As I write this article on Independence Day, I am reminded that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
While this sagacious saying has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson and various other luminaries, it is actually a rephrasing of John Philpot Curran, who in a 1790 speech on the right of election said: “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”
Unfortunately, most Americans not only fall far short of eternal vigilance, but are more like unsuspecting lambs being led meekly to the slaughterhouse door to be fleeced, then flayed. While Americans once again praise their particular brand of democracy to the skies this Fourth of July, an altogether obvious problem persists: if more than half the voters are easily deluded and led astray by wolves who don’t even bother to don sheep’s clothing, but nakedly parade their avaricious natures and cruel, self-serving intentions, how is there any hope of having a reasonably just system of government? How is there any hope of peace, or solvency for the masses who invariably pay the price of war after war, while the rich tycoons profit and artfully dodge their fair share of the rapidly mounting debt?
We live in a nation that praises its soldiers for their patriotism and courage, while seldom if ever questioning their wisdom. Is it wise for lambs to fight and die, so that cowardly wolves can prosper? As the Divine Oscar Wilde once pointed out, “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”
And what about our children, who cannot be expected to know the truth if we fail to teach it to them? Millions of our soldiers were teenagers when they enlisted — children who from the cradle had been taught to believe that their country has noble values and intentions. Well, perhaps most of its citizens still do, but there is considerable evidence that its government doesn’t: the invasion of Iraq on false premises in a failed attempt to grab its oil fields, CIA drones executing people without trials in countries we aren’t at war with (yet) and repeatedly killing innocents who are blithely written off as “collateral damage,” billions of dollars in cash and weapons being lavished on warmongers like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, etc.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once pointed out, when a nation sows injustice, it can expect to reap the whirlwind, as we did on 9/11. But is the proper response to send our children to fight and die in a bizarre attempt to extract “justice” from the victims of our original national injustices? Or is the proper response to address, correct and remedy those injustices?
While I hate to rain on anyone’s Independence Day parade, and while I value our soldiers’ valor and patriotism as much as anyone, I feel compelled to point out that they are not fighting, being maimed and dying to protect American “values” or “democracy.” If our government had lived up to the stated American ideals of freedom, equality and justice for everyone, we would not be at war in the Middle East, where we have no natural enemies. If our government had honored the fundamental idea of democracy, which is that the people who live in a region have the right to rule themselves according to the wishes of the local majority rather than some foreign power, then obviously the CIA would not have engineered a coup of Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953’s Operation Ajax. Just as obviously, our government would not have plowed billions of dollars in cash and advanced weapons into Israel, knowing the Palestinian majority was being robbed of their land and water at gunpoint by a brutal military occupation, a process that still continues today under the euphemistic label “settlement expansion.”
Democracy ends when military superpowers like Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany, Stalinistic Russia, and today the U.S. and Israel flex their muscles, denying the people who live in a region the right to have a say in their own destinies. The American founding fathers risked their fortunes and lives to free themselves from the British monarchy’s imperialism. I wonder what they would say about our modern brand of American imperialism and its horrendous impact on the lives of native people in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Palestine. How many Iraqis would have ever said “boo” to us, if we had just left them alone and paid the going price for oil (which would have saved us trillions of dollars).
Today, Americans must ask themselves if “freedom” includes the liberty of our government to lie to our children, to train them to fight for a brand of military imperialism they deviously call “democracy,” then send them off to do the bidding of fascists like Bush Junior, Dick “The Penguin” Chaney, Donald Rumsfeld and other like-minded neocons who freely walk the halls of power despite their war crimes. Or must true freedom begin with the truth, meaning that the majority of voters in a democracy must remain eternally vigilant, and always vote with their eyes open, their ears unclogged and their powers of reason engaged? I, for one, suspect the latter.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.