I am the father of three and would probably be defined by most people as a liberal (although I generally reject that term these days), yet our eldest child wants to be an officer in the U.S. Navy. He knows more about geo-politics than most adults, let alone kids his own age. He believes Iraq was a strategic mistake, agrees that it is an example of bad leadership misusing both the heart and the might of the military. So, I asked him, “Why would you want to sign up for that?” His answer was, “Because I want to affect policy. I want to be one of the people who decides how and when we use the military.” Selfishly, I’d like to argue with him, but it’s hard not to be proud of his answer and tough to reject its logic.
On the actual 9/11, that child was 7 years old, and we were still in Manhattan. A handful of us parents decided to take the kids out of school as a group and keep them away from televisions while we waited for news about one dad whose office was in the Trade Center. We took a bunch of the boys to Central Park to play, and I remember thinking then how strangely idyllic this scene was while just 10 miles to the south, all Hell really was breaking loose. It was so quiet uptown; the only indication of the unfolding disaster was the periodic roar of an F-16 circling Manhattan. It was a gorgeous day. We we were absolutely fine.
In 2002, the president addressed the nation and told what I believe to be one of the biggest lies uttered as part of an orchestrated prelude to the invasion of Iraq. “They hate our freedoms,” he said. I thought then, as I do now, that this was an act of gross misdirection; and as the saying goes, you cannot tell just one lie. This one was a doozy that set off a chain reaction that became a clusterfuck. That terrorist organizations and rogue nations threaten safety, even stability, is certainly true; but the idea that any external force can threaten our freedoms seems like a hysterical assessment of the contemporary geo-political landscape. Specifically, our freedoms have never been the target of al Qaeda, and even if they were, one might have paused a moment before the war and asked exactly how that organization might have succeeded in that agenda.
It’s impossible to imagine how a threat to our notion of freedom could come from anywhere other than from within. Still, we tend to say that our men and women in uniform are “fighting for our freedom” to the point that it is now a throw-away, politician’s mantra. I never say these words because I believe it is a disservice to perpetuate a lie. I truly respect and honor the individuals who are part of the military, especially as my oldest child proposes to join their ranks; but I believe we civilians owe these people our integrity in return for their service, a willingness to call things as they are instead of how we’d like to perceive them. If we cannot do that, we will always squander their blood with the fallacy of our words.