The pursuit of happiness was one of the most important ideas agreed upon by the Founding Fathers. Yet as a society, and especially as a professional military, our way of life reviles that pursuit, even if our words say otherwise. Happiness is not playing Angry Birds or staying up-to-speed with your favorite show. For some it may be, and if that is there truth then those who disagree, like myself, ought to tolerate such a benign happiness as the free choice of people. We are so caught up in more stuff, more money, higher positions that I think the pursuit of more has replaced the pursuit of happiness.
It’s not that more can’t lead to happiness, or enhance it; but when you continually bypass current amenities (whether it be a walk in the park, leisure reading or a light but enjoyable conversation with someone) for another hour at work or the gym in order to make yourself more competitive, then I suggest you are no longer truly pursuing happiness; but, instead, have placed progress and producing over happiness. I am not espousing a lazy attitude, rather I am suggesting that while one must work hard, we must remember to play hard, as well.
I am a hard worker. I enjoy working hard and figuring out problems at work. But I also enjoy spending time with my lover; and in reality, she is the most important in my life, so work should be secondary. Not only is she the most important, but she is also my happiness; I enjoy her company and making her happy and being happy with her. That makes me less productive at work because I don’t like to work past 5, unless necessary (to the operational effectiveness of the unit). While at the office, I work hard as a professional Soldier, but I see no reason to be one of those Soldiers who is always one of the last ones to leave. My tombstone will not say “I wish I had worked more.” If it says anything, it will say that I loved my lady and want to be with her always, even through eternity.
I can say whatever I want; but words are meaningless if they do not guide our actions. I have consciously made life, liberty (tempered tolerance) and the pursuit of happiness my guiding ideas in life; my lover is my happiness, not draining my life in the pursuit of the next rank or assignment. I bear no ill will against those who do. For them that may truly be their happiness or the most important thing in their life, for which I applaud them fulfilling their life’s goal. So I ask you to slow down for just long enough to think for yourself about what is truly important to you, and then to see if your daily life reflects that.
The violence in Mexico upsets me. It’s not my homeland, but I know the country. I know it’s people. I know it’s history. I can’t fully empathize with the grief of many Mexicans, but must we all have a significant emotional event in order to elicit action? The war on drugs could be better termed the war on Mexicans, as over 30,000 Mexicans and people in Mexico have died in the corruption and cartel-related violence. Where is the Mexican government? The Mexican police? Even the Mexican army as Mexico does not have an equivalent of US Posse Comitatus, which precludes military action inside the country? Current events in the Mexican state of Guerrero indict the Mexican police, at the orders or the Mexican governor allowed by the inaction of the Mexican military, of killing at least 6 Mexicans and possibly 43 others.
Over 200 years ago the United States began an experiment which has become an example for many of our brothers and sisters around the world, which preached life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the rights of all people, and the goal of a people’s government to protect those freedoms. Of course, our Founding Fathers were not perfect in their application (remember slavery, bigotry and racism, against Native Americans and others), but the ideas have had such resonance in many parts of the world that we can state them as archetypal virtues (within which there is obviously room for interpretation and variance: at what point does one person’s freedom create an advantage over another person such that the second person’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is infringed upon?).
Nor is the present-day situation in the US an idyllic society truly exemplifying such virtues (so as I write about Mexico, let us not forget our pursuit of virtue in our own country; if you champion the freedom of others [be it in Mexico or Syria or many other countries around the world], remember to feel so compellingly the calls of virtue for your own country). Should not virtue be a pursuit of all people in every matter? Should we let ourselves be so blinded by entertainment and mindless passions (Angry Birds and an innumerable host of other entities [really almost anything can distort our trueness when it comes to being good people]) that we become numb or blind to the bloody and cruel reality that is often our world?
I don’t envy those in the Mexican army. What would I do if my commander told me to arrest a group of people and (presumably) kill them or hand them over to others with the knowledge they would kill those I took? What would you do? Would I risk my life and the lives of my family for the ambiguous honor of virtue? Would the desire to be with and protect my lover override my concern for others? Would it be wrong if it did?
How will the Mexicans act? How can they best act to make their country better? How can we help? Do I train with the Mexican military in the hopes of slowly instilling a sense of honor and courage? While at the same time I am actively training them in counter-terrorism operations? Styles of war which, if they have not also learned honor and courage, will likely be used by corrupt and cruel leadership against Mexican innocents?
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?