The other day I was driving around town and I noticed a bumper-sticker that said in the history of the world only two entities have died for you: Jesus for your soul, and the US Soldier for your freedom. That is a very bold statement with many implications. Is my army really the only entity in the history of the world that has ever, supposedly, fought for freedom? What about the Jews and Israelis who have fought for religious and political freedom? What about the Native Americans who fought against the Spanish, Portuguese, British and French, and died en masse? What about the Confederacy (The US clearly fought to bring the Confederacy back under control, because they didn’t have the freedom to do as they wished and secede)? What about all our allies who have fought with us in various wars and conflicts from World War 1 through the current War on Terror? So maybe the bumper-sticker should have taken out the words “only two entities;” there are still other questions.
Who is this bumper-sticker directed to? US citizens? Christians? Surely not the whole world, because if the US army fights for freedom, therefore they are fighting against those who oppress. That seems very selfish and unlikely that the rest of the world is so messed up everyone only cares about themselves and oppressing others. Even if only part of the world is oppressive (which is a fair observation), saying the US army fights for freedom gave me the impression the owner of the bumper-sticker thinks this is a good thing; and if it’s a good thing then we ought to liberate the rest of the world from oppression, because one ought to do good, and who thinks helping oppress people is good? Oppression is by common sense a bad thing. So if oppression is bad, then allowing it to exist is bad by proxy.
But how does one liberate people from oppression to freedom? Is it as simply as toppling a political system and replacing it with a democracy or republic? Afghanistan and Iraq seem to indicate more is needed for freedom than a simple government change. Freedom is an idea, and can only be embraced through a change in culture and perspective. Laws can help, but one cannot enact a law to change peoples’ minds; laws only affect actions and consequences, not ideas.
This bumper-sticker implies one can die for freedom; how? Freedom is an idea, not a hill that a soldier can climb to and defend with a weapon. Do people have freedom if I bring it to them at the point of a rifle? Am I not forcing my will upon them by force? Force can change behaviors, but not thoughts, because thoughts are inside the brain and a gun can’t get there, it can only regulate what the body does.
This whole issue raises two questions that have hitherto been unmentioned: what exactly is freedom, and how important is it? Is it necessary for happiness? Is it necessary to have a meaningful life? Is it worth dying for? But most importantly: what is freedom?