Home » Books » Currently Reading:

Freedom isn’t Free

July 4, 2006 Books 6 Comments

On this Independence Day I’m turning over this space to my oldest brother, Rick Patterson, to share his thoughts on freedom:

Freedom isn’t Free

It seems to me that even though the world has changed dramatically since my youth, it still remains much the same. I was born into a world that professed to be demanding peace after the end of World War II, the second such war to end all wars. This quest for peace was lost as the Cold War began. The Cold War dictated policy throughout the world until it was declared over in December 1991. I was only 15 days old when the Chinese overran South Korea and the Korean Conflict pushed the United States into an overseas war once again. Many World War II veterans, desperately trying to put their lives back together, were once again called to action. The Korean War extracted a heavy toll until a cease fire was finally declared in 1953, although there is still an uneasy peace to this day. Just as this cease fire went into effect, our involvement in Vietnam escalated.

It seems that Americans have generally accepted the sacrifices required with both World Wars and to a lesser degree with the Korean War. I find it interesting to speculate how previous wars would have played out in America, if the media of today had been present. I contend that the Korean War has never viewed in a particularly positive light, even with limited media coverage. My family did not even have a television until the Korean War was over in 1953. Even when TVs became more popular in the 1950s, there were only three major networks in most areas and the evening news was normally a half hour program. The media, like the country, in the 1950s was far more conservative than in later years. Not only were Republicans Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon in the White House in 1953, but the threat of Communism was further fueled by the McCarthy Hearings. It appears to me that the threat of terrorism since September 11th, 2001 is akin to the fear of Communism during the Cold War and the actions taken by our politicians with the support of their constituents.

As a child of the 1950s, I grew up with a sense of patriotism and the belief that wars, although tragic, were a necessary fact of life. I looked to the sky as monstrous B-36 Peacekeeper bombers flew over our home and oddly felt safe and secure. I grew up in awe of bombers and fighter aircraft, watched all of the war movies and TV shows, and played soldier with my young friends. The early 1960s brought sweeping changes as we progressed into the space age and John F. Kennedy was elected as our president. Our country’s fear of Communist domination was fueled by events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and may have escalated our involvement in Vietnam.

The events that began to unfold in the early 1960s were not as readily accepted by the younger generation as things were in the 1940s and 1950s. As I became a teenager in 1963, I seriously questioned most of my father’s political views, but I still didn’t fully understand all of the increased media attention devoted to the war protests and racial tensions. I was too young to fully appreciate some of the implications and with my limited experience; events on both coasts were not as relevant in the middle of Oklahoma. The rest of the world did not really seem real to me until I actually left Oklahoma and experienced things instead of just reading about them or viewing them in the media. I assume that Oklahoma was just as conservative in the 1960s as it is over forty years later, but I had nothing to compare it to until I left the area.

The Selective Service System, while not without problems, was the vehicle chosen to ensure that our military services had adequate staff levels of able bodied young males to serve their country. Since its inception in the 1940s, those with wealth and influence have been able to avoid being drafted; however for the most part the system generally treated everyone else fairly. The draft came under its most severe attacks during the Vietnam War, primarily due to the unpopularity of the war, the ability of the privileged class to avoid service, and the general distrust of the government by a younger generation. The events of the 1960s have influenced politics forty years later, as yesterday’s youth become leaders of today.

When I was young, it was common for virtually all members of Congress, as well as the President, to have served in the military. That appears to be a tradition of the past. While it should be noted that Bill Clinton was the first President, since FDR to have no military service, it is likely to be the trend of the future. George W. Bush has tried to pass himself off as an “Old Fighter Pilot”; however, that is a partial truth. Being privileged enough to get into the National Guard and having a questionable drill record thereafter does not really count as military service, in my view. Delaying affiliation with a Reserve or National Guard unit after college graduation was extremely difficult if not impossible after receiving years of college deferments. Had it not been for an influential father, George W. Bush might have been required to actually serve in the military. Dick Cheney has served as Secretary of Defense and Vice President for two terms and yet managed to use all possible college, marriage, and parent draft deferments to completely avoid military service. History will almost certainly be unkind to Bill Clinton because of his extramarital activities; however, he became a Rhodes Scholar and received a law degree while utilizing a draft deferment, as Dick Cheney and others had done. George W. Bush on the other hand, achieved barely passing grades and was able to affiliate with the Texas Air National Guard in 1968.

