Sunday, October 05, 2008

Freedom IS Free

One of my biggest pet peeves is those mini-propaganda films by the National Guard that you get when you are waiting for your movie to start at the theater. They get some pop act to make a "music video", but in reality, they are thinly veiled advertisements pimping patriotism and armed service. Last year, it was 3 Doors Down with "Citizen Soldier". This year it is Kid Rock with "Warrior" . Now, I don't have anything against Kid. I've even liked some of his songs. He seems to have a sense of humor. Or I had thought that in the past. I'm sitting there in the theater tonight, waiting to watch Religulous (I'll review tomorrow), and "Warrior" comes on:

... So don't tell me who's wrong and right
When liberty starts slipping away
And if you ain't gonna fight
Get out of the way

'Cause freedom ain't so free
When you breathe red, white and blue
I'm giving all of myself
How 'bout you?

Holding back the urge to vomit in my mouth, I reflected on how big a hypocrite Kid Rock is. I saw an interview with him recently:

"I truly believe that people like myself, who are in a position of entertainers in the limelight, should keep their mouth shut on politics.Because at the end of the day, I'm good at writing songs and singing. What I'm not educated in is the field of political science. And so for me to be sharing my views and influencing people of who I think they should be voting for ... I think would be very irresponsible on my part.I think celebrity endorsements hurt politicians. As soon as somebody comes out for a politician, especially in Hollywood, when they all go, 'I'm voting for this guy!' – I go, 'That's not who I'm voting for!' "

So ... you won't endorse a political candidate but you will co-opt a political slogan from one ("freedom isn't free") and, in your songs, will criticize people ("don't tell me who's wrong and right") who don't just blindly follow.

I don't mean to belittle the military. I understand the value of service to one's country. I have a father and brother who both served. But criticizing people who don't serve, questioning their patriotism, and serving up a slice of propaganda that the Third Reich would be proud of, is not the answer.

And don't get me started on the "freedom isn't free" thing. I read a great article this week on that overused, contradictory, and meaningless slogan:

It's one of those Orwellian phrases that re-emerged out of 9/11 mania: "Freedom is not free." ... freedom itself, far from being costly, was cheapened to a slogan in whose name sacrifice at home was for fools and war abroad freedom's calling card.

The dogmatic negative at the heart of "freedom isn't free" should have been a clue. The phrase has been attributed to Dean Rusk, secretary of state under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, though The New York Times used it in a small headline in 1945 to describe an American cemetery in Normandy. Gen. Matthew Ridgway, Army Chief of Staff in 1953, used it to define freedom as the difference between those who "torture their captives" and "those to whom the individual and his individual rights are sacred."

But the phrase really took off as a national verbal tick after 2001. George and Laura Bush and Dick Cheney have used the phrase at least nine times since 2001. For understandable reasons, they never defined it the way Gen. Ridgway did. They never defined it at all.

Ridgway's nuances aside, the phrase is fortune-cookie bunk anyway. Of course, freedom is free, and self-evidently so. Unless Thomas Jefferson had it wrong in the Declaration of Independence, freedom is one of the "unalienable rights." It's not a privilege. You're born with it. If you're in an unfree country, as most people are, you're owed it.

If you're in a free country, by all means, count your blessings, but you're entitled to your freedom. You shouldn't have to justify it, qualify it, tailor it to someone else's idea of it (unless you live in a homeowners association) let alone buy it, as countless slaves in this country had to.

Unless you infringe on somebody else's freedom, it's not even conditional. Those who make conditions are the chain-wielders who dangle freedom by the reins of its antonyms. They're those to whom "freedom is not free," by which they mean to say -- you're not.

Unquestionably, the way the phrase may have been intended -- the way Martin Luther King Jr. supposedly said it when he was hauled off to jail in Birmingham, the way it's inscribed on the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. -- is to point out that sometimes there's a price to pay to preserve what we cherish or to claim what we're owed.

Those soldiers in Normandy's sands died protecting civilization. King and countless civil rights activists died claiming the right they'd been denied for three centuries. A price was paid for freedom's sake, but never to diminish the value of freedom itself, let alone to use freedom to diminish that of others ...

1 comment:

Scott said...

Lance, you and I may as well be the same person on this post. I HATE these propaganda ads and dread seeing them every time I go to a movie. I haven't seen the Kid Rock one, but I'm sure it's every bit as nationalist as the first one.

If we've learned anything since Thomas Jefferson it's that if freedom does have a price, it's eternal vigilance against those who would have us believe the price of freedom is, or has ever been, invading third world countries that haven't attacked us.