Bit by bit, the meaning of July 4th
has been lost. It now involves far too much celebration of the U.S. military
and far too much deference to governments. I am a big fan, in many ways, of
the U.S. military. As a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey,
I have taught military officers for the last 22 years. I have come to admire,
respect, and, frankly, love hundreds of the U.S. officers I've taught. But the
current emphasis on praising the U.S. military is out of all proportion to the
July 4th has been traditionally thought of as a celebration of our independence
from an oppressive government. It's true that the original U.S. military helped
gain that independence and that, without them, the United States might still
be a British colony. So let's give the military its due. But the goal the U.S.
military fought for a quarter of a millennium ago bears little resemblance to
the goals it fights for today. Chalmers Johnson, in his book The
Sorrows of Empire, cites (on page 154) a Department of Defense study
statistic that the U.S. government has 725 foreign bases in 38 countries. Virtually
none of the countries these bases are near threaten Americans' freedom in any
Take Iraq. Please. Even though President Bush talks about how the U.S. military
is fighting for Iraqi freedom and democracy (often seeming unaware that freedom
and democracy are not the same thing), even he is less and less willing to make
the case that the U.S. military is fighting in Iraq to preserve American freedom.
And no wonder. That case is hard to make.
Think about what freedom is. It includes freedom of speech and the press, the
freedom to exchange goods and services with others, the freedom to move around
without being stopped by government officials, the right to keep what we produce,
and the freedom to choose whom we associate with, to name just a few. Oh, yes,
and the freedom not to be imprisoned unless charged with a crime, the so-called
right of habeas corpus. Habeas
corpus is a precondition for the other freedoms. If the government could imprison
us without charging us with a crime, then all the other freedoms would be meaningless.
The government wouldn't have to pass any laws restricting the other freedoms;
it could simply jail anyone it wished for any reason at any time.
Now ask yourself: Did Saddam Hussein threaten any of these freedoms? No. How
about Ho Chi Minh, the head of the North Vietnamese government during the Vietnam
war? No. That is not to say that your freedoms weren't and aren't being threatened – but
who is threatening them? Look closer to home: Washington, D.C., the state bureaucracy,
and your local city hall.
A New York judge said, in 1866, "No man's life, liberty, or property are
safe while the legislature is in session." But he understated the case.
Even when the legislature is out of session, presidents and petty bureaucrats
typically are eating away at our freedom. President Bush, for example, claims
the right to tap our phone calls if they're made to certain countries and has
claimed the right to hold even U.S. citizens in prison without charging them
with a crime. This latter means that he has tried to undercut the above-mentioned
habeas corpus. State
governments regularly violate freedom of association by telling employers whom
they must hire and what rules they must follow before they fire. In my town
of Pacific Grove, Calif., the local government tells me how thin the branches
on my tree can be before I have "permission" to cut them.
These are the daily assaults on our freedom, and there is little our military
can do to stop these assaults. It could organize a coup, but who wants that?
Military governments have often been more oppressive than the civilian governments
We often hear officials tell us to celebrate July 4th by showing up at
the parades that these government officials organize. If, instead, we celebrate
by, say, having a barbecue or going to a movie or lighting off large firecrackers,
the most rabid of these officials accuse us of not being patriotic enough and,
in the case of the firecrackers, even try to get us arrested. But the most patriotic
thing we can do on this sacred day is to celebrate the real spirit of July 4th.
And that means not only celebrating the overthrow of the British, but also ignoring
the oppressive life-arrangers in our current governments.
© Copyright 2006 by David R. Henderson. For permission to reprint,
please contact Antiwar.com.