Memorial Day and Language

Posted: May 27, 2013 in Uncategorized
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On Memorial Day we remember the deaths and sacrifices of those who served in harm’s way regardless of the motive or relative virtue of the particular war. Just recently I observed the reaction of a vet who served in an unpopular war with questionable purposes. He still suffers from agent orange. And he has enough distance now to be able to separate the lack of virtue in that war from the grief he carries for fallen comrades.

The thing that made him flinch, that caused him to ever so slightly shake his head, was a word bandied about in a cavalier way: freedom.

What my friend knows but our society does not clearly enough is that the word freedom has been used as a blank check. When applied to every American military operation it legitimates every action, every war without question. “Protecting our freedom.” The truth, however, is that not all military operations defend our country from direct threat or even prevent future harm. Some wars are elective. Some are based on false assumptions and erroneous information. Some are waged because some, not all, believe they are important. Some are waged for mixed economic motives.

To say that such wars are protecting our freedom is the greatest stretch. In those cases one could only use that word, freedom, to refer to the freedom to have anything we want. In a situation like that it is very difficult to say that our service people died for the sake of freedom. They died because they were following orders but not necessarily because freedom was at stake.

Every death is a noble one when given to a noble cause. When the cause is revealed as lacking virtue then the death becomes more exclusively tragic.

The sacrifices of those who intended to do the best for a country they hoped would make good decisions are priceless and worthy of our thanks regardless. But as my vet friend reminded me the word freedom remains perhaps the most overused and misused one in the English language. Some died more directly for the sake of that word and some less so. And the superlative way we can honor those who serve is to make sure that we only call on their service for the right, virtuous and noble cause, for nothing less than that.

  1. Audie says:

    Amen! Let us only fight for causes that improves the human condition…not for greed, ego, economic advantage, or revenge. Then, and only then, can we pray to a loving God to be on our side.

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