Did someone die to protect my freedoms?
August 9, 2005 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Is there validity to the statement that I or you "enjoy the freedoms that men and women fought and died to protect?"

I have heard this rebuttal numerous times, but I think my knowledge of history is failing me for specific instances.

Could someone clarify or give insight into this statement?
posted by grefo to Human Relations (19 answers total)
I guess it depends what country you live in, but if a lot of people didn't sacrifice their lives in World War II it's possible many of us would not be enjoying the freedoms we enjoy today.

Just one example.
posted by bondcliff at 1:26 PM on August 9, 2005

Also the Revolutionary War, if you go real far back.
posted by smackfu at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2005

Revolutionary war...plenty of people died so that we could become a democratic republic.
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2005

Well, I suppose if you are the descendant of freed african slaves, then there were certainly many in the civil war and civil rights eras who fought and died for your rights and freedoms.

As for your average honkeys, well there was the Revolutionary war era and the War of 1812. The Indian wars and various wars supporting "manifest destiny" did clear out a whole lot of nice land for you and your ancestors. Hitler actually did have global domination in mind, so you might throw WWII in there. The commies also wanted to dominate the globe, but we never really faced them down directly except for in Korea or in the Cuban missile crisis.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2005

The War of 1812 only applies if you're Canadian. Canadians fought and died to afford me the freedom not to be an American. Your guys fought and died in a failed attempt to make me one.

Neener neener!
posted by timeistight at 1:34 PM on August 9, 2005

this is a trite line, in my opinion... it's an endless, reducible argument: hundreds of thousands of people have died in african wars in order for you to have access to oil == freedom... millions of people died in the ancient roman/greek wars for the land that was later to become the holy roman empire which was later to become the stage for the enlightenment which was later to become the forum for democratic ideals. i think a better angle would be to say that "you and i will die in order for some to have freedoms in the future and others to be denied them."
posted by yonation at 1:35 PM on August 9, 2005

Well, the American Civil War was, in large part, a fight over slavery. So it would be technically true for the slaves freed following the war, at least.

It's hard to find another example for the United States where there's such a clear connection. A strong argument could probably be made for the Revolutionary War, and for the War of 1812, but other than that, the U.S. hasn't faced many oppressive invading forces. Of course, it's maintained a strong defense, which has probably discouraged any theoretical invaders.

A lot of people gained increased personal freedom with the Allied Victory in World War II. Of course, a lot of other people (in the Warsaw Pact countries) lost significant personal freedom with that result. The British involvement in World War II is a pretty clear-cut case of a people using violence to defend themselves from an oppressive invader, as were the various resistance movements in European countries.

Off the top of my head, I'm thinking that most successful democratic revolutions have been largely peaceful. The U.S. is a notable exception. Twentieth-century decolonialization didn't result in much real freedom or democracy (at least not immediately). India is a notable exception, and they didn't really throw the British out by force.

The various wars of liberation fought by Bolivar are pretty good examples.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:35 PM on August 9, 2005

A strong argument could probably be made for the Revolutionary War, and for the War of 1812, but other than that, the U.S. hasn't faced many oppressive invading forces.

Read your history; you were the oppressive invading force.

The successful defense of the Canadian provinces against American invasion ultimately ensured the survival of Canada as a distinct nation, and the end of the war marked the decline of a longstanding desire of many Americans to see the British Empire expelled from North America.
posted by timeistight at 1:41 PM on August 9, 2005

The War of 1812 only applies if you're Canadian.

I prefer not to be forced to join the Royal Navy while on a Carnival cruise. Further, my family was able to get the hell away from those anal retentive Puritans and strike out on their own in the Northwest once those damn leftover Frogs and Limeys were cleared out of Vincennes.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:41 PM on August 9, 2005

Yes and no. People volunteered and died with the purpose of protecting your freedoms. Their sacrifice is true. Was your freedom the result of their sacrifice? That's more complicated.

You could say the Revolution brought us freedom, but those British colonies who did not fight a Revolution, like Canada and Australia, are free today.

The Civil war, if lost, would have resulted with two countries with realitively similar freedoms. Vitually no one speculates that the North could have been occupied and conquered by the South; so at best you are talking about two Democratic countries north and south.

If you are a descendant of a slave, you owe your freedom to some degree to those soliders who died in the Civil War. But in this case not all of those soldiers intended to fight for your freedom.

I cannot say that World War I contributed to freedom that we have today, although it did go a ways to enhance democracy.

