Musing about Freedom from a Bumper Sticker

At a stoplight, I noticed this bumper sticker on the car ahead of me: “I’m proud that my son is fighting for our freedom.”

I think that parent should be very, very proud. I appreciate this son serving in the military to protect and defend our country. I think it’s a calling worthy of high honor.

But as I drove on, I parsed out the words in that bumper sticker. Nothing to criticize that parent or that son. Just some harmless musing by a person who has never worn the uniform, and had some thinking time to fill.

My thoughts focused on the word “freedom.” Is that son really fighting for the freedom of the United States? I decided–and I’m totally open to being wrong about this–that freedom isn’t the issue. Our freedom isn’t threatened by Al Qaeda or the Taliban. No rag-tag bunch of terrorists are going to take over the United States and subjugate the citizenry. Those soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are, to use the famous words from “A Few Good Man,” standing on a wall. In the fight against Al Qaeda, they are protecting us from attack, pursuing an enemy who threatens us with harm.

Frankly, I think Homeland Security is a greater threat to American freedom than anything in Afghanistan. In our post-9/11 frenzy, we ceded a scary amount of authority to the federal government, which can look into our lives in unprecedented ways. We have greatly expanded the government’s right to detain citizens, accumulate information about every facet of our lives, and keep tabs on everything we do. After 9/11, we went way, way overboard.

But, back to our wars.

The Revolutionary War was all about freedom. So was the War of 1812, a war against conquering invaders.

The Mexican-American War, I would say, was a war of aggression on our part. (Not to be confused with the Texas War of Independence, which included the Alamo.) It was basically a land grab.

I’m not sure how to categorize the Civil War. Both sides were fighting for freedom–the North to (at last in part) free the slaves, the South to preserve states rights and their freedom from federal intervention in their affairs.

World War I doesn’t strike me as being about defending our freedom, but it seems to have been in our national interests. Soldiers often die not in defense of freedom, but for other worthy causes which require deadly force. The Great War falls in that zone. World War II, on the other hand, was indeed about freedom…and much more.

What about Korea and Vietnam? In the context of the Cold War, with communism seeking to dominate the world, I can easily make the argument that it was ultimately about freedom. We were trying to keep early dominos from falling, recognizing that the US would be the last domino to topple. At least, that’s how people thought at the time.

The first Gulf War? Our freedom wasn’t threatened, but we were needed to right a terrible wrong (Saddam Hussein’s invasion of helpless Kuwait). And because of our dependence on oil, we had vital strategic interests in that region.

Now we come to Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither, in my book, involved defending our freedom. But that doesn’t mean fighting those wars was invalid.

We plunged into Afghanistan to eliminate a proven threat. We were attacked, and we retaliated.

Iraq was another story. I’m not going to argue whether or not we should have invaded Iraq. I’m just going to say this: it wasn’t about American freedom (remember, it was called Operation Iraqi Freedom). You can make a case, based on the presumption of Hussein building nuclear weapons, that Iraq could cause us immense harm. But take away our freedom? No, that wasn’t at stake.

Now, we’re mostly left with Afghanistan. The Al Qaeda of 9/11 is pretty much gone, vanquished. Now we are primarily fighting in a civil war against the Taliban. In that sense, the bumper sticker isn’t accurate–that son is not fighting to preserve American freedom. He’s fighting another country’s internal war. Which can still be a worthy cause…or not.

But, as I continued driving and thinking about this, I came to a conclusion which affirmed the bumper sticker. Whether or not we are at war, American soldiers are the first line of defense in safeguarding our freedom. Every man or woman who dons the uniform is prepared to defend my freedom. They may not be fighting for our freedom in Afghanistan, but if a threat to American freedom arises, they are ready to stomp it down. A contrarian could argue that the Constitution is our first line of defense of freedom, or perhaps the judicial system. But when push comes to shove, it’s those men and women in uniform, expertly trained to inflict violence, who make the difference.

And so, in a larger sense, that bumper sticker was indeed accurate. They may not be currently fighting for our freedom, but they are prepared and eager to do so. At least, that’s where my musing ended up.

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