Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Cost Of Freedom 

Lunchtime. My morning reading list is still stacked in the taskbar of my new computer. Different topics lie jumbled together with no rhyme or reason to sort them out, much like my thoughts at 4 am after a long night with no sleep. Some days the egregious asshattery is too much to absorb.

Presidential signing statements are more than just executive branch lunacy. Do I even want to go there again? No. Been there, done that. Don't need the stinkin' t-shirt.

NPR compares the media's coverage of the terrorist plot in Florida and the SWIFT banking furor.

Ted Olson wants a shield law? What the...? *sigh*

This could be interesting. The first part is unintentionally amusing:

The strength of "Whose Freedom?" is that it attributes the left's current foundering not just to a failure of strategy but to a failure of self-knowledge. Progressives, he argues, don't really understand what they believe or, just as important, how they believe it.

Sometimes I wonder if these people are reading my posts. But then I realize how ludicrous that is. Even I don't want to read my posts. Still, you have to love the progressive struggle to deal with their uniquely existential crisis: they really don't have a coherent ideology. Or rather, to hear some of them tell it they do - it's just that no one can articulate it because it's so incredibly complex. But when in doubt, take ownership of the problem:

"Freedom and liberty are progressive ideas -- our ideas," he writes. "It is time for progressives to fully integrate them into our everyday thinking and into our language."

In other words, we may not be able to tell you exactly what we believe, but damnitall, we're fully integrated. And whatever the heck it is, it's as American as apple pie. Yessir:

Furthermore, the progressive notion of freedom is identical to "traditional American freedom," which "still reigns in the American mind." Progressives really are in tune with what many average Americans believe, Lakoff insists, but conservatives are so good at hijacking the language to peddle their own radical redefinition of "freedom" that the other side can't get its message across.

Way to go there, perfessor. Witness for Tolerance by demonizing the Other. This is all beginning to sound nauseatingly familiar. It's at this point that I generally start to hear that little Valley Girl in my head saying, "What-everrrrrrrrrr". Hold this thought: we're not losing because we can't articulate what we think. We're losing because those wily conservative bastards stole the words right out of our mouths.

It gets worse, later on. Predictably, they try to figure out what they think about freedom. That never ends well, but when you're trying to avoid an unpleasant thought it always helps to distract yourself with psychobabble. And actually, I'm being a bit unfair. Lakoff's theories are actually quite insightful, so far as they go. But then they hit that dark, soulless place that progressives instinctively shy away from, their hands held out in furious denial:

A soldier was dead, and it was time for him to go home.

The doors to the little morgue swung open, and six soldiers stepped outside carrying a long black bag zippered at the top.

About 60 soldiers were waiting to say goodbye. They had gathered in the sand outside this morgue at Camp Ramadi, an Army base in Anbar Province, now the most lethal of Iraqi places.

Inside the bag was Sgt. Terry Michael Lisk, 26, of Zion, Ill., killed a few hours before.

In the darkness, the bag was barely visible. A line of blue chemical lights marked the way to the landing strip not far away.

Everyone saluted, even the wounded man on a stretcher. No one said a word.

The pallbearers lifted Sergeant Lisk into the back of an ambulance, a truck marked by a large red cross, and fell in with the others walking silently behind it as it crept through the sand toward the landing zone. The blue lights showed the way.

From a distance came the sound of a helicopter.

This is it. This is the subject of those quotes from the Founding Fathers; the ones progressives never seem to misquote when they're losing an argument.

This is the cost of freedom.

Because whether progressives like to admit it or not, someone always pays. In blood, sweat, toil, endless nights staring at an empty space where someone's head used to lie. A lump in the throat that never goes away.

What Lakoff's 'nurturant parent' model doesn't quite take into account is that there really are monsters under the bed, sometimes, and 'discussion and explanation' aren't much use when you're faced with people in exploding vests who haven't read your article in Salon:

Progressives, by contrast, subscribe to the "nurturant parent" model. This concept seems somewhat foggier, "authoritative without being authoritarian," based on mutual respect and the idea that discussion and explanation, rather than simple decree and force, are the best way to set rules. Adhering to key principles like fairness or kindness according to the situation is more important than following the letter of the law in every circumstance. The reward for behaving well is affection, togetherness and help when you need it. It holds that the "citizens care about their community and each other and act responsibly toward their community and each other." The nurturant-parent model puts its emphasis on the carrot, while the strict-father model is all about the stick.

Sergeant Lisk didn't have to be in al-Anbar. Very likely he didn't want to be, much of the time. Perhaps not at all. But he was there on the day death found him:

In the minutes after the mortar shell exploded, everyone hoped that Sergeant Lisk would live. Although he was not breathing, the medics got to him right away, and the hospital was not far.

"What's his name?" asked Col. Sean MacFarland, the commander of the 4,000-soldier First Brigade.

