War not a prerequisite for freedom

The first American war seems to have set the stage for the rest of them. I speak of the American Revolution. In this war, so the narrative goes, rebellious British citizens rose up in violence to protest the distant and oppressive governance of the motherland. And thus they created the United States of America.

A little later, the Constitution was written and ratified. And a little later still, the Bill of Rights was ratified. Therefore, without the war for independence there could be no Constitution. And without the Constitution, there could be no Bill of Rights. Thus it is said: no war, no freedom.

Somewhere in the popular narrative of American history it has been largely forgotten that those who established the American nation were, by and large, British citizens. They declared themselves independent. Their government refused to recognize their claim. And so they fought about it. They were not fighting a foreign nation, and this is a very important fact.
I suppose people still have the story of the Revolution in mind when they speak of today’s military endeavors. “Freedom is fighting,” so it goes today. There are many who blindly apply the narrative of the Revolution to each and every war the American government wages. “They” it’s almost always ‘they,’ “are fighting for our freedom!” More clearly stated: “The soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Germany, Japan, Korea, Iran(oops, did I write that?), Colombia, Yemen(oops again) and the other 120-plus nations occupied by American troops are fighting for our freedom!”

And so it is repeated ad nauseum that without a standing and fighting army, there is no freedom for Americans.

Here is the text of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” These freedoms, so the text says, are enabled by restricting the power of one’s own government to control its people. “Congress shall not,” says the law, not, “The military shall.”

Freedoms exist in the absence of government. “Congress shall make no law.” That is the essence of freedom, and that is what the Constitution says. A military fighting overseas does nothing to restrict the encroachments of government, and it does wonders to enable it. The thought that foreign wars make Americans free is worse than foolish. It is a pernicious lie.

Militarism has long been the sacred cow of conservatives (better yet, the golden calf) and the hope of liberals who call militarism by the friendly name of humanitarian intervention (empire with a smile). Lost within all of the hysteria over the white man’s new burden of policing the world is the simple fact that war is much more likely to destroy freedom than save it.

To all those who would say that my freedom to write this column comes from our standing army, I’ll make you a deal. Bring all of the troops home. And if my freedom of speech somehow disappears, I’ll apologize in violation of our new laws.

Matt Palmer is a rhetoric and composition graduate student from Phoenix