In the United States, today is Memorial Day, a holiday for remembering those soldiers who died while serving in the military. Originally a holiday to honor those who died in the Civil War, Memorial Day has long applied to all service members who have died while serving. It is most certainly an important day and one that should be honored, but there’s just one problem. On Memorial Day, Americans write that we should always remember those who died for our freedom. Every Memorial Day I ask myself the same question, but on this one the question is asked with more than the usual incredulity – what freedom should be we thankful for?
When you grow up in the USA, you deal with an amazing amount of propaganda. It’s constant. It never ends and if you disagree, you’re swiftly put in your place and denounced as a traitor and subhuman. When you grow up in the USA, you grow up hearing stories and claims of why and how the USA is such a great country. It’s the best in the world, in fact. No one is as free as an American. No one at all. No one has it better. We are the most technologically advanced, the most socially advanced, the most intelligent of all countries and the strongest. No one can beat us at any war. No one can match our economy. No one can match our technology. While there are certainly a few truths in there, the general reality couldn’t be any further from the truth (pick a criteria and I bet the US is often not even in the top 5).
After having spent 20 years of my life in the USA, I moved to Austria in July 2007. At first, the differences were quite stark. Now, I like to consider myself an open-minded person, willing to listen to most any argument or reasoning. But nothing could have prepared for me what my move would change in my life. I knew that Europe was different from the USA, but things were still mostly alike. Right? I mean, we’re all capitalist and sure Europeans have more social welfare, they’re still the same. Mostly. Except that America is still better on all counts. Right? I can think back through my first year in Austria and remember the moments that made me start finally realizing the bullshit. The bullshit I’d been told all my life that simply wasn’t true. I became aware that I had these red, white and blue colored sunglasses over my eyes. I suddenly saw that there was something clouding my thoughts and opinions each and every single minute of every day. That permanent state of denial. Then I made a decision. I took the sunglasses off. It was like seeing the world for the first time – everything was different. I suddenly began to question everything I had ever seen while wearing those glasses. If this is what reborn Christians feel like, I can kind of understand why they are so fervent about it.
Let’s go back to my original question, though. What freedom should we be thankful for? Certainly America is a very free country and we have a significant amount to be thankful for. No denying that whatsoever. But just because we have it so good doesn’t mean we can’t make it better. And there’s definitely getting worse, right? Wrong. I would argue that the last actual war for real freedom was the Second World War. Not even for American freedom back then, though, but simple human freedom. Soldiers haven’t fought or died for American freedom for close to a century or even more. I could certainly understand the argument for the Cold War, but it was never a real war in the traditional sense. Furthermore, we have been losing freedoms left and right ever since 9/11.
Let me explain.
Following World War II was the Cold War. The great ideological war between capitalism and communism/socialism that dominated world policy for over decades. Definitely there were moments where agents of the US government did what they could to protect American freedom, but let’s face it: the vast majority was nothing more than a war of interests. The Soviet Union and the United States were the two superpowers vying for power across the globe. The US reacted after the Soviets made their initial push to take over the devastated parts of Europe following the war and gained a significant foothold and then neither was content to see the other gain further dominance. Europe was a stalemate so they turned to the developing world, those countries that were former colonies and now only finding their own stability following years of chaos. And they threw them back into chaos.
We also lost some freedoms back then. If you were suspected of being a communist, your phones were tapped, your mail was read, every aspect of your life was investigated. For the suspicion of having an opposing viewpoint. Not for having the opposing viewpoint but merely the suspicion of the fact existed, so you lost your right to privacy (a right we have never regained).
Americans weren’t the only ones that lost freedoms. Just look at the list of proxy wars during the Cold War between the two in countries and regions that were easily taken advantage of and used as pawns in a global chess match. Those people lost the freedom to decide their own destiny. Democracies were liquidated and replaced with dictatorships on a regular basis. Just so long as communism or socialism didn’t have control of the country and spread its global influence. The same was true for the USSR – I’m definitely not picking sides here. It’s no wonder so many countries harbor such ill will towards the USA and Russia even after twenty years.
Vietnam was just another proxy war, although this time there was American skin in the game. All because we didn’t want to let a capitalist government that couldn’t even support itself and was so corrupt fall to communism. Bravo. I honestly don’t think I need to go into detail here, do I?
Then you have the War on Drugs. A war. Over drugs. A war that has destroyed communities and countless lives over something as trivial as a bag of weed. Felony charges for young people that are not harming anyone at all. Pushing entire communities into poverty and destroying families and actually forcing American citizens into further criminality through flawed policies. 1920s Prohibition all over again.
Then the most recent: the War on Terror and the worst one yet. Also the most controversial. Decades of poor foreign policy have finally shown their fruits. The chickens have come home to roost. After supporting Arab dictators for decades and forcing an entire region into abject poverty, we finally reap what we have sown (brilliant article from Noam Chomsky titled “It’s not radical Islam that worries the US — it’s independence” from 2011). Certainly this is not a justification for Islamist terrorism, but given that our flawed foreign policy is largely the cause of it, you do have to lend the argument some thought. I’m not saying terrorism is good. Far from it. But when you look at the harm the Cold War did to the region, you can kind of understand why they’re so pissed. They don’t even need religion but it’s done a great job of galvanizing and uniting the angry masses. Just like financial inequality has done so (or attempted to do) in a peaceful manner in the West with #OWS, so have these fanatics and psychotics done so with Islam, a religion that is otherwise just as peaceful as Christianity (the Bible is just as bloody, especially the Old Testament – just read Leviticus). And we’re all told they hate us because of our freedom.
It is under the banner of the War on Terror that the freedoms that we cling to and deserve have been ripped away. Not only in the USA, but certainly the USA is the leader in this fight to take away our rights.
Since 9/11 there have been all kinds of attacks on basic freedom: the PATRIOT Act, privately owned and operated for-profit prisons (being filled with the victims of the War on Drugs), drone strikes on American citizens, CISPA and SOPA. Why? Because either we need to be protected from the terrorists and good people have nothing to worry about privacy invasions or we’re dirty, dirty pirates that don’t want to be told what to do with our data (all those iTunes albums you download? Yeah, they don’t belong to you). Then the attacks on freedom of speech/assembly that we saw during #OWS and the unbelievable aggressiveness with which whistleblowers are being prosecuted by the Obama White House. All under the guise of keeping us safe and sound and in order to preserve the status quo.
So today is Memorial Day. Since 9/11, almost 5,000 soldiers have died and over 6,000 have been wounded. All in the War on Terror. And what do we have to show for it? A financial crisis that has destroyed the global economy and made the rich richer and the poor poorer and the greatest erosion of our freedoms since the Revolutionary War. Still feel like celebrating Independence Day on July 4th? Still feel that our soldiers have died for our freedoms today? I made a realization during my last trip to the USA. Everything is fake. The “reality” shows are fake, the tits are fake, the food that the majority of Americans eat isn’t real food and now even the freedom is fake.Tweet