Friday, July 1, 2011

Fourth of July

I saw a t-shirt recently that said "Land of the free because of the Brave", which reminded me that the Fourth of July is coming up. Here in USAmerica, we'll have parades, we'll celebrate the genesis of our nation, we'll honor and recognize the sacrifice made by individuals and families who serve our nation.

Most of our respect and honor will be directed toward those who serve our nation in the military. Military service members make huge sacrifices in order to do the work to which they are called. There is tremendous danger, especially for those who are deployed to combat areas. Even when a service member is not injured, they make significant sacrifices (they are moved away from family and friends, there is tremendous stress when family members are separated by deployment, and many of the freedoms the rest of us enjoy are curtailed in the course of their service). It is entirely appropriate that we honor members of the military for the work they do.

The piece of our Fourth of July celebration (and our other nationalist celebrations) that always give me pause is the type of patriotism which assumes that the work of the military maintains freedom for the rest of the nation. I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. Yes, this may be an inflammatory statement, but hopefully my seven readers will bear with me for a moment.

The major conflicts in which our military has been involved during the twentieth century (as I recall them) are: World War One, World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. None of these wars and conflicts actually threatened our freedom or sovereignty. The closest we got to having a foreign entity encroach on our soil was the attack on Pearl Harbor which catapulted us into World War Two. And remember, at the time of the attack, Hawai'i was a US territory (Hawai'i was admitted as a state in 1959, well after the end of the war). There was no realistic threat to either our sovereignty or our freedom during the twentieth century.

And so, the sacrifices made by members of the military through the twentieth century were made on behalf of citizens of other nations rather than US citizens. To sacrifice for one's own group (or family, or nation) is certainly admirable and honorable. However, in my mind, it is a greater sacrifice to put oneself at risk for the other, for someone who is an outsider.

Of course that changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when there was a deadly attack which happened on USAmerican soil. I would argue, though, that the attack was intended to inflict injury rather than to take over our land; and so, even then on that horrific day, I'm not entirely convinced that our freedom was threatened, unless we consider financial institutions (which led us to the recent economic meltdown) to be inseparable from our freedom.

But still, I will conceded that the conflict in Afghanistan may be directly related to the defense of our freedom. However, this is now the longest-running military conflict in the nation's history. And it seems like, perhaps, the enormity of our military expenditures have restricted led to a slower and more prolonged economic recovery ... have led to fewer economic freedom for USAmericans.

Even still, we should absolutely and without question honor the work of the members of our military for their service to our country. I'd also be curious, though, what it would look like for us to more consciously and obviously honor people who are called to other vocations than military, but who still serve our nation nonetheless. What about honoring civil servants, AmeriCorps volunteers, public officials? Though it has become the most obvious, there are more ways to serve the country than the military.


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