It's Memorial Day in America. Officially, we set aside this day to remember those soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines who have died in the defense of our freedom. Culturally, like any other holiday, it has devolved into one more reason for sleeping late on Monday, cookouts, camping trips, ballgames and sales at the mall.
Yet, while we may take a few moments in solemn remembrance of those who perished in places ranging from Freehold, New Jersey (a few miles from where I grew up) to the caves of Afghanistan, we need to ask a larger question: are we even worthy?
What are we doing with the freedom that they died for?
Most wars, sadly, have not been about freedom. The War of Northern Aggression, from 1861-1865, was not about freeing the slaves. Slavery was on its way out due to advances in technology and the growing conviction in the hearts and minds of Americans that slavery was just plain wrong. A war to end it was not necessary. Several southern states seceded to protest the grossly unfair impacts of tariffs. They just wanted Washington to leave them alone.
Lincoln, who suspended many civil liberties in order to prosecute this war, said, 'I don't think so.' A horribly bloody war ensued. The Founders sacrificed valiantly for the cause of 'free and independent states.' This all went away as a result of Mr. Lincoln's war. The march toward centralization of power at the federal level had begun and would eventually turn into a stampede.
Randolph Bourne, a man far more succinct than I will ever be, once remarked that 'War is the health of the state.' Show me a war and I will show you drafts, disregard for civil liberties and all manner of federal intrusions on the economy.
I am not a pacifist. The rebellion of 1775-1783 and the resistance by the Confederacy from 1861-1865 were, in my mind, just wars. Moreover, I am a retired naval reservist. People ask me about the Navy and I tell them that while I love the Navy, I hate what it is being used for.
America has been at war since 1941. There was a time when war was an absolute last resort. Now, it seems as if the reward for war is more war. Today, America has troops in over 130 countries around the world.
Why? Are they all going to invade us? A recent study by Price Waterhouse Coopers indicated that American military spending would equal the combined total of the rest of the world sometime this coming year. The entire military might of the Muslim world equals about one third of ours. If they invaded us, we would whoop'em and whoop'em good and fast.
(9/11 was an attack, not an invasion. Yes, the perps did horrible things and killed lots of people. No, they did not have an invading army behind them that would overthrow our government, make us speak Arabic and worship Allah, and force women to wear burqas.)
Osama bin Laden cannot take away our freedom. Neither can Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9/11.
Yet our own government is doing so with our blessing.
Today, half of our income is confiscated before we can do as much as buy groceries. America has the world's highest incarceration rate. Nine of the ten planks of the Communist Manifesto are now the law of our land. The PATRIOT Act has eviscerated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unlawful searches and seizures. DEA brownshirts storm the homes of citizens whose only offense ' not crime, offense ' is consuming the only medicine that can relieve their pain. In Philadelphia, Christians are threatened with 47-year prison sentences for peacefully reading the Bible at gay pride parades. Near Tampa, ten-year-old boys are led away in handcuffs for bringing water to a dying woman. A national ID card just became law. (Ze papers, please.)
It's not Osama. It's not Saddam. It is our own friggin' government that is doing this.
Have you boarded an airplane since September 11, 2001? If so, you have had a glimpse of the future if we do not start turning things around.
And what is our response to all of this? Last November, 98 percent of us voted to re-elect the government that is doing these things to us.
Are we better off than we were a century ago, when we started down this road of perpetual war? Materially, yes. But, we have lost so much in so many other ways. And we will lose our material blessings as well if we don't stop this madness.
I do not remember the exact details of the scene, but I will recount it as best I can. At the end of Stephen Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, a man visits a cemetery at Normandy and asks: 'Have I lived a life worthy of the sacrifices that were made here?'
Are we, in America in 2005, worthy of the sacrifices made and the blood spilled by so many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines since 1775?