In today's Metro Pulse, Jack Neely recounts his appearance at some fraternal organization where a "patriotic" gentleman - perhaps a veteran but perhaps not - uttered a fairly well-known poem about all of our freedom coming from soldiers and not from anywhere else.
I've noticed lots of bumper stickers around here saying pretty much the same thing: "Freedom isn't free," or "Love your freedom? Thank a soldier." The overall message of these sayings is that we should venerate the soldier above all other forces for giving us the freedoms we enjoy; it is not the reporter or the demonstrator or voter or anybody else that makes us free. It's the soldier who gives up his or her life.
Like Jack Neely, I find this notion to be a bunch of bologna. Yes, soldiers dedicate their lives to their nation and for that we should be grateful. But believe it or not, there is a difference between "America" and "freedom." As Neely rightly points out, none of our wars since 1812 have involved foreign adversaries with the capability to destroy our freedoms. Nearly all of our freedoms have been lost because of governmental paranoia in response to these various threats from abroad or from within. For example, it wasn't Osama Bin Laden who suspended habeas corpus rights. It was the US Congress and President Bush who passed a law to do so.
So who really did "give" us our freedoms? Who really are the most patriotic people, not for defending "America" per se, but for defending and advancing the cause of American freedom? The greatest threat to freedom in this country has historically come not from external forces but from internal majorities unwilling to recognize the rights of minorities; a major exception to this is the black slave majority in the antebellum Deep South. Overall, however, the story of American freedom is one of marginalized persons asserting the same access to basic rights as those enjoyed by others. Few of these heroes, thus, were "popular" in their day because they threatened the majority's privileged claim on freedom, and the authorities that represent that majority.
I'll list a few that I think contributed more to human freedom in this country than anybody else (and some did so in addition to serving as soldiers):
Judge William O. Douglas
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Judge Thurgood Marshall
Judge William Brennan
John Stuart Mill
Martin Luther King, Jr.
W. E. B. DuBois
Susan B. Anthony
The American voter
Who else would you add?
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