Relax - I'll explain in a minute.
"The Simpsons" is not the sort of fare usually turned to for life lessons, for sure. But there are a couple of nuggets that have stayed with me from earlier days when I used to watch it regularly.
One was an episode in which Mayor Quimby called the people of Springfield "a bunch of fickle mush-heads," due to their shifting political loyalties and gullibility. Yep.
Another was when Homer was in space. There was also an ant colony up there. Homer's usual bumbling resulted in the shattering of the glass encasing the ant colony. As the ants spilled out, they protested "Horrible, horrible freedom!"
As Homer would say, "It's funny 'cause it's true..."
The American Revolutionary War lasted from 1775 (with the expulsion of Royal officials) to 1783. It wasn't until 1787 that the Constitution was ratified. It took four years to figure out how the hell to govern the country they'd spent 8 years getting.
It took almost a hundred years to make it a single entity - the United States Civil War was, in large part, a battle about the governmental structure. Did the rights of the individual states take precedence, or was the federal government the one that ultimately was in charge? That one was four years of destruction, costing approximately 620,000 lives (about as much as in all other American wars combined). Gettysburg alone killed more than 50,000.
Was it worth it? It's a question that often gets asked about wars, and if one wants to do it right, it's impossible to answer. The reality is that we'll never know what would have happened without it. How long would The non-United States have survived? Remember, in 1812, the Brits tried to remedy their loss of a few decades earlier. Was Lincoln right? Would a "house divided" have fallen? Given the wars that followed, probably.
I was in Disneyworld on vacation when Mikhail Gorbachev was overthrown. At the time, I had a Ukrainian penpal. a medic in the Soviet army. Nice guy. As I watched the news in my hotel room, I said to my boyfriend at the time, "Oh, God, this is a disaster."
He looked at me like I'd gone insane. "What?!? We're watching the birth of a democracy, here - this is great!"
"No, we're not," I said quietly. "Those people haven't the foggiest idea of how to build a democracy. Gorbachev was doing it right - little freedoms here and there....he was introducing them to independence a little at a time. They're used to having everything done for them. They have no idea how to take care of themselves."
And they didn't. Gennady told me they didn't have stamps, or money, for months. Everything with Lenin's visage on it was confiscated, but there were no replacements. MiG's were being traded to farmers for food. Criminal elements, long kept in line by the KGB, were suddenly unleashed. Corruption flourished. A superpower disappeared into ignominy and confusion.
Sound somewhat familiar? It should.
Iraq has been out from under Saddam Hussein for not quite four years. It's had a fledgling government for less time than that. And its people, in large part, still have absolutely no clue what self-determination really means.
I've seen articles where residents of the former Soviet Union have said that life was better under Communism, because at least they had food, and crime was lower. Iraqis have said that life was better under Saddam.
Why is that, do you think?
Well, there's probably a very simple answer - freedom sucks if you don't know how to live under it. It's an inertia thing. Objects at rest tend to remain at rest. People who are used to having everything decided for them get used to it. Freedom - self-determination, personal responsibility - can be terrifying.
It's often been said that the natural state of the soul is freedom - that inside every heart is a desire for freedom. Maybe so. But just because I'd like to be a surgeon, doesn't mean you'd want me operating on you. It takes knowledge, it takes skill, and so does maintaining freedom.
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-- Thomas Paine, in Common Sense
Even if you want freedom, that doesn't mean that you'll know what to do with it once you get it. Freedom has so often been held up as the ideal that what often gets lost is the downside - it's work. It isn't easy to be free. Look at the consequences...
The U.S. has had to endure being hated. We've spent heaploads of money - and oceans of blood - in wars. We've put up with civil strife. Bad politicians. Media outlets run amok. And why? Because we're free. This country walks the line between freedom and oppression every single day. Collectively, we wake up each morning and have to decide - Is this still worth it?
We keep answering "Yes." But how long is that going to last. Our freedom is very much in jeopardy in the present day. Hillary Clinton says that if she could, she would take the profits of oil companies, putting them into programs for alternative energy sources. Think about that for a second. She would TAKE the profits, and decide where they should be spent.
Political correctness dictates that certain words are banned. Not just unfashionable. Not just problematic. Banned. You can get fired from your job for using them. You can get fined if your network uses them.
Political correctness dictates that certain characters are not permissible. A college mascot is no more because it *might* offend people. Look out, Notre Dame - I'm Irish. That angry little leprechaun of yours is one phone call away from extinction.
It's not that people are choosing to refrain from watching certain shows, or listening to certain music, or supporting certain sporting events. The free market, free will, is not deciding what is or is not acceptable. THEY are. Political groups...your government...is deciding what you can say, what you can see, what you can hear.
That ought to scare the living crap out of you. But how many of us does it really scare? Everyone can agree that certain words are just out of bounds, right?
There was a time that I was told that my SAT score, a 1320 under the old scoring system, was "pretty good for a girl." Did that piss me off? You bet. Did I call the cops and ask that the offender be put in jail? No. I stood up for myself. I decided that I would not accept that.
There are certain words that drive me up a tree. Certain racial terms just really tick me off - but there's a difference between calling someone an idiot for saying something, and putting them in jail. There's a difference between using a word, and assaulting someone. Granted, once the first step is permitted, the next ones become easier to accept. But what I'm saying is that legislation isn't always the answer - sometimes people have to take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for drawing a line.
