Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Soldier's Freedom

Danny is born to a poor family. A poor mother, to be exact. His father has vanished, secure in the knowledge that his children will be taken care of by State welfare payments. His mother, faced with a life of low-paying jobs, prefers getting pregnant for a living.

Danny goes to a government school, where he is told that he would starve to death if not for government generosity. He is also told that, without the power of the State, the air would be unbreathable, companies would maim or kill him with unsafe work environments, and he would never have learned how to read. He would be a slave of the capitalists.

Over and over, Danny is taught that his government is his country, and that serving the State is the greatest thing he can do. He is never told that his country was founded out of fear of governments, or that the express intent of its founders was to limit the power of the State. Instead, the State is constantly portrayed as a benevolent, rich uncle, who selflessly cares for everyone and works tirelessly to keep them safe.

Danny only hears good things about the government – and in particular, three types of government workers. The first, of course, are the teachers. The second are the police, and the third are the military.

Government teachers are selfless and underpaid servants of the common good. They could do so much better elsewhere, but they sacrifice their material well-being to teach the poor and ignorant. Without them, poverty and illiteracy would reign, and democracy would collapse.

The police are tireless defenders of the helpless. They are the resolute men and women who stand firm against the growing chaos and violence of a decaying society. If they have to break the rules, it’s always with good reason. The front-line policemen are always right; the civilians who try to limit their power always petty, obstructionist bureaucrats. Policemen are harsh and cynical at times, but they are basically good, strong, decent people who are the foundations of a civil society. Without them, warring gangs would pillage civilians back into the Stone Age.

Soldiers, however, are the highest of the high. They selflessly defend the homeland against all threats, foreign and domestic. They are a brotherhood of loyal and honourable men. They have a higher calling. They are unimaginably brave, unimaginably dedicated, unimaginably noble. They represent the best that the country has to offer. Every November 11, the school pauses to honour their sacrifice. The names of the dead are carved in stone in the school’s front hallway.

As Danny prepares to leave High School, he begins to examine his options. There aren’t any decent jobs around, because most of the manufacturing companies have fled, for reasons that have never been explained to Danny (except as the bitter consequences of something called ‘free trade’). Danny doesn’t understand the world he lives in; he can’t reason, and has no knowledge of law, economics, politics or business. He can’t read or write very well, and his math skills are pretty terrible. After twelve years of State education, what skills does he have to offer a potential employer? He can’t negotiate, can’t think logically, doesn’t understand capitalism, knows nothing about sales, balance sheets or business plans.

But that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is that Danny has no idea how ignorant he is. He passed his subjects in school. He regurgitated what he was told. He’s never had to think for himself. He just doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know. So he goes to job interviews having no idea how little he has to offer. Potential employers look at him and know that he is going to be very hard to train, since they’d first have to teach him about his own sad ignorance.

So Danny can’t find a decent job. He gets some offers for dead-end, low-wage jobs, but as a High School graduate, he feels above them. He wants something with a future. He is special. He wants a calling.

Sitting at home watching TV with his mother on New Year’s Eve, 2000, Danny feels a sudden surge of panic. He just can’t seem to get his life started!

A few days later, when Danny is at the mall he is approached by Ben, an Army recruiter. Ben praises Danny to the skies, and lies about how easy it is to get out of the Army once he’s in. Danny can go to school, get well-paid, see the world, learn valuable skills. Besides, what war could America possibly get into? Another Vietnam? Of course not! The Soviet Empire is gone. Maybe a bit of peacekeeping – but even that’s unlikely. Danny is dazed and excited. After months of chasing uninterested employers, Danny is finally being aggressively courted!
Danny thinks it over. The risk is low – thirty years without a war! He could get educated. Learn a trade. He’d have some structure. The thought of killing or being killed never really enters his mind. Who would mess with the last superpower?

Sadly, Danny has never been told that his government has been involved in dozens of dirty wars over the past thirty years. He has no idea how many soldiers have been killed in these black ops. He doesn’t realize that none of these wars were ever declared, or publicized. Or that, many times, his government was getting soldiers killed in order to clean up some mess that the government had made in the first place.

In other words, he knew nothing about his own history, so he had no way to evaluate the risk.

Danny also knew nothing about the fact that his government had hundreds of military bases in trouble spots all over the world. He had never been told about his government’s installation and support of dozens of dictatorships – and the hatred that millions of people the world over had for his government and its foreign policy and its constant use of force. He was told that his government only used the military when it had to, and only against bad people.

Danny knew nothing about the truth. None of the government teachers had ever taught him the facts about his own government. They had kept him in the dark, and ejected him into the marketplace with no skills, no reasoning abilities – into a world with no jobs, no opportunities, and no future.

And the whole world – the media, his school, all the movies he’d ever seen – told him that there was no better thing than being a soldier.

So Danny joins up. He hates basic training, but sticks with it. Just as he is about to be deployed to Germany, he is told that Iraq is about to attack his country with weapons of mass destruction, and he will be going there instead. Bad luck, his thinks. He doesn’t really want to go. He brings up his concerns with his superior, who laughs and tells him he’ll spend the rest of his life in military prison if he doesn’t go.

So Danny goes to Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction are found – or any evidence of a threat to his country.

Then, one morning, Danny gets his head blown off.

Back home, people shrug and say: “Well, he joined voluntarily, didn’t he?”


· Through government schools, Danny was stuffed full of lies and evasions about the true nature and history of his own government.
· Those same government schools killed Danny’s potential by refusing to teach him skills that would be useful in the marketplace.
· Instead, by instilling blind patriotism, conformity and a worship of the military, his teachers really only prepared him for one occupation: soldier.
· Government regulation and high taxation drove away the companies that might have given Danny a decent job.
· The decay of the family brought about by government welfare programs robbed Danny of a father, which makes young men more susceptible to ‘groupthink’ and joining gangs like the army.
· Because he was ignorant of his government’s violent history – and current habit of provoking fanatics around the world – Danny was unable to assess the real risks of joining the military.
· Danny was told that it was easy to leave the military if he didn’t like it.
· Danny was lied to about the reasons for war.
· Citizens are forced by the government to pay for Danny's salary and expenses.

In Hitler’s Germany, millions of young men also voluntarily joined the army. They were lied to about the danger of foreign invasion, about the nature and intentions of the German government, and Hitler’s goals. Once they found out the truth about the military, they were shot or imprisoned if they tried to escape. Does that sound familiar?

One last example – a clarifying metaphor. Your whole life, you are told that Hawaii is a paradise, full of noble and heroic people. It is a beautiful land of little danger, and endless opportunity. If you don’t like it, you can leave Hawaii at any time. Tickets are free – in fact, people are pressing thousands of dollars into your hands to go and try out life in Hawaii. Oh – and you have no other opportunities.

So one fine morning, you go and take the plane to Hawaii. When you get out of the plane, however, you find that you’ve been flown to Siberia, and what’s been called ‘Hawaii’ is in fact a concentration camp. You will now be enslaved for ten years. If you try to escape, you’ll be shot.

Were you free to choose? Were you free at all?

If you were, then what about Hitler’s Holocaust victims? They were never told that they were destined for the genocidal ovens – they were told that the next stop on their journey would be peace, liberty and respect. Did the Jews then enter the ovens of their own free will?

If you now understand the reality of freedom, then spare a thought for the poor slaves in Iraq, who were led by lies to a land where they must murder or be murdered – either by the insurgents they battle or the men who have enslaved them.

And for pity’s sake, don’t say that they joined through free choice.

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