02 October 2014

On freedom, pt 2: The sweat of moral conviction

On Tuesday, I spoke about what I feel my responsibilities are as a citizen of America; today, I reflect on the notion of responsibility as it relates to the broader world, and ultimately, why, as members of the military, we both fulfill that concept and shoulder the burden for our nation.

It is easy to dismiss the notion of responsibility for what we have because we have known nothing else; we have always had the gift of our freedom. It may seem naive, but think of the incredulity when we hear that certain personal freedoms are "illegal" or "not allowed" in other countries. This is not to say that we don't suffer from ignorance or irrational prejudice here, it's just that each of us can still conduct ourselves as we see fit, hopefully within the construct of civility and the law, of course, without fear of persecution. And the restriction of personal freedoms is not limited to nations whose religious or political beliefs are contrary to ours, to be clear.

Reflect on the news: we are affronted when we hear of laws that dictate how one should dress, laws that segregate by race, by religious belief, laws that prohibit education, laws that prohibit people from being in public, even, based on their gender. Recent global history is littered with such laws.

The phrase, "Thank goodness I live in America, where I don't have to worry about those things," is common. When we look at our history and what led us to take up arms against Britain to found this nation, we see themes in our ancestors' actions that parallel the reactions we feel to the above mentioned issues prevalent in world current events.

I alluded to the concept that our individual freedom gives us power, and by extension, that freedom gives us great strength as a nation. The famous quote, "With great power comes great responsibility," spoken by Voltaire* in the 1800s is certainly applicable to America.

What is our responsibility, then? If I had that answer, I am sure I would be running some sort of international political think tank, advising multiple heads-of-state. Barring that, my simple notion is that we serve. We give back. And while there are many ways to do this, I believe the military** is, by far, the best. It is not just the discipline or camaraderie, the chance to travel or carry a weapon. It is the experience of being a part of something bigger than oneself, of being willing to make a personal sacrifice in the service of an ideal and to represent that ideal through one's actions both locally and across the globe.***

I listen to the stories of those who have been on multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, who have deployed to Africa and even Latin America, and regardless of what your opinion is about the grander political implications, one theme is constant: the average citizen compares their freedoms to those of the Americans they encounter and simply say, "I want to be able to.....: go to school, worship as I please, earn a decent living for my family, live without the constant knot of fear in my belly." So many things we take for granted because we are removed from the fight for them.

During my service, in my conversations with foreign nationals, I was repeatedly told, "We want to be more like you," - and perhaps that was only in reference to the U.S. Marine Corps (because truthfully, I only ever had the opportunity to speak to one military female) - but I believe it was more referencing America, because certainly the Palestinian cab driver in Israel who happened to be a Christian was probably referring to his desire to go to church and worship freely.

Should we be the arbiters of the world's freedom-seeking populace? I don't truly think that is our aim. What I do know is that whenever there is an international crisis, whether political, military or humanitarian, the world first asks what America is going to do - and if we hold back in prudence or for want of rationale, we are castigated. (And again, I am not putting on blinders to the ever-present political or economic ramifications inherent in these choices.)

So, we go. And I believe we should go. And especially believe in what our military does overseas, because it is not just warfighting.  Our military represents some of the best of what this country is - both that there are those of us who are willing to raise arms to defend that which we know is precious and to assist those who we believe fight for the same cause (and again, this is the perspective of boots on the ground, not politicians on a hill), but also that we are willing to give of ourselves as a nation, and assist others in need.

There are some who don't understand why we volunteer. Why we take the oath to support and defend, and what that really means, but I think many of them have forgotten that we as a nation were built on a canvas of blood and pain, bathed in the sweat of moral conviction against tyrannical rule and the belief that a man has the right to determine his own fate.

*No, it was not Uncle Ben in Spiderman circa 1962. Sheesh.
**My own experience says the Marine Corps, of course, but let's give props to the Navy, Air Force and Army. And if you don't want to go overseas, join the Coast Guard because they do some incredible work in service to this nation.
***This is not a romanticized view, I know that people join for all sorts of reasons and I've witnessed what can happen in port on liberty and in the barracks on a 72. The military is a microcosm of our citizenry.

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