World War II is the closest you come to a true argument that your freedoms were protected by the deaths of others. Had Hitler prevailed, most historians don't think it's likely he would have continued across the ocean and invaded the US, but the idea of a Hitlerian Europe and an Imperial Japan on either side of us, and us without allies, would have certianly challenged your freedom in the years to come.
posted by brucec at 1:45 PM on August 9, 2005

I have heard this rebuttal numerous times

As a rebuttal to what, specifically? I believe that I enjoy freedoms that others have fought and died to protect, but I don't always agree that that creates the obligations in me which some people assert. Perhaps that is a more productive rhetorical tack to take?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:26 PM on August 9, 2005

Being grateful for freedom is a worthy attitude. Trying to identify the persons or objects toward which the gratitude should be directed could be an enslaving project, so why not enjoy your freedom instead?
posted by ozziemaland at 4:36 PM on August 9, 2005

A strong argument could probably be made for the Revolutionary War, and for the War of 1812, but other than that, the U.S. hasn't faced many oppressive invading forces.

Largely true -- and why do you think that we have NOT faced many oppressive invading forces? If we didn't have the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and such, then America would have been a nice, juicy target for many reasons. If we had let our military deteriorate to the point that other nations and adversaries perceived that they could successfully attack and invade, then it's likely that America would be a much, much worse place.

And no, there is no specific obligation that the free people of America owe to the military -- but at the very least one shouldn't ridicule, mock, taunt, or otherwise dishonor the military that protects our nation.
posted by davidmsc at 6:37 PM on August 9, 2005

some of us fight and live to protect our freedoms ... and not all of us are wearing uniforms when we do it

i've heard this phrase many times ... i think it's shameful guilt-tripping and an attempt to shut down viewpoints the person doesn't like to hear

i don't recall any of the hundreds of thousands of dead american soldiers authorizing these people to take their names in vain like that ... if someone wants to tell me i'm wrong ... or to belittle me for the way i excercise my freedoms, (which i have been endowed with by my creator, not by dead soldiers), they can be intellectually honest enough to own their own opinions and not try to justify them with someone else's dead body ...
posted by pyramid termite at 9:06 PM on August 9, 2005

Does no one here remember the Cold War? I do not think various episodes in that struggle, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis, would have ended well without the military, various government officials, the diplomatic corps, a huge number of spies, and many lonely brave civilians having fought (in various ways) and put their lives on the line (or lost them, to the Stasi, the KGB, and the gulag) for our freedoms.

If your American Western city was not hit by a Soviet A-bomb in the 1950's and 1960's, if your kids no longer have to wear dog tags to elementary school as my parents' generation did, if you are a Berliner, or if you grew up in an Iron Curtain country, you can thank the American military (or at least, its worldwide build-up, including the deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe in the 1980's), the CIA, and a whole bunch of other people for that.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:49 PM on August 9, 2005

This is a good debate, and an excellent question. I wear a uniform for the United States Army, and I think pyramid termite is right in certain respects. For instance, it's very easy for so-called "Red-staters" to use this argument to attempt to quell dissent, particularly as regards Iraq. And it's an easy knee-jerk guilt trip, because the implication is that by questioning American foreign policy, you're somehow betraying the memory of those dead. Which I think is silly. The ability to question American foreign policy, and to do so quite vehemently if one should so choose, is one of those inalienable rights.

However, while your rights were endowed by your creator, they were (and are) defended by soldiers, living and dead. And for that, you should be grateful. Additionally, every American soldier swears an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, which codifies those rights. So the sentiment is literally true, regardless of the context or guilt-trip, and therefore has merit.

posted by ZakDaddy at 12:57 AM on August 10, 2005

In the case of World War II, freedoms were protected as the result of resistance to oppression, not because anybody died. As Patton said, nobody ever won a war by dying for his country.

To put it coldly: It is not logically necessary for people to die in order to win a war, therefore, even if you can prove that fighting the war is what protected your freedoms, it is not logically necessary that you have those freedoms because people died. Even in this case, death is just a side effect, not a cause. It's a non sequitor.

Anyway, I heard that freedom costs $1.05.
posted by Hildago at 10:02 AM on August 10, 2005

let me put this another way ... was dr martin luther king a soldier?

the fallacy in the statement under debate is that it assumes the only people who do anything for other people's freedom are soldiers

sorry, but it's demonstratably not true
posted by pyramid termite at 10:52 AM on August 10, 2005

Speaking as a non-American, I consider myself to be as free as anyone on this planet (well it helps that I'm an affluent white male, eh?), and I really have to ask who died for my freedoms... nobody I can think of. Some lawyers, some politicians, some human rights campaigners, some philosophers, they have fought long and hard to give me my privileged view of the world, but I can't think of many (any?) people in uniform that have helped much at all.

Happy to be proved wrong...
posted by wilful at 9:00 PM on August 10, 2005

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