Almost daily I pass a store or another car on the road that has hung a banner or posted a bumper sticker that reads “We Support Our Troops.” This gesture, though often innocent enough, disappoints me deeply. The reason it bothers me is not because I do not support our troops – quite the opposite is true – but rather because most folks do not recognize at all what freedom realistically demands in the way of social support.
Most of the businesses and stores that display these banners do so with the best of intentions I have no doubt. But there is an undeniable commercial benefit that is derived from open displays of patriotism like this that tarnishes the credibility of the display at least partially, even if it was not entirely commercially motivated. With individual citizens, there is a certain amount of unity and camaraderie that is derived from such displays but the acts are as simplistic in application as to be nearly insignificant in the big picture. There is no sacrifice, no principled struggle, and no hard decisions that are being made by the individual or society as a whole that actually supports the soldiers’ existence or mission. While there are many wonderful people and organizations in this country that actively engage in providing support services, assistance, and the like to soldiers, veterans, and their families, the vast majority of folks simply place a sticker on their bumper or in their rear window and think that their part is done.
My point is this – the modern American soldier swears out an oath upon entering his or her chosen life path, and it begins with the words “I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” The single most important and immediate concern of the American soldier, by his or her own affirmation, is the defense of the Constitution rather than the defense of things, such as the nation, other nations, people, etc. This is an important distinction that must be understood by all if we are to truly assist the soldier in his or her quest of the defense of freedom.
This distinction conveys a certain message of sacrifice that implies that the Constitution and the freedoms, limitations, rights, and protections documented therein are far more important to our nation than military or terror threats domestic or abroad. But when a soldier is deployed, potentially sacrificing his/her life, limbs, or future quality of life, that same soldier cannot be expected to protect our Constitution domestically as well. This is where we, the citizenry, should come in – where the phrase “We Support Our Troops” has tangible meaning.
If we choose not to exercise our rights, if we allow them to be sacrificed to all manner of disingenuous and/or nefarious political (or other) agendas, if we fail to do the right thing constitutionally simply because it is the harder approach, then we are not supporting our troops but in fact undermining their own reason for existing while they simultaneously and valiantly struggled for our benefit. If soldiers are expected to sacrifice personal safety in their defense of the Constitution, why should the citizenry not be expected to as well? Are their collective or individual lives worth more than a non-veteran citizen? I think not, but that is the message we send (intentionally or not) when we allow our rights and freedoms to be attacked in the disingenuous name of safety or fear (e.g., the USA PATRIOT Act, current suspensions of Habeas Corpus, increased anti-gun legislation efforts, etc.). The uncomfortable reality is that freedom and safety are entirely antithetical to each other; to fully achieve one, elements of the other must be sacrificed. While safety is important in a civilized society it must never come at the expense of the Constitution, and that is the backbone of the American soldier’s existence.
The bumper stickers we see that state “Freedom Isn’t Free” are true but freedom does not just exist at the expense of the lives and limbs of soldiers fighting abroad, as those stickers would suggest. It also requires a citizenry that intends to remain free to sacrifice some amount of safety at times, and take the nearly always difficult road directed by principle to defend those freedoms and rights even when they present vulnerabilities for evil to exploit.
When considering whether or not we, as a society, are faithfully supporting our troops consider this quote by Benjamin Franklin (also inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty): “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” There is certainly nothing wrong with outwardly displaying our love and affection for our fighting men and women but we cannot leave it at that if we truly wish to honor their sacrifice.
Every man who loves peace, every man who loves his country, every man who loves liberty, ought to have it ever before his eyes, that he may cherish in his heart a due attachment to the Union of America, and be able to set a due value on the means of preserving it.