I have heard the word “freedom” a lot lately. It seems most of the population of the United States believes that our troops have been “fighting for freedom.” We’ve been using that catch phrase fast and loose ever since we got together and kicked out the British in 1776.
There have always been quite a few exceptions. While “all men are created equal,” the writer who penned these words, Thomas Jefferson, owned 600 slaves and knew quite well that they weren’t free and, if he “freed” them, which he did for a couple of them at his death, wouldn’t be treated as equals by his fellows. He had a wife. Martha, who wasn’t allowed to vote, so presumably the word didn’t mean “humans” as we take it to mean today and, after she died, he had a consort (see Footnote #1) and children who were also his slaves. It took until 1920 for women to start being considered “equal” and it wasn’t the outcome of a war. It took until the 1960’s for blacks to start to be treated as equals to whites and, as recent events point out, we still have a ways to go to achieve real freedom and equality. The freedom of both whites and blacks to vote and intermarry was a hard-fought battle but not on the battlefield but on the streets of the United States. We all got the freedom to walk on both sides of the street, to sit anywhere on a public bus, and to hold hands with a girlfriend – an informal crime only recently not punishable by lynching in certain parts of the country a century after the North prohibited the South from leaving the Union through armed force and General Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” The Revolutionary and Civil Wars, supposedly fought to secure these freedoms, didn’t.
We’re still trying to work out the freedom to marry whom we want and the freedom to have families of our own choosing without religion and gay-bashers getting in the way and the battle is in churches, courts, voting booths, and news media op eds.
The Indian-American wars, both pre- and post-revolution were fought to suppress and infringe on the rights of Native Americans, not to secure reasonable freedom for anyone.
We didn’t fight to secure freedoms for Arabs in the Middle East when we fought the Germans there in World War I. We sold them out to the British after the war ended. We gave them Hashemite Kings whom they didn’t necessarily want. It is clear Jordan and Saudi Arabia accepted theirs but Syria, Iraq, and Libya weren’t so accepting of our plan for their leadership. The plan for Palestine was to send all the refugee Jews there after World War I and England and the US betrayed our Arab allies to do it. We didn’t allow Arabs or Jews any choice about it, either. England and the United States were the original architects of the current mess in the Middle East–including creating the jointly-controlled colonies of Kuwait, Bahrain, and Palestine. Once we and the British got “divide and conquer” going, the conflicts and animosities were inevitable. President Carter made a valiant effort to end this perpetual conflict, but was shouted down by the Reagan supporters wanting to “make America great again,” funded by the arms industry and the other profiteers of war.
Let’s be clear about this. We’ve never fought for anyone’s freedom in the Middle East in any war; certainly not in World War I or “Desert Storm” or the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Yes, in WWI, we were fighting the Kaiser and his efforts to gain colonies like the rest of us, but not for freedom but to subjugate the Third World economically and politically ourselves; to defend the Suez Canal and control a deep-water port on the Persian Gulf. Ditto World War II, even though the Fuhrer was scarier than the Kaiser and they were more racist than we were. Still, our allies utterly bankrupted Germany with sanctions after the first world war, so the second was almost inevitable. Japan had been economically dependent on the United States since Admiral Perry invaded and subjugated them between 1852 and 1854. When the great depression interrupted trade, they invaded Mongolia and China to gain raw materials for the industry we forced on them. The Pacific War was about colonialism and neo-colonialism by all parties. We defeated Japan decisively because the US wanted Japan and Korea as colonies or at least economically and militarily dependent. So did the Chinese and the Russians, our recent “allies.”
We’ve kept over a hundred thousand troops in Japan, Korea, and Germany ever since these wars ended or subsided. None of this had much to do with legitimate individual freedom but with dominance; with legal, economic and military subjugation of other peoples and nations.
The reasons we cited to justify our unilateral, unsanctioned invasion of Iraq in 2003 were to stop terrorism and to stop Iraq’s secret atomic bomb, neither of which were in any way true. We could have also said we intended to institute democracy, but we’ve had enough experience with them and they with us that it is known on both sides to be a smokescreen to hide nefarious intentions and dirty deeds. The United States Senate voted 99 to 1 in support of this foolish and illegal infringement on Iraq’s sovereignty and 73% of our citizenry were gung-ho. Our troops occupied Iraq, killed many people in their own neighborhoods, destabilized the country and, eventually, created such horrible conditions that over a million educated, modern, moderate, middle-class Arabs had to leave their country. By our provocative presence, we planted the seeds of ISIL and nurtured them for over ten years. Yet we pretend, without a shred of evidence or a hint of shame, that our troops were “fighting for freedom.”
Our own freedoms are lost in wars, not gained or sustained. I was going to be drafted in 1966. I was high on the list and had a 1-A status. Had I not found a way around it by serving an enlistment in a needed non-combat specialty as well as studiously avoiding Officer Candidate School, I would have had no choice about whether to travel to an agricultural country in Southeast Asia and kill and/or be killed by people I had no quarrel with and who posed no actual threat to me, my family, or my country. While serving in the U.S. Army, I had few rights. I couldn’t quit my job. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. I went where they ordered me to go and did what they told me to do. I was privy to Secret and Top Secret information, but I wasn’t allowed the freedom to talk about what I did. With some significant exceptions, I was a slave of the President and the Congress of the United States, not a free citizen.
Quite a few “weekend warriors” found themselves in Iraq facing the choice of kill or be killed, traveling hostile urban and rural areas in constant fear for their lives and the lives of their friends … all at the whim of politicians who just wanted to get re-elected. Many returned injured – both physically and emotionally. Never was there a possibility of gaining more freedom for anyone; friend or foe. Their real objectives were to expend materiel and survive the experience. They were there to make profit for Halliburton and American industry and to impose the will of the United States elite on the Iraqi people.
I’m not sure most Americans even know what freedom is. The word has been misused from the start of this country. Maybe it now means the freedom of wealthy people to buy massive advertising and create PACs to write our laws, and make gigantic financial contributions in Congressional, Senate, and Presidential elections.
Like “saving” by spending; like “fighting for freedom” by giving up ones own liberty and infringing on the liberty and sovereignty of others; like declaring bankruptcy while getting wealthy; Americans have developed a vocabulary that transcends logic and ethics. “Great” seems to mean bullying other smaller, poorer, less aggressive countries. And Gold Star Mothers and Fathers pretend that their son or daughter was doing someone a favor by bringing machine guns, grenades, attack helicopters, and urban assault vehicles into their neighborhood and shooting up the place.
It defies all logic or understanding.
- Footnote #1: DNA testing has proven what had long been suspected: that Sally Hemmings DID bear Thomas Jefferson’s children after her half-sister, Martha, died. It is also interesting to note that when Jefferson took Sally to France, she became free and freeing her children was part of their negotiations for her to remain his slave and return voluntarily with him back to the U.S.