Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Freedom, O Freedom!

There is a phrase I keep reading and hearing, relating to the presence of our military in the Middle East, that they are "fighting for our freedom." This sort of thing began during the Vietnam years., to justify our intrusion in what was basically a civil war after the departure of the French.
Well, let's see. Our war history, if you exclude the French and Indian war, in which the native  people of this land were fighting for THEIR  freedom,  began with the Revolutionary War. That Was actually a fight for our freedom from England, and our freedom to form a new government for people without the oppression of British rule,  like taxation without representation and all.
The War of 1812 is rather vague and involved press gangs and the Battle of nearby Lake Erie and piracy and all, but I think "fighting for our freedom" fits there.I could Google it to sound more historically learned, but let's say The freedom thing works.I had an ancestor who jumped ship and became an American, and a traitor to his native land. He told everyone he did it for freedom...probably.
Another vague war was the Mexican American battle, in which my great-grandfather participated, but I think that saved Texas for the U.S.A., which was probably a mistake, but there was a kind of freedom involved there, at least for Texans, who did most of the fighting. I think.
Next came the Civil War, or the War Between the States, which is apparently not quite over yet for some flag lovers. Each side was fighting for its freedom, and one side was wrong. I have to say that the Northern side was the true champion of freedom, fighting for the preservation of the United States, and for the freedom of those Americans who were enslaved. I  had ancestors on both sides.
WWI was not about our freedom, but about assisting the European continent in quashing tyranny, at least for a while. Our participation lasted a little over a year, from April 1917 to November 1918. One of my uncles was in that war and suffered from what was then called shell-shock. He was a gentle, small town boy and it took time for him to recover. We are now observing the centenary of this terrible war, with TV documentaries and dramas about the period in Europe. My mother remembered Liberty cabbage as the name for sauerkraut, to avoid using any words reminiscent of German. I don't know if "our freedom" was bandied about, but history has been candid and harsh about the causes and effects of this dreadful conflict. Try to see "Paths of Glory," one of Kubrick's early films.
The next war for us is WWII, the one known as the righteous war. Going in, I don't think most of us knew  about the horrors of the Holocaust. What was evident was Hitler's determination to conquer as much of Europe as he could, and probably come after the U.S. after that. Then Japan bombed the American base at Pearl Harbor.  It seemed possible that we could be bombed or invaded and truly succumb to attacks from either direction. So we were at war for good reason, but we didn't hear that phrase about fighting for our freedom. Toward the end of the war, when everything became known about the extent of the Nazi's evil, it was a war worth fighting, and a war for the freedom of many. It also delivered us into the age of the nuclear bomb, at the expense of thousands of innocent civilians in Japan, still a topic of  serious debate. Another uncle, the younger brother pf the WWI uncle,  served in the South Pacific. He was in his 30s. My late husband served four years stateside  in the army as a clerk and an MP. My brother enlisted from college and was sent to Yale and then to medical school, but the war was over.
The war in Korea was another civil war in a country far away and our participation was fear driven, played out during the "Red Scare," when the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joseph McCarthy had  the country's leadership convinced that the Communists were going to take over this country from within, aided by writers and movie actors and singers like Pete Seeger. Abetted by J. Edgar Hoover, this belief made for a surreal oppression of free speech ( Ohio State had a gag rule on speakers at public functions at the university.) if the term " fighting for our freedom" had been used about the Korean conflict the irony would have killed us.
The Vietnam war was more of the same, only deadlier and more cynical. It lasted longer than any other war, it introduced weapons of horror and long lasting damage to humans and other living things, and it was based on lies. That's when the "They're fighting for out freedom"  shibboleth became the justification for destroying people and damaging the lives of thousands of young Americans in a war based on fear and lies. It divided  the country and accomplished nothing, and our freedom had nothing to do with it.
Nothing was gained on learned  from that terrible time. And once again that "freedom" thing is constantly being used about the mess in the Middle East, which has been going on,
as an active war, for 12 years now and seems to have no end in sight and may well come down to a genuine fight for our freedom because of the awful chaos we've created.
When that time comes, I'll accept that phrase, but right now it means nothing but bluster in an attempt to glide over the inexcusable blunders made by so-called leaders.

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