For some Americans, “Freedom” isn’t so much a concept as a logo. Its main purpose is not to promote a glorious idea but to simply stand for America in the same way that the Golden Arches stand for McDonald’s. This kind of “Freedom” is all about self-promotion and not in the least about souls unfettered.
As a vacuous tribal emblem, “freedom” was particularly on display during the Iraq War when a couple of Representatives named Ney and Jones demanded that Congressional cafeterias change the name French fries to “freedom fries.” These patriotic gentlemen were angry at France for daring to suggest that President Bush’s invasion of Iraq was not a cool idea. Before discussing further the stupidity of renaming Congressional foods, I think it’s worthwhile here to point out that France has been downright helpful at key points in America's history. Actually, without the help of France, the United States would probably not even exist as an independent (i.e., free) nation.
If we wander back into history to the Battle of Yorktown, my meaning can be made utterly clear. Yorktown led to the surrender of British General Cornwallis’s forces and is considered the decisive showdown of the American Revolution, the victory that secured our freedom. But it is worth remembering that General Washington led a combined American and French army at Yorktown and that the French fleet, which stood offshore and prevented Cornwallis from escaping or being reinforced, played a particularly vital part in Washington’s victory. In fact, when Cornwallis saw that his situation was hopeless, he insisted that he should surrender his army to the French. The French, however, graciously refused, saying it was the Americans to whom Cornwallis must surrender.
Let’s face it, without French help, our ancestors would probably have been defeated by the British and then have muddled along as colonies number 2 through 14, with mighty Canada being number one. No doubt the British Parliament would have given the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Valley to their well-behaved Canadian subjects and restricted the thirteen American colonies to a thin strip along the Atlantic seaboard.
Yes, insulting France just because the French thought invading Iraq was a bad idea was idiotic. But equally idiotic was the choice of the name “freedom fries.” These deep-fried little artery cloggers are yummy, but they have nothing to do with freedom. It’s also quite possible that they have nothing to do with France, but never mind.
What troubles me is the way the word freedom is tossed around to justify any sort of policy, foreign or domestic, that suits one sleazy politician or another. Every White House ignoramus who has needlessly sent our troops into harm’s way in some foreign land has claimed that he was acting in the name of “freedom.” But, more often than not, these hare-brained military interventions have had little to do with freedom -- ours or anyone else’s. President Bush’s invasion of Iraq, for example, was mainly a reflection of his interest in controlling Middle Eastern oil (and had the added advantage of supporting his profit-seeking buddies at Halliburton and Blackwater). Invading Iraq had nothing to do with our freedom, and rather little to do with Iraq's.
Domestically, the word “freedom” is tossed around just as shamelessly as it is in foreign policy. We are often told, for example, that owning household firearms is essential to our freedom. It is not, as any number of perfectly free and democratic countries whose citizens are not armed to the teeth can attest. Of course the NRA has promoted this bizarre mentality for so long that many Americans have forgotten that the capacity of Mom, Dad and the kids to mow people down with lethal firepower is not directly related to freedom. In fact, I think it’s time for the psychiatric establishment to give us a formal word describing that malady according to which the possession of murderous implements is thought to be the key to freedom.
Where real freedom is concerned, politicians like Ney and Jones of the infamous “freedom fries,” seem strangely uninterested. There was an opportunity just a couple years ago to offer every family in America the freedom to choose publicly funded health insurance, but Representative Jones opposed it. I feel it’s safe to say that Representative Ney would also have opposed it, had he not been forced out of office and into jail before the issue came before Congress.
I don't think I'm asking for too much here. I would simply like people to stop using the word “freedom” as though it were a self-serving logo or a handy device for promoting aggressive wars. I say, let's not use it at all except when we are really enhancing freedom. And, by the way, contrary to what all of the Republican presidential candidates have been saying, dismantling the government whose democratic institutions are the very embodiment of our freedom, does not count as enhancing freedom.
So maply yet so gunless;
Ripe for Invasion
(Winking emoticon here)
The Wallace Collection
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