Politicians, as a rule, seem anxious to send the military to hot spots around the world in the interest of “our freedom”, without regard for the consequences. Even though our elected officials involved us in Vietnam and continued the war long after the public demanded that it end, the military took the brunt of the backlash and got the black eye of public opinion. Members of the military were spit on, called names, and received no “welcome home” as they returned to civilian life. The military draft ended in 1973, mainly as a result of negative public opinion of the Vietnam War and involuntary military service to support such wars. Registration for the selective service was suspended in 1975. Although Navy veteran Jimmy Carter was President for only one term and was not viewed as a strong military leader, he managed to get a controversial, yet potentially significant, piece of legislation passed concerning military service. Beginning in 1980, males between the age of 18 and 25 were required to register for military service. The ill-fated Iranian Hostage rescue attempt in 1980 dramatically pointed out a weakness in our All Volunteer Force and ensured passage of this registration legislation. History will likely be kind to Ronald Reagan, especially for his efforts between 1981 and 1989 to bring the country together after Vietnam. Some of the scars and negative opinions of the military had actually faded by 1981 when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President for his first term. Even though President Reagan only served briefly in a limited role, he held the military in very high regard and projected his positive view on the American public. There has not been anyone actually inducted into military service since June 1973, a year in which only 646 young men were drafted, in contrast to 296,406 in 1968 and 283,586 in 1969. While I hold President Carter in very high regard as a humanitarian, I have been unable to condone his decision to forgive the “draft dodgers” who fled to Canada to avoid military service. He believed that it was the right thing to do and many agreed with him on the issue. While I consider myself to be a liberal, I am of the belief that those who chose to flee to Canada to avoid serving in the U.S. military made a choice that they should be able to live with, in Canada, not the United States. I have much higher respect for those who chose to go to jail, such as Mohammad Ali, rather than serve. Even though I did not agree with their choice, I respect them for having the courage of their convictions. They chose to stand up and be counted for what they believed and were willing to pay the price for it. The only price ever paid by those who went to Canada and then were allowed to return when the heat was over, was the possible loss of their self respect.

As a young man, I thought the military draft was totally unfair and I was totally opposed to it. I can’t say that the past forty years have necessarily changed my mind about the draft, but I am not nearly as opposed to the idea as I was in the past. Like many others, I am opposed to war, unless it is an absolute last resort. I think that the Iraq war, which began in 2003, is an even more unjust war than our involvement in Vietnam. It appears to me that the spin doctors have presented this war to be about fighting terrorism and a majority of Americans seem to believe it. Vietnam was allegedly about preventing the spread of communism throughout Asia. The theory was that if Vietnam was taken over by communism, so would the rest of Asia. While I do not really agree with this “Domino” theory, it seemed believable to our leaders at the time we became involved in Vietnam.

Students on college campuses throughout the country were mired by protests for years to end the war in Vietnam. College protests to end this war are essentially absent today. Either the spin doctors are far more effective today than they were in the 1960s, the public is just more dispassionate now, or the fact that the wars have been fought by volunteers since the draft ended. The Bush administration and Congress, for that matter, would lead us to believe that there are not widespread protests today because the public believes that the mounting losses in Iraq have been justified and that the public is steadfastly behind the President on his war on Iraq. After three years of war, the President and Congress have seen their approval ratings have finally declined to a point where many are concerned about reelection. It appears to me that even though many people may not believe in the Iraq War, they have no real vested interest in it.

George W. Bush pulled a grandstand stunt by riding in the copilot seat of a Navy S-3 aircraft as it landed aboard a carrier to symbolically mark “the end of the war” in May 2003. It sickens me that the administration’s trumped up war against Iraq, begun in March 2003, has dragged on for years at a horrendous expense in lives and dollars. Even though I believe that the American public must be smart enough to know that there were no “Weapons of Mass Destruction” as the Bush administration sold to the public, there does not seem to be any broad outcry to have the war stopped. Our foreign policy has flipped flopped on what countries are friends and what countries are enemies in the Middle East many times over the past fifty years. Iran and Iraq have been friends then foes many times and it appears that today they are both our enemies. When we went to war with Iraq in 1991, there was almost worldwide support for the victors to remove Saddam Hussein and end his reign of terror against the Iraq people and neighboring countries. Iraq invaded Kuwait and it was alleged that Saddam had or was developing weapons of mass destruction, including nerve gas. The administration, however, decided against going after the Iraq leaders and settled on trade sanctions that ultimately caused the Iraq population suffer and did nothing to affect the government leaders.

College students today do not seem to have any real fear of ever having to serve in the military. Most parents only become concerned about wars if their children have volunteered to serve in the military. I recently heard a young man on TV asserting that while he thought that the losses in Iraq are tragic, those people who volunteered knew what they were getting into when they signed up. I tend to think that many young people volunteer for active duty and reserve components to become employed, which includes benefits and educational opportunities to secure a future, in place of hopelessness. On the other side of the coin, I believe that if the vast majority of voters, politicians, and their families do not have any military experience or concern about anyone close to them serving, they tend to be apathetic about military service and our foreign policy.

I am the first to admit that when I joined the Navy in 1969, most of my motivation was to avoid serving in the Army Infantry in Vietnam. I believe that even the most patriotic among us generally prefer to avoid the role of a soldier in a ground war situation. The existence of the military draft forced me into joining the Navy to avoid the Army. All of my family and friends tried to discourage me from joining the Navy, but without a college deferment, being drafted was a virtual certainty. As I look back on the decision to join the Navy, it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. I cannot imagine how my life would have turned out otherwise. Even if I had only spent four years in the Navy, I still would have experienced enough of military life to make it a very rewarding experience.

