade and occupy somewhere, we will no longer be able to hold free elections.

Such thinking is of course incredibly bad thinking. Our armed forces have not been engaged in any kind of conflict the outcome of which would have affected our system of government since 1865. Everything since then has been wars of empire or wars of strategy. Even the invasion of Afghanistan, which could be justified in terms of self defense, was not occasioned by any threat to our actual constitutional structure, nor would we have lost any of our rights had we decided not to tackle the project. I will say nothing of Iraq.

I think it likely that the teabagger on the other side of that bumper would offer the rejoinder that, in our current two wars at least, we’re “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” To which I would reply, that’s not freedom you’re worried about, sweetheart, it’s safety. Those are two different things. You know, the things Patrick Henry was quick to distinguish one from the other: “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

And even that kind of thinking is ludicrous, not to mention cowardly. No one in their right mind suggests that any of the Islamic extremists are prepared to invade us. What are the teabaggers thinking is going to happen, Baghdad Dawn? I suggest those people check under their bed every night, and then sleep tight and leave the rest of us alone.

Yes, certainly, the extremists are constantly plotting to harm us. No question. But it’s also true that all such plots have been foiled by careful police work, not by armed incursions either “over there” or here. And it’s also true that our military response to the problem has served as our enemies’ greatest recruitment tool. So thanking a veteran for keeping us safe is offbase as well.

So does this mean I hate our military? Of course not. The men and women who choose to serve in our armed forces are mostly people with a vision of service. I respect that more than a teabagger would believe possible.

However, I distrust our military, and in that I don’t think I am alone. It seems to me, from my reading of Max Farrand’s Annals of the Constitutional Convention, that most if not all of the founding fathers were of the same opinion. And certainly our greatest general-Presidents believed as I do. Can you imagine George Washington or Dwight Eisenhower suggesting that patriotism required us to, in effect, idolatrize our army?

Our founding fathers were clear on the subject: funding is to be restricted and controlled by the Legislative; the armies and navies are to be commanded by the Executive, a civilian. There is no independent military, and this arrangement is the source of our liberty, not the use of firepower. One only has to think of places such as Turkey, Pakistan, Chile, to realize that our liberty excludes our army from our freedoms. And that is why we remain free.

Oh, and how am I so sure that it’s a conservative bumpersticker?

You’re welcome.

9 thoughts on “Like your freedom?

  1. I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I find your argument a bit off base.

    Points I won’t argue (for various reasons):
    1. Iraq/Afganistan/Vietnam/Korea posed no immediate threat to our FREEDOM (though one might acknowledge that freedom tends to decrease as safety does)
    2. Military must be commanded by civilians in order for freedom to be preserved (I simply agree with this one)

    However, I think you harm your argument most with your supposition that no military involvement has been required to secure our freedom since 1865.

    History seems to leave no particular argument that both Japan and Germany were collecting countries like so many baseball cards. It also leaves no ambiguity that they had no particular plans to stop at the Atlantic or Pacific, respectively. You can argue the how’s and where’s of how that (those?) conflict(s) were brought to a conclusion, but to say there was no freedom at stake may be requiring that speculation be arrested a bit too soon. Germany in particular was not well know for their expansive human rights agenda.

    My only further beef with your commentary is the failure to acknowledge that at least to some degree, having substantial armed forces serves as a significant deterrent to those that might choose to harm us, and thus, our freedoms. For this, as well as placing their very life in harm’s way at the behest of my government (for purposes I both agree and disagree with), I will continue to thank veterans.

    I will save for a later debate the question of what degree of freedom has been denied us or removed from us by our own government.

  2. Ah, you fell into the teabaggers’ trap: at no point do I imply that I am not grateful for veterans’ service. It is precisely the false dichotomy suggested by these bumper stickers that angers me.

    I classify WWII as a strategic war, which is the category you try to exempt from my “ungratitude.”

  3. Perhaps I misunderstood you, but I read you post as indicative that such “strategic” wars had no bearing on the course (or relative degree) of our freedom. Did I miss something?

    As I conceded in my first comment, a little fear of the military industrial complex is a prudent thing, but (as I don’t believe I mentioned) has little or nothing to do with one’s attitude towards individual soldiers. Just the same, said complex (like a loaded handgun [fuse lit, stand back for report]) provides significant deterrent value to those that might wish to impede our freedoms. Ergo: thanking individual soldiers for their role in ensuring (insuring?) our freedom seems an act of gratitude not at odds with caution concerning the risks of said loaded handgun.

  4. And btw, I dislike being the protagonist in your word painting, “…fell into the teabaggers’ trap”.

  5. Here’s the problem: the right wing wants to trap you into agreeing with their disastrous foreign policy choices, e.g., Afghanistan and Iraq, by insisting that you must show gratitude to the individual soldier, or else you are not a patriot. If you don’t agree with the wars, then you must perforce hate the troops. Love the troops, love the war.

    I refuse to be a part of that. My personal preference would not be to thank an individual soldier, but to apologize for wasting his service.

  6. See? Now doesn’t that feel better?

    Seriously, I totally understand your point. I totally agree with the part about many in the right binding their agenda to the war to the soldiers using ropes made of flags. It’s only a short stone’s throw from the way they bind their agenda to the Christian cross, which I find even more distasteful.

    I don’t think many soldiers (although surely some) need or want apologies for any perceived waste of their service. They didn’t sign up for the politicians. They did it for the scholarships, jobs, travel and/or love of their country. Most of the time its the love of country, I think.

  7. Somewhere in this exchange I detect the birth pangs of a progressive or “liberal” argument for compulsory service. I do. But I will not outline it here. I, unlike Dale, know that such mutterings are noted, discussed. Targeting exists. Death is real. And easily implemented.

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