"Lisk, sir," someone replied.

"If he can be saved, they'll save him," said Colonel MacFarland, who had been only a few yards away in an armored personnel carrier when the mortar shell landed.

About 10 minutes later, the word came.

"He's dead," Colonel MacFarland said.

Whenever a soldier dies, in Iraq or anywhere else, a wave of uneasiness — fear, revulsion, guilt, sadness — ripples through the survivors. It could be felt on Monday, even when the fighting was still going on.

"He was my best friend," Specialist Allan Sammons said, his lower lip shaking. "That's all I can say. I'm kind of shaken up."

Another soldier asked, "You want to take a break?"

Specialist Sammons said, "I'll be fine," his lip still shaking.

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be able to read one of these stories without spending the rest of the day (and often waking during the night) in tears? I hope so. Then again, I hope not. I hate the too-quick tears I can no longer control, the swift rush of anger, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that never quite seems to go away. I hate the way I see his face, the first one who died. For me, he will always be the face of this war.

His name was John. A good name. A strong name.

And it was with the same conflicting emotions that I read Col. McFarland's remarks to his men. "What in the hell was he thinking?", I thought at first. And then, "You have no right... no right." Am I talking about him, or myself?

And a few seconds later, "I wonder if any of them - the media - really understand how it feels? That most of us hate war, question it, doubt it? I wonder if they know that we question the cost, all the time?"

But questioning the cost is not the same as denying that there is a cost associated with our freedoms. It's hard to grasp, when the gap between cause and effect is this abstract. It makes being resolute much harder.

Ideas like Lakoff's give me hope that the two halves of our divided nation may some day be reconciled, may someday try to understand each other's positions. History tells me, though, that this won't happen until the pain is a distant memory. The war half a world away reverberates beneath our feet here at home, causing the ground to crack underneath us when we least expect it; causing bitter quarrels even among friends.

This is the cost of our continued freedom from fear, and refusing to acknowledge that cost doesn't make it go away. Some say war never solves anything.

Rubbish. Open a history book. War solves a great number of things, quite finally in some cases. It has finished entire civilizations. But merely engaging in warfare does not make us all morally equivalent. It matters - very much - what we're fighting for. And how we fight. It will always matter.

Colonel McFarland is right. In one sense, nothing is worth losing men like Sergeant Lisk. They are the ones who show up, who risk it all for the fine-sounding words we like to drag out on Independence Day. But in another sense, they give shape and meaning to our ideals. Without the willingness to sacrifice, those bold words would be as dry as dust. Men like Sergeant Fisk are the living embodiment of freedom: they are not victims, but free men who voluntarily gave their best to protect what we - and they - hold dear.

And in that sense, does it really make sense to cheapen their sacrifice by saying "nothing is worth this"?

They thought it was worth it. They were willing to pay the cost of freedom. And one day people not yet born, on both sides of this planet, may yet come to call their names blessed when they reflect on the freedoms purchased with their blood.

CWCID: Thanks to NB for the Thomas Paine link.


By Blogger Michael, at Thu Jun 29, 05:25:00 PM:

A tale like Sgt. Lisk's (Fisk?) is gut-wrenching. Makes me feel uneasy too. I'm sitting here in safety, been supporting this war ever since 9/11.

It's so goddam sad. But I believe that if fate had ordained me to be in the Sgt.'s place, I would have gone to Iraq and done my duty.

God bless.

Outlaw mike/Belgium  

By Blogger charlotte, at Thu Jun 29, 07:15:00 PM:

Beautifully said, bitter-sweet, knowing, and a little hopeful! Will forward your post on to DoD friends and family.  

By Anonymous davod, at Thu Jun 29, 08:34:00 PM:

Does someone have a job for wheel chair bound former air force logistician. I will leave in a second.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Fri Jun 30, 12:11:00 AM:

This is an excellent post..by you, none other.

When you were writing about the departed Warriors, our friends. I went back to that place in my mind where I keep the memories of long gone friends that are never going to be gone from me.

During my first several years back, I laughed, argued and cryed with them in my dreams. We were back together each time I slept, drunk or sober. We never did figure out who was the lucky ones, the ones left here or the ones behind the Gates of Heaven. We even argued about that, if there was a hell, or had we already served our time in hell.

I've decided that they are definately in a better place, and that, they do deserve.

Papa Ray
West Texas

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Jun 30, 05:47:00 AM:

Papa Ray:

I just typed up a comment that was almost post-length, but then thought better of it. Obviously I still have much to say that didn't make it into this post :)

For now, let me just say this, though I realize it sounds trite and you must have heard it a million times.

Thank you for your service. We can never say that often, or loudly, enough. And I hope America never forgets.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Jun 30, 10:13:00 PM:

Unfortunately, many Americans don't notice, or resent it...

(is in California right now)  

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