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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Of Freedom and Sacrifice

I read today that two friends' son has been killed in Iraq, where he served in the US Army. . . .

I read today that two friends' son has been killed in Iraq, where he served in the US Army. Not counting the headline, the Daily Herald article which reports this runs a mere 34 words, one fewer than I have already used in this paragraph, and just enough to name his father, his mother, his wife, and his two children. I sat down to write a few words to his parents, my friends.

I don't know which words. What mere words can magically turn a mother's grief to joy, or a father's despair to peace? I don't think any of my words can do that. Time can help, lots of time. Heaven can help, and will. And I suppose that some of the words flying around in the meantime may be of a little use. But the fact is inescapable: Their son answered duty's call in a nation far away, and now has gone further still. However long his absence might have been, it now will be much longer. There will be no more phone calls, no more e-mails, and no more letters, unless one was already in the mail. Even if faith -- theirs and mine -- rightly informs us that this unwelcome redeployment will someday end in joyous reunion, there are years and days and hours and minutes which must first pass, one at a time. Too many of those will be lonely and dark for someone.

At the moment, it scarcely matters that he died in a war which some, for political gain, have declared to be a waste, a defeat, and a crime. It matters little, just now, that it is a war we had to join, a war we cannot afford to lose, a war we have been winning. It matters more that the cause is to liberate a long-oppressed people and give them a chance to govern themselves, and to help stabilize a region of the world where far too many have suffered far too long. The soldiers I know see it that way, as do some of the rest of us.

The article does not describe the circumstances of his death. I don't know whether it was a bomb or a battle, training or traffic that claimed his life. I'm not sure it matters. Of course, now knowing his fate, we'd all prefer to hear that he was rescuing a comrade or protecting a child. Maybe he was, and I just don't know it yet.

Actually, I already know it, without further information, and so do you, I'd guess.

He was rescuing comrades, a nation full of them. A world full of them, if you think broadly enough. Is not any decent soul who yearns for freedom automatically, by right, a worthy comrade of those who already enjoy it?

He was protecting children. My child. Your child. His child. My parents' child. Your parents' child. Iraqi children.

I cannot take the measure of a mother's heart, not from the outside, which is necessarily the only perspective I have. But surely this soldier's mother would pay any price, would do any honorable thing to turn back the clock, change the course of her son's history, and bring him home alive and well.

I know something more of a father's heart. The universe generally does not award a father the opportunity to trade his life for his soldier son's. But is there a proper husband and father anywhere who would not prefer to spare his wife the news of her son's death, even at the price of his own?

If you read the paper and watch the news, you could begin to think that our new national obsession is trading our freedom and our prosperity for as much false security as slick politicians can conjure up. But I choose to believe that far more Americans than CNN realizes still know what freedom is, treasure it, and find it to be worth the awful price -- even today in American Fork, and even if to some extent, as today, that price redeems someone else's freedom, not directly our own.

I'm told that our President will speak to us tonight about the economy. I wish him well. I won't be in the audience. I'll probably read a transcript tomorrow.

Surely he will tell us, as he has already been telling us, of the need for those of us who work for a living -- and who more or less responsibly manage our own lives and resources -- to sacrifice both freedom and prosperity on the altar of this, that, and the other government program, which will care for the genuinely needy and also for the genuinely irresponsible people and corporations among us, and secure the power of the ruling party for years and elections to come.

I know, that's not exactly what he'll say, and maybe it's unfair of me to think it. But it's what I would hear tonight. I've been hearing it since before this President was President, and not just from him and his partisans. It usually sounds like mere political heresy, or, at most, political fraud that flirts with treason. Tonight, were I to listen or watch, it would sound in my ears like full-blown blasphemy, because . . .

Because real sacrifice, freely chosen, is a sacred thing, and freedom itself more sacred still.

Because it is for us to thank God and soldiers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, fathers and especially mothers for the awful sacrifices made for freedom's sake.

Because there is before us a long struggle here at home, too. It will not become a war of blood and arms, I hope, but is a contest for freedom nonetheless, our own freedom. We must fight and win for many reasons, but especially so that our honored dead have not died, and their loved ones have not wept, in vain.

And because, despite his best efforts, there is nothing that the gifted orator in the White House can say tonight about either freedom or sacrifice that deserves to be on the same page or share the same solemn Utah evening with these 34 anonymous words:

"Michael Alleman, son of Boyd and Susan Alleman of American Fork, was killed while serving in the Army in Iraq. He is survived by his wife Amy and their two sons, Kai and Kenner."

David Rodeback comments (2/25/09):

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Alleman died Monday, "apparently in an altercation with insurgents that claimed the lives of two other soldiers and their interpreter in Diyala Province."

