“The Prize of Freedom”

by Roger Alford

Could anything be more contradictory than the lives of our soldiers? They love America, so they spend long years in foreign lands far from her shores. They revere freedom, so they sacrifice their own that we may be free. They defend our right to live as individuals, yet yield their individuality in that cause. Perhaps most paradoxically of all, they value life, and so bravely ready themselves to die in the service of our country….

But why are we so seemingly willing to fight and, if need be, to die? The answer to that question is as simple — and yet as complex — as the soul of America itself. We fight because we believe. Not that war is good, but that sometimes it is necessary. Our soldiers fight and die not for the glory of war, but for the prize of freedom. The words of the philosopher John Stuart Mill say it best: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight; nothing he cares more about than his own personal safety; is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free….”

And, the heart of America is freedom, for ourselves and all nations willing to fight for it. Yes, the price is high, but freedom is a wealth no debt can encumber.

So, we choose to remember the past because the payment for forgetfulness is dear — sacrifice, service, duty … and many times, injury and death paid by gallant, heroic men and women. Only fools would elect to forget so expensive a lesson….

… [C]ourageous men and women, each so different in heritage and background, shared the common bonds of the armed forces — duty and sacrifice. All of them reached a moment in their lives when race and religion, creed and color made no difference. What remained was the essence of America — the fighting spirit of a proud, valorous people. They are soldiers who paid the price for freedom.

As we remember these brave warriors and their comrades in arms on this Memorial Day, we must look to the future as well as the past. In today’s world, freedom comes cloaked in uncertainty. America still relies on her sons and daughters to defend her liberty. The cost of independence remains high, but we are willing to pay it. We do not pay it gladly, but we pay it with deep reverence and thanks to those who have sacrificed their lives for America. We know that in the years to come, more brave souls will sacrifice their lives for America. We include them in our thoughts and prayers today.

Memorial Day Speech, Deborah Parker, May 26, 1997


5 Responses

  1. So grateful for their sacrifices….

  2. 1997 it was, but am I the only one finding this a bit ironical in the background of recent needless wars America has waged.

  3. Ironical is putting it mildly. The rhetoric used I find, frankly, sickening. Fighting for ‘liberty’? They value ‘life’? Fighting for ‘America’? Who constitutes this ‘America’ she is so fond of invoking? And whose lives, precisely, do they value? The words she uses, to me at least, seem wrong and disingenuous on so many levels, particularly coming in the wake of America’s recent belligerent history. Memorial Day is a valuable day of remembrance, of course – but we should think carefully about what it is we are remembering, and what values we have fought for. Sometimes our soldiers are mere pawns in the strategic games of delusional power-seekers – and this too we should remember. The unrestrained patriotism of this speech to me is misplaced and misguided, and further masks what war is often really about.

  4. David,

    In the past century we have been involved in eight major conflicts:  World War I, War War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Can you explain which of these wars you think fall into your description of “belligerent actions by delusional power seekers” and which wars do not?  I cannot tell if you are speaking against the Iraq war or genuinely questioning the broader sweep of American history.

    Roger Alford

  5. Roger,
    Let be me clear, for I fear in my frustration I may have overstated my point. I do not question the broader sweep of American history, as you put it: in my view, sometimes conflict, although always regrettable, will be necessary, and Americans have fought for some worthy and noble causes. But especially in recent times, and particularly in Iraq, US soldiers, in my view, have not been fighting for ‘freedom’. And it is not just the Iraq invasion of 2003 I refer to. I do not like selective responses to atrocities / acts of aggression, for selectivity implies that when action is taken, it is taken for self-interested reasons. Therefore, I feel that the Persian Gulf War falls within the ambit of my claims that fighting is not all about freedom. American action not just in Vietnam, but in Cambodia and Laos, is another example. Shawcross’s masterly analysis (in his book ‘Sideshow’) uncovers the callousness with which Kissinger et al sent Americans to their deaths. American action in the Balkans was also far from altruistic, although I acknowledge some may differ here.
    Ultimately, perhaps our disagreement hinges on our understanding of the world, and the theories of international relations to which we subscribe. For me, as is perhaps evident, ethical considerations and lofty ideals play a small role in foreign policy, and especially American foreign policy. Perhaps you disagree, but a cursory glance at Kennan’s ‘Morality and Foreign Affairs’ (Foreign Affairs, 1986?) or, more recently, Robert Kagan’s piece from the same journal in 2008, is telling.
    I don’t like romanticizing and glorifying our soldiers and the ideals for which they fight, which is what Parker has done in her speech, for it perpetuates a dangerous ideology.

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