Ah, but I digress.
Back to Iraq: Under Saddam, your life was pretty much decided for you. You got what food was allowed to get to you. You had electricity, water, etc. when you were permitted to have it. You were either going to live that day, or die. All of that was completely out of your control. Voting was easy - your vote for President consisted of a choice between "Saddam forever" and "Kill me now." Pretty simple choice there.
And then came the Americans, promising freedom. You'd get to vote, you wouldn't have to be randomly dragged off to be tortured, you'd have rights...only the Americans forgot to tell you a thing or too...you'd have to do a lot of work to get there, and you'd have to do a lot of work to keep it.
Remember the tales that people hear about this country. Everyone's rich. Everyone has equal rights. Everybody has cars, and food, and medical care that consists of more than sawing something off with a rusty knife. People don't die of diseases here that people of other nationalities die of all the time. In America, people throw food away! In America, women vote. Women leave the house alone! Women decide who they marry! Women hold political offices! No one can tell you what religion to follow! No one can put you in jail - or worse, for calling the President a moron. Wow...it's a lot to take in.
And most of it's pretty much true. Compared to other countries, we are pretty rich. Most people have good medical care. In some cases, poor people have access to better medical care than others with more money. People call the President a moron - and worse - all the time. And they're not in jail.
But what people don't understand is that, as Ronald Reagan said,
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
And that's, in essence, the problem in Iraq.
Herschel Smith, over at The Captain's Journal, has a post up today that looks at the state of the counterinsurgency in Anbar. The picture he paints is somewhat grim. Snipers still prowl the roads. Clean water is still out of reach. Peace, where it exists, is fragile.
I was struck by one quote from that post:
“It is hard to say this but years ago I was praying for the death of [former president] Saddam Hussein, but today I wish he could come back to life and was in power again because at least in his time we used to have safe water, good sewage systems, had food to eat and our children never got diarrhoea,” she said.
Many of the war's critics would pounce on that and say, "See - we've actually made things worse in Iraq. They were better off with Saddam."
In some cases, I would agree. But not because WE have failed. The problem is that the Iraqis have largely failed themselves to this point. The Iraqi leadership has failed its people. Most of that is not their fault. They are not used to having to step up. And let's face it - standing down a bunch of armed lunatics who don't think you're being Muslim enough isn't exactly a fun way to spend a day.
The problem is that freedom is work. Freedom in itself does not make things wonderful. Freedom, when fully embraced by a nation, however, with all its trials, and all of its responsibilities, is the most wonderful thing on Earth.
Iraq is in danger of never finding that out. We are in danger of losing what we know to be priceless. Both may succeed. Both may fail. And in large part, both hinge on this country answering that question again.
"Is it worth it to be free?"
"We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."
-- Edward Murrow
Are we, once again, going to take a stand for freedom?
Universal healthcare looks pretty good, doesn't it? But it compromises the free market, and it takes away personal responsibility. Work, or don't - you'll be taken care of. It is a feel-good way to get people used to not having to think - or work - for themselves.
War sucks. It claims lives, maims young men and women. But when you're the nation that says it stands for freedom, you have to fight in one from time to time. Some are for your own survival. Some are about eliminating threats. And some are in defense of a smaller nation that asks for help. All are expensive in money and lives. But what does peace at any price really mean?
Maniacs are going to want to kill us if we are free. If we knuckle under, it will buy us some security. Maybe. Terrorists will hit us again. People will die. Freedom will make us a target. Which do we want to choose?
The American Constitution as it is now written does not guarantee that you will never be offended. It doesn't guarantee that you'll never hear something that you don't like. It doesn't guarantee that people will always be nice to you. Sometimes, life hands you a raw deal. But if we legislate speech, and legislate media "fairness," and legislate religion, we can control those things. Of course, it means that we will give up some of our rights...
The fact of the matter is, what's going on in Iraq scares me a lot less, most of the time, than what's going on here. Our troops are the best in the world. They're getting things done in Iraq. Yes, we have to continue to put pressure on Iraqis. And I agree that we have to let them know we're not going to be there forever. If we don't do that, they won't do it for themselves. Inertia. We're going to have to drag them kicking and screaming into their new existence. Reward those who stand up - who chase off insurgents, who build a local workforce to fix the water problems. Who appoint a representative to come to the U.S. forces and say, "what the heck do we need to do to help you get the power working consistently?" Reward personal responsibility.
At the same time, we cannot abandon them. They simply do not know how to be free. It is going to require some education. We are going to need to help them deal with the murdering thugs they allowed to gain a foothold, and give them a little bit of Freedom 101.
Here at home, we need to make a choice in a little under two years. It is a pivotal one. Listen very, very carefully to what politicians are saying. Listen very, very carefully to those who tell you that they will take away your worries, make life easier, give you something for nothing, prevent you from hearing something that offends you, and see to "social justice."
Lenin said the same thing. So, very likely, did Saddam.
Freedom lies in the balance in two countries. And it is very likely the people in this one that dictate the survival of both.
Labels: Iraq, My Two Cents, opinion, politics