David Rodeback comments (2/25/09):

Here's a longer, more detailed Salt Lake Tribune article. It's well worth reading; the online comments aren't. Here's a good, long Deseret News article (the link will probably be good longer than the Tribune link) -- and the comments are worth reading, at least so far.

Philip Tymon comments (4/9/09):

Had the "gifted orator in the White House" been President, or had Al Gore (who actually won) been President, there would have been no pointless war in Iraq, no 4,000 plus dead American soldiers, no one million or so dead Iraqi civilians, the war in Afghanistan may have already been won by now, Osama bin Laden captured and the world a far different and far better place.

I heard the heart-wrenching sobs on the radio the other day of a mother whose small daughter was blown up in Iraq by a bomber. Each of those deaths is on the heads of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfield and their cabal of traitors and war criminals. And those who supported them are collaborators and equally guilty, just as those who supported Hitler share in his crimes.

Self-righteousness, bluster, and chest-thumping will not bring back one of those dead soldiers or civilians. Intelligence, knowledge, humility, and common sense may prevent us from going over the cliff in the future.

David Rodeback comments (4/9/09):

Mr. Tymon, I'm delighted to learn that someone with whom I disagree so fundamentally has been reading my blog. You're always welcome.

I, too, will freely proclaim my distaste for self-righteousness, bluster, and chest-thumping, and my fervent hope for the future prevalence of intelligence, knowledge, humility, and common sense.

Also welcome here is the kind lady from American Fork, from whom I received -- this very afternoon! -- a thank-you note for this same blog post. The note was intended to be personal, so I won't quote it here. I will mention that its author does not appear to place me on the same moral plane as Adolf Hitler.

Philip Tymon comments (4/10/09):

Perhaps it would be less emotionally charged to compare you to those Athenians who were panicked into supporting the invasion of Sicily during the Peloponnesian War and who arrogantly assumed the great Athenian army and navy would quickly overcome the provincial Syracusan forces -- only to eventually have the Athenian army and navy virtually destroyed, the Athenian treasury emptied, and, as a result, to ultimately have Athens itself surrender unconditionally and be occupied by Sparta.

Similarly, Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag as an excuse to destroy civil liberties and then claimed that Poland was about to invade Germany and that his invasion of Poland was "preemptively" necessary -- and many Germans actually believed the incredibly idiotic idea that Poland was about to invade Germany, just as many Americans were led to believe the absurd idea that Iraq was a direct and imminent threat to the United States.

Sorry -- the parallels are obvious and striking. Dick Cheney himself, in an interview right after the first Gulf War, explained the reasons for not proceeding on to Baghdad, the very same reasons his opposition gave for not invading Iraq later -- and which proved to be completely accurate. Yet outrageous arrogance, ignorance, greed, and thirst for power prevailed and this amazingly stupid and criminal war was launched -- wasting American lives, treasure, credibility, and honor for absolutely no rational reason. There will always be aspiring criminal leaders -- we do not have to blindly follow them to destruction and yes, those who's mistaken view of patriotism is that we must follow criminal leaders into their maelstrom of insanity must also share the guilt for the results -- including the deaths of those two brave soldiers.

David Rodeback comments (4/10/09):

Thanks for commenting again. Your awareness of ancient history is commendable.

I wonder: Does your world view allow for the possibility that those with whom you disagree may not be -- to use your own terms -- outrageously arrogant, incredibly idiotic, amazingly stupid, greedy, power-hungry, blind, irrational, insane, criminal, or panic-driven?

I wonder a few other things as well.

How many mass graves do we have to find before deposing the butcher of Baghdad becomes a good thing on that basis alone?

How many Iraqi elections must be held with courageously large turnouts before self-proclaimed Democrats acknowledge that democracy is better than dictatorial tyranny, even if US armed forces helped establish the democracy? (Perhaps I'm looking in the wrong place there. Maybe the magic number is two -- but not two Iraqi elections. Two US presidential elections, just enough to get us a new president, who can claim credit for victory as the leader of the party which formerly proclaimed and did its best to facilitate defeat, for its own political gain.)

If the conventional wisdom is that President Bush falsely (and maliciously) claimed that Saddam's Iraq was an imminent threat in order to justify the war, how is it that I remember so clearly his and his administration's public explanations that the threat was not imminent, but future, and that it had to be dealt with before it became imminent -- because, in the world of weapons of mass destruction, by the time it's imminent, it's rather too late?

In crassly utilitarian terms, can't we at least admit that it has been helpful to have Islamofascist terrorists focused on US forces half a world away, rather than working their destruction among civilians inside the United States?

Years hence, it will be interesting to see which leader history judges to have been more like Hitler: Saddam Hussein or George W. Bush. Your own vote seems clear -- as, I suppose, does mine.

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