Freedom's Defenders or Politicians' Pawns?

Having just suffered through the semiannual worship of the various wars of the realm in the guise of veneration of veterans, it seemed as good a time as any to set a few things straight.

Before I start setting things straight, however, let me make one thing perfectly clear. Nothing I say in the following paragraphs is intended in any way to disparage those who have served, whether voluntarily or under compulsion, in the United States Armed Forces. Veterans, many of whom are physically and/or psychologically wounded after experiencing combat, deserve our respect and, perhaps, our pity, though few of them ask for the latter. Many of them have displayed outstanding courage and fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds. Many also have served while genuinely believing in the stated (though usually false) reasons for the wars in which they fought, namely, freedom and democracy and human rights. A sizable percentage, I think, do what they do because they love their country and believe that what they are doing is in its best interest.

Let's first put to rest the easiest argument to debunk. A local radio host on Tuesday morning read a list of our various freedoms, something along these lines: 'Veterans gave us the right to free speech. Veterans gave us the right to a free press. Veterans gave us the right to vote. Etc.' No, veterans did not give us these rights any more than politicians or voters or three-toed sloths did. God (or Mother Nature, for you atheists out there) gave us these rights. They are inherent in the nature of being human. After all, whether humans came about through an act of divine creation or a gradual process of evolution, we started out as a small number of autonomous individuals with more or less complete freedom to make our own way in the world. Only with the rise of individuals or groups that could compel others, either by brute force or persuasion or a combination of the two, to obey them did freedom begin to be curtailed. The best that can be said for veterans in this regard is that they helped either to defend freedom from attack or to restore lost freedoms. They most certainly did not give freedom to anyone.

Now things get a little hairier. After all, surely veterans of the U. S. military have fought either to protect or restore our freedom in every war'or have they? Let's consider the major conflicts in which our country has been embroiled since 1776.

There is no question that the veterans of the American Revolution were fighting to restore lost freedoms. The colonists were being ruled over by a government an entire ocean away, the interests of which did not always coincide with those of the colonists. Taxes, forced quartering of soldiers, and other oppressive measures were foisted upon the colonists, who, not being represented in Parliament, had no recourse but to declare their independence from Great Britain and then take up arms to defend their homes against the inevitable attempts to suppress the rebellion. The end result was 13 free and independent states with very light government. The veterans of that war are certainly to be commended for having restored liberty to America .

The next major conflict occurred in 1812. A limited case can be made for veterans' having defended freedom during this war since much of the conflict centered on British impressment of American sailors and supplying of arms to the Indians via Canada. In addition, the British did burn much of Washington, D. C. (much less cause for celebration then than now), and blockaded much of the coast. However, the war was also seized upon as an opportunity to expel the British from Canada entirely by, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 'a group of expansionist congressmen called War Hawks, who also included Florida in their territorial ambitions.' (Not much has changed since then, eh?) Still, it's fair to say that veterans of the War of 1812 do deserve some credit for having defended Americans' freedoms from the British, with whose leaders our government had not yet developed its current symbiotic lapdog relationship.

The Mexican War, too, involved the defense of some freedom. The Texans had declared their independence; and despite the setback at the Alamo had ultimately driven Santa Anna's forces back to Mexico and achieved de facto independence. In 1845 the U. S. annexed Texas , and there the troubles really began. Again expansionism played a role, as did a certain amount of deviousness on the part of President James Polk in obtaining a congressional declaration of war (though at least he bothered to get one, unlike the presidents of the last half-century). Texas ended up gaining de jure independence from Mexico , and the U. S. picked up a vast amount of territory in the bargain. Here, too, the record for veterans is mixed. While Texans' freedom was enhanced by the war, it does seem that war could have been avoided; and it is certain that the rest of the country was not in any danger.

Now we come to the defining moment: the War for Southern Independence . The court historians would have us believe that every Union soldier was fighting to end slavery, a noble goal indeed, and that every Confederate soldier was fighting to preserve it, which was not so noble. The fact of the matter is that, in this case, it is the Confederate veterans who were fighting to defend freedom against an oppressive government which wished to tax them into penury so as to protect Northern industry against cheaper European imports. The Union veterans, on the other hand, were fighting to put down an independence movement, just as the British and Mexicans had earlier. The result of the Union victory was the boundless federal government under which we still suffer today. Thus, while it is fashionable to credit Union veterans with having fought to preserve and extend freedom, the truth is that they were fighting to extinguish it. Confederate veterans deserve the honors here, but veterans of the U. S. military do not.

No pretense of protecting Americans' freedom went into the decision to enter into the Spanish-American War. It was out-and-out imperialism and nothing more. Veterans of that war may have helped to liberate Cuba , Guam , Puerto Rico , and the Philippines from Spanish rule; but those same veterans then turned around and rammed the jackboot of the U. S. military into the faces of those they had just liberated. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Filipinos, who had thought they were being freed only to find out they had merely exchanged one colonial master for another, were killed in their own independence-from-Uncle-Sam movements. When they finally did throw off direct U. S. rule, they were then saddled with dictators of Uncle Sam's choosing. No credit for the defense of Americans' freedom can be granted to veterans of this war.

There is no conceivable way in which the U. S. was threatened in World War I. No Americans (aside from some sitting ducks set up by the Wilson administration) had been attacked, and no American territory had been attacked. It was a strictly European war. The veterans of this terrible war, the conclusion of which was the occasion for Armistice Day (now known as Veterans' Day), did nothing to protect Americans' freedom.

Oh, but what about World War II? Why, if it weren't for the brave veterans of that conflict, we'd all be speaking German now! Oh, really? Once again a president decided to take us, by hook or by crook, into a war that did not threaten us in the least; and even then the pretense was only an attack on a U. S. military base way out in the Pacific'hardly a threat to the freedom of the average American. Hitler was having enough trouble holding onto Europe by that time, and he couldn't even take the little island of Britain ; so it is therefore inconceivable that, even if he had so desired, he could have crossed the Atlantic Ocean and taken even the tiniest part of the U. S. Americans were no more threatened by the Japanese and the Germans than they were by the Peruvians. As impolitic as it is to disparage the 'Good War,' the fact remains that veterans of this war, while they may have helped out Europe , did next to nothing to further freedom in America .

Veterans of two wars against the communist menace, in Korea and Vietnam , may again have been embarking on a seemingly noble cause, but they certainly weren't advancing or defending freedom back home. Operation Desert Storm wasn't even sold to us on the notion that we were under attack, and the ludicrously named Operation Iraqi Freedom was sold to us with a pack of lies about a threat to our freedom from Saddam Hussein's vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and his close ties to al Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. Unfortunately, veterans of those two conflicts cannot really lay claim to having defended Americans' freedom, either.

On the whole, then, it is fair to say that veterans of the U. S. armed forces haven't fought for our entire nation's freedom since 1812, and it's plausible even to say they haven't done so since 1776 (and, of course, then they weren't the United States Armed Forces). No disrespect is meant to veterans, who generally neither chose to enter these wars nor decided how to prosecute them. At the same time, though, instead of taking the occasion of Veterans' Day or Memorial Day to rehash the hackneyed platitudes about how we owe all our freedom to the veterans of all the wars in which our country has been involved, would it not be better to consider that we wouldn't need either of these days if our despicable leaders did not insist on involving us in endless conflicts? Wouldn't we be better off with two fewer holidays than with thousands upon thousands of wounded, psychologically scarred, and dead? The answer is carved in tombstone.

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Michael Tennant is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.