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.
Daniel Edlen says
Very thoughtful post!
Unfortunately I think you’re up against the NIMBY effect. Look at the outrage about the idea of the relocation of Gitmo prisoners to U.S. soil. Americans on whole like to mentally separate what’s going on within the U.S. from without. German nationalism led to Hitler’s command and its fallout. Our nationalism led to the use of atomic force after Pearl Harbor. It’s powerful stuff.
And it filters down to neighbor vs. neighbor, even sibling against sibling. What you’re ultimately heading towards is a relinquishment of self, of ego. I’m not sure instinctually if that’s in the best interest of Life here on earth as it exists.
Of course I sign off every blog post typing “Peace.” If it comes from within, if all find acceptance of the perfection of self and the peace that comes from that, then external peace might follow symptomatically. The Universe reflects us.
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Jason D Barr says
As one vet to another, Charlie, thanks for your service. I have personally found my convictions radically altered by the time I spent in the service, and am much less likely to be in favor of my country projecting force of any kind (to wage war or keep peace) in any circumstance.
While I’m in favor of having a deterant in place for situations where force is the only thing that’s understood, I would much rather use the carrot of diplomacy than that stick. And, as Daniel pointed out, it would be nice to consider things without the NIMBY effect. What’s good for humankind, regardless of where they reside.
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Suzanne @ vAssistant Services says
I don’t pipe up very often over here, but I have to this time. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful post. Thank you for your service to our country, and for your service to us here on this blog.
It’s easy for folks to sit at home, jaded, cynical and suspicious about those in government because far too many couldn’t be bothered to go vote, one way or another, therefore the “idiots in office” are not of their choosing. What those same folks do not realize is they cast their vote with their apathy, so they are culpable, just the same.
It’s encouraging to hear you and others say that military service makes you want to look for ways to temper the willingness to fight with the willingness to pursue peace. That, to me, is the best way to celebrate Memorial Day.
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Catherine Cantieri, Sorted says
Beautiful post, Charlie. It’s something we should think about year-round, but it’s especially poignant right now. Thank you for your service in and out of the military.
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David Dittell says
Thank you for sharing this; you’ve raised a lot of important questions I’ll be thinking of tonight, tomorrow, and on.
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Jamie Dunford says
Wow Charlie. I have to say — you think big. Which is awesome, because not enough people do.
I couldn’t agree with you more. We as a globe are way too quick to resort to violence as a means of change, and as a result we have become almost blase about the massive number of humans lives that are destroyed as a result. We obviously need a better way of resolving conflict, but I have no idea what that way is.
Sorry, this isn’t nearly what I wanted to express but I’m struggling trying to figure out the next step. I’d love to hear some more of your thoughts on this.
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I like where this is going, but I would like more specifics. How, exactly, do we need to change the way we use our force?
I have a fiance in the military and am personally not happy with him having to give up his life for the good of the whole world, especially when there will always be violence, as you noted. I wasn’t even happy even before he enlisted with our soldiers giving up their lives for stupid conflicts.
I agree, we need to think more globally and less just about our own nation, but I don’t think using force is always the best way to help the whole world. What if we sent our troops to “save” another nation that didn’t really want to be saved? If half of that nation resents our presence? If they will just turn around and form their own totalitarian government?
I think we need to use force only when necessary for our *own* defense. For the world’s problems, I think education and humanitarian aid are better “weapons.” I would rather not spill our blood for problems that can only be dubiously solved, if at all, with violence.
@Daniel: I though about talking specifically about NIMBY specifically but decided not to, but since it’s on the table, I’d like to point out that NIMBY mentality works even worse on the international scale as it does on the national or regional scale. The basic idea is built on an “us vs. them” mentality: we want the good benefit from the proposed solution, but we want someone else to pay for the benefit. We like cheap nuclear power, but don’t want to live next to a nuclear power plant; let’s let the poor people deal with it. We want the peace and security of a world without tyrants, but let’s let someone else do the work to make sure that happens.
Unfortunately, we’re all caught in that same prisoner’s dilemma, and nothing happens. Until planes crash into buildings…or we have to send invasion forces to oust dictators that we empowered…or we have to send emergency aid to regions where we saw the problem coming but didn’t act.
Furthermore, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” but let’s broaden that: the violations of persons anywhere is a threat to freedom to persons everywhere.
Regarding relinquishment of self, of ego: I disagree that I’m arguing that we relinquish our desires and wants. What I’m saying is that we need to see that our selves are important, but that the selves of others are equally important, from a moral point of view. Our desires for freedom from oppression why just as heavily as those of the Sudanese; their requests for help should weigh the same as we would want our own.
@Jason: I agree with 100% regarding diplomacy. That should always be the first step, although in times such as the Rwandan genocide, where 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, I think there needs to be a quicker process. It’s well known that a brigade of combat forces would have been able to prevent such tragic loss, but we failed to act.
@Suzanne: Thanks for piping up! You hit the nail on the head. What lies within our power to do, lies within our power not to do, and vice versa. Until our leaders face amassed pressure, they won’t do anything, but the only way to amass pressure is if you and I each, individually, start doing something.
@Catherine: Thanks for your support!
@David: Great! My point was not to give so many concrete answers, but to start the conversation. If you’ll be thinking about it, the regardless of whether you agree, disagree, or whatever, we’re all better off.
@Jamie: Thanks. Regarding a better way to resolving conflict: before we get anywhere, we’ll have to get past NIMBY, nationalism, and the idea that we don’t have a right to question cultural traditions. In other words, we have to see that human rights violations are a international issue and get towards some accepted minimum standard of what counts as a basic human right. We have a long way to go, although the UN Human Rights Declaration is a really good start – too bad it’s toothless.
@Felicity: Thanks for your comment. I think there will always be violence, but it’s the scale of violence during warfare that I think can be eliminated. And as I said above, force should always be the last option, unless using force quickly can ensure the preservation of thousands of lives.
Unfortunately, “education and humanitarian aid” are not better weapons when you’re talking about mass genocide, quick military coups, and so on.
I think a lot of the resentment from military occupation comes from the way we project force. There are only so many times you can see a tank with an American flag on it roll down your street before you start to get resentful. But police patrol frequently, and when they’re just and fair, people see it as a sign of security, not oppression. Which is a quick way to show my point.
Jamie Dunford says
“There are only so many times you can see a tank with an American flag on it roll down your street before you start to get resentful.” This, I think, is the crux of the matter. The military often show up against our will whether we want them there or not, whereas I have previously accepted and perhaps even asked for the police to patrol my neighbourhood.
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