Monday, December 11, 2006

All Hail the Soldier

Steve Inskeep ends the often creepy business bit of Morning Edition today by saying, "and our last word in business today involves patriotic philanthropy. " Patriotic philanthropy: that's an interesting concept! This philanthropy involves Morrill Worcester, a wreath entrepreneur from Maine, placing wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery. After telling us how his business has grown to over 500,000 wreaths a year, Worcester says, "I personally owe a great deal to the people that gave me the freedom to do what I do and that’s the way I feel about it." Montaigne and Inskeep then tell us in hushed and solemn tones how Worcester wants to build a movement to wreath all the national cemeteries, and which plots at Arlington are being wreathed this year.

I'm sick of people saying that we owe our freedom to the military. Frankly, it's a statement unbecoming of a free people, and where does someone get off telling me that my freedom required the invasions of Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua, the Phillippines, Vietnam, Grenada, etc. The only war that seems to qualify for gratitude is WWII - and that was also won by the soldiers of Stalin's Red Army - at a for more terrible cost - but I don't generally notice the military worshipers among us getting all grateful and sentimental for them.

Having known a lot of military veterans in my life - friends, family, teachers, scout leaders, etc. - I can say that I have a world of compassion for the suffering, losses, and trauma that many soldiers experience. And I can respect those who try to be just and honorable in the military. But I have the highest regard for those who refuse to participate in unjust wars or who expose wrongdoing in the military (as at Mai Lai or Abu Ghraib).

Frankly, as I see our history, it is the runaway slave, the abolitionist, the rebel, the noncomformist, the strikers and labor leaders, the radicals and activists who have preserved and expanded our precious freedoms. These are the US heroes I thank when I'm counting my blessings of liberty.

(Image credits go to Northwestern University Library's WWII Poster Collection.)

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