It’s purely coincidental that this post follows a post about freedom businesses, but this one is not about personal freedom, but rather collective freedom. But what stays the same is that the securing of freedom doesn’t come easy and it sure as hell isn’t free.
As I wrote last year on Memorial Day, it still feels weird to be a veteran. I feel like I’m about 30 years too young for it, and though I am a member of the VFW, I don’t have a hat. (Note to self: buy a hat 30 years from now.) Also, in case you didn’t know, Memorial Day is Monday, May 25th this year.
What I said last year is that once you become a veteran, holidays like this one, Independence Day, and Veteran’s Day take on a completely different meaning than you’d anticipate. They’re not so much about remembering the past, but thinking about the present. Yes, millions of men and women have died in the past securing our freedom, but there are millions of men and women that are serving our Nation today.
The change I’ve had in me this year is that, though I still stand ready to defend and I’m honored that others are willing and ready to do so, I’m really ready for us to temper the willingness to fight with the willingness to pursue peace. Peace is the true end of war, as Aquinas said.
In any endeavor, it’s so easy to stand ready to fight fires, manage crises, and solve problems simply because we know how to do it and we’ve prepared for it. Moving beyond violent urgency towards sustainable peace is difficult, since as a species, we haven’t really learned to think and act in that way.
Do I think we’ll ever have absolute peace? No. There will always be someone ready to prey upon the weak through violence, and I don’t think we should stand by and watch people be slaughtered just so that we can keep our moral purity. And I also don’t think we should prefer oppression without the presence of violence to a freedom sustained by checks and balances that may require violence.
But I do think we can move beyond national warfare towards international security operations. What’s the difference? Instead of nations meeting some big-boy stalemate with tanks and bombs, those nations could cooperate to make sure that the weak are protected from the strong. Think about it this way: police forces and military forces both have a monopoly on violence, and both use violence to secure a civil society. The difference is in the way that they use violence.
Let’s go one step further: imagine what would happen if police officers were killed at the rate military personnel are everyday. It would be…unexpected and tragic. Somewhere in our collective psyche is an understanding that it’s okay if military personnel die, but not okay if police officers die. Somehow, the loss of individual human life is less shocking to our senses when those individuals lives lost are those of military personnel.
Or imagine if police officers killed as many civilians as are killed in the carrying out of warfare. It would be unconscionable. Yet we accept the loss of civilian lives in warfare as unintended but necessary.
My point here is not that we can get to the point to where we can keep everyone from being killed by violence. My point is that the way we think about the difference between warfare and policing operations changes the way we think about the killings involved.
We (Americans) live in a society where we have the capability to have combat forces anywhere in the world within 24 hours. Within 72 hours, we can have tanks, helicopters, artillery, and the footprint to our sustainability operations set up so that we can pursue warfare. Yet we sit idly by for years watching genocide in Darfur because we won’t use those forces in that way.
It doesn’t have to be like this. It’s this way because of the way our nations view military action. It’s this way because our nations will invest untold billions to protect national interests, which somehow are quite distinct from the interests of people. But, fundamentally, it’s this way because you and I let it be this way.
We should have learned by now that crazies in caves faraway are really not that much different than the crazies that live across town. The days when the invisible walls of national sovereignty protected us are long gone. The soldier in the sands of the desert protect us just as the police officer in the heat of the asphalt does. Yet we have different moral evaluations of their actions with very little justification for that conclusion.
The future is always murky, but the only way we’ll start building better futures rather than repeating the trends of yesteryear is to change the way we think and act. We have to see that the loss of human life is tragic, whether that person is wearing a military uniform, a police uniform, or no uniform at all. We have to see that there’s no real reason why we can deploy thousands of troops to fight another nation yet won’t send a 1,000 people to save 100,000 people. And we have to let go of the idea that the interests of people faraway are not morally on par with our own, lest their suffering wash upon our shores as the blood of our military personnel.
The veterans of every generation hope that their efforts prevent another generation of veterans. Alas that the next generation has veterans. We’ve been down that road, yet every day we continue the same actions and expect a different result.
The cost of freedom as we know it is far too high, and we’re left with a military-industrial complex that’s researching more efficient ways to kill people, nations eying each other over walls of threats, a worldview that collectivizes the killings of people in warfare and individualizes the killing of people in secure societies, and wasted money spent on managing crises rather than preventing them in the first place.
We need a new freedom, and the time is ripe for it. But the only way we’re going to see any change is to a) be the change we want to see and b) pester those that make the decisions to make the right ones and fire them if they make the wrong ones. Otherwise, year after year, we’ll continue to honor those personnel who have died in the past at the same time we mourn those that we’ve lost today.
Please, do something to help us build a better future. The past isn’t worth repeating.