My Life in Words

Freedom Isn't Free

May 07 , 2007

"Freedom isn't free." This has become a popular phrase of late, often used by pro-Bush or pro-war pundits to make those who question this nation's status and goals in Iraq appear something other than American. "Support our troops" is another perennial favorite. These are simple slogans that, at first glance, it appears every American should agree with. But there is an underlying complexity to these situations that belies the tendency of the average American citizen to want to represent their feelings with bumper-sticker slogans.

When a mechanic is receiving his most basic training in one of the many vocational and technical schools across this country, the process of diagnosing and fixing the problem will be presented simply, and it will be presented over and over ad nauseum until the technician in training understands that there is really only one way to fix a car correctly and cost-effectively, both in time and money to the technician and his customer.   The formula starts with this: proper initial diagnosis is imperative. If you understand the system you are diagnosing and how the parts go together, you can quickly diagnose where they break and what must be replaced. Finding the problem the first time keeps costs low for parts and you are able to quickly move on to another customer, thus increasing your income while keeping the customer's cost relatively low.

Sometimes, however, the technician may misdiagnose the problem the first time. Most times this happens because of human fallibility, impatience, or some combination of the two (but very often primarily the latter). Although it is difficult, this is the point where the tech must show the most patience. It is very easy to become frustrated and just start trying everything he can think of in the hopes that one of them will fix the problem. In simpler terms, the tech is "throwing parts at it," instead of restarting the trouble-shooting process, and likely costing himself a great deal in wasted time and parts costs.

Hindsight being what it is it should be fairly obvious that this administration misjudged and misdiagnosed the situation in Iraq. The "traditional" portion of the war, the part that involved two armies and clear battle lines, was ended quickly and with relatively little cost to the American public (and, on a side note, officially declared over with a gross display of arrogance).   In the four years since then it has become painfully obvious that the problem was not identified correctly, in this case because of a disturbing combination of both the aforementioned human fallibility and impatience. However, the strategy of the administration has not been to admit its mistakes and start the diagnosis over again. Instead it has been to insist that every action is right, no action is questionable, and that attempting to question the actions of our armed forces is somehow un-American. In this vein, the recent deployment of 22,000 additional troops amounts to nothing more than a disgusting parallel to the technician throwing parts at the problem. The only difference here is that the cost will not just be in money or materials (although there will be plenty of those wasted as well), it will be in irreplaceable human life.

  I will never seek to diminish the courage it requires to be a soldier. While the idea of patriotism or nationalism to the point of violence is, to me, hypocritical, any person willing to give their life in defense of another deserves as much support as civilian citizens can give. However, there is a very fine line between supporting our armed forces and supporting the actions they are being commanded to take. The greatest danger in my mind comes when criticism of the mission is twisted into criticism of the soldier. This particular distinction has been tearing at the American psyche off and on for decades since the Vietnam War, but it has always been present from the earliest days of the Constitution, when the vast majority of Americans were openly opposed to a standing army of any kind.

The most recent action by Congress, in refusing to approve further military budgetary spending without withdrawal stipulations, needs to be seen in this light. It is a move I support for the statement that it seeks to make. Those who voted in favor are declaring that they will no longer support the administration blindly throwing lives at the issue and hoping one of its shots in the dark will fix it. Frankly, it has been too long in coming. It is shameful that the waste of military and civilian life that we witness daily has not drawn a rebuke of this magnitude much sooner. That is hardly to say that this statement is strong enough on its own. The opposition must resist the temptation to assume that now that the statement has been made, they have satisfied their goals as leaders in opposition to the Bush administration's policies. They must continue to follow the lead of those like Nancy Pelosi. We can no longer afford to allow the administration to dictate which countries we can and cannot speak with based on a brash foreign "policy." Iraq is not an island and the U.S., as an occupying power, must not treat it as such. Dialog must be free and open with Iraq's neighbors; otherwise no headway will be possible on issues in which we need their support - and there are many.  

The point is this: It has taken the better part of a decade, but the balance of power in this country is slowly shifting away from propagators of violence, and towards a realization that conflict cannot be resolved by stubbornness. Whether or not we can afford to withdraw troops by the time named by Congress should be debated by people better informed than me. But now that many have gathered the courage to make the statement, and to start the debate, they must not be satisfied that they have done that much. The momentum cannot be allowed to die on the Senate floor. Any time someone seeks to justify more of the same with bumper-sticker slogans, there must be those who stand up and say, "No, my friends, freedom is not free; but its cost is within our power to limit, and we cannot justify human life as currency."



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