Like most everyone else, I found that adapting to military life was initially very difficult. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to survive two months in Boot Camp, much less the four years of active duty that I was obligated to serve. Without realizing it, I think that I learned as much about self-discipline as I did about adapting to military life and military discipline. A career in the military is certainly not for everyone and while I believe that it is our duty to serve our country, I firmly believe that most people gain more by serving than they could ever imagine. The travel, adventure, experience, and benefits aside, virtually everyone could become a little wiser in the ways of the world by serving in the military.

When I served as a Navy recruiter, I encountered numerous high school principals that would not allow recruiters on campus and would not furnish student lists based on their opinion of the military. Virtually all of those principals and often their superintendents had never served in the military. My recruiting tour was from 1978 to 1981 and while much of the resistance to recruiters was based on Vietnam, the general sentiment seems to be that military service is only for kids who cannot get into college or have constantly been in trouble with the law. I see flags flying everywhere, “support our troops” banners on cars, and signs of patriotism everywhere, but the majority of Americans, including our leaders, do not want their children to serve in the military. I have read many articles and editorials about Reservists being activated and how the public feels sorry for them because of poor military pay. These same people do not seem to have even the slightest concern over the active duty military that must always make do on only military pay.

It has been my experience after visiting more than twenty countries around the world that the United States is by far the best place in the world to live and we are so very lucky to have been born here. It seems to me that we would all be served better if there were some type of mandatory military or public service required of all Americans. As drastic as it sounds, I believe that all government entitlements, such as school loans and grants, could be tied completion of mandatory service.

We often take our freedoms for granted. The overused expression “Freedom is not free,” is certainly applicable today. Neither of my daughters, neither of my brothers and only one of my sons-in-law ever served in the military and I believe that they missed out on some priceless life lessons. While it is held that people who do not vote do not have credibility to criticize our politicians, I believe that serving in the military or some type of public service is another fundamental role of being an American. We all seem to enjoy our freedoms and demand that our worldwide interests be protected. The difficulty arises when we relegate these tasks to those who most Americans, especially the privileged, view as incapable of doing anything else with their lives.

– Rick Patterson

As Rick and I were discussing these issues over the weekend I shared how I thought a loss of close-knit neighborhoods due to suburbanization has played a role in society being removed from so many issues. We are physically detached from issues and each other.

Please share your thoughts below.

– Steve


Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. maurice says:

    A most thought provoking posting for sure. Yes I agree that Freedom is not Free. It comes at a cost many of us are not willing to pay. That has always been the way with war. History is repleat with examples of armies for hire and the poor and misaligned of society taking on an unfair burden of the seriousness of military action.

    I have had the honor to get to know many veterans of WWII and they are a different lot than most of those today.

    But like it or not America is the leader of the world. We do not have the option to sit on the sidelines while countries tear themselves apart or invade their neighbors. Unfortunately I believe that due to our politicians, we wait too long to act. Bush Sr. should have gone all the way and we wouldn’t be where we are now. We should assist those in the many places of Africa instead of relying on the UN. And on and on and on.

    I do feel that many of the military reservist are where they are now because of the benefits they wanted. But no one ever envisioned being mired in the M. E. like we are now. On one hand it goes with the job, but on the other hand, that job has gotten out of hand.

    But I don’t believe we can cut and run. To do so will create a war in the M. E. unlike any seen before. Terror groups will spring like weeds. Our ability to leverage our economic, military, and moral power will severly be impaired. With super power comes super responsibility.

  2. I agree that public service should be recommended for the youth of today, however, I would not make this a requirement unless the eldest of the political leaders are also required for such service.

    I would be hesitant sending people of my age to foreign countries at the whim of a fat rich white man, unless said fat rich white man was sending his own children. Perhaps with their own children on the front lines, they would think twice before starting conflicts, which have no direct benefit for United States National Security or Foreign Policy.

    Furthermore, I do not believe the youth of today should be forced to serve the United States, when the domestic policies are simply contradictory to the United States Bill of Rights and Constutition. How can we instill democracy and unity when many of the recent National Security policies are inherently anti-privacy, and anti-democratic?

    That made clear, the United States’ suburbanization has removed much of the community anchors, and symbols, which unified the younger generations of the past. This disconnect only divides, and once mass media enters the picture, who or what do kids look to for advice?

  3. travis reems says:

    We are cretainly in a new era. The concepts of duty and patriotism are honored less today than when President Kennedy called for all Americans to “…ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” So, we should accept the following facts, and embrace the opportunities that they present us:

    No longer will our national leaders necessarily have military service. Perhaps now we can break the ties with the military industrial complex, and can refocus our foreign policy on dimplomacy and, when that fails, covert operations as opposed to the failed paradigm of occupy and hold.

    The United States no longer has a single opposing force, but rather has many well armed foes that are no longer defined by geographical boundaries. Maybe now we can stop playing the world’s policeman and paternal figure, and can instead play a dutiful and faithful partner. Certainly we need to protect our self-interests, but we can no longer achieve this alone.

    The next century will belong to the Chinese, unless we can quickly address issues of education, production, investment, and foreign policy. The new “evil empire” is hated by fewer international states than we are. What does that say? Further, China can out produce us day and night. While our urban centers, such as St. Louis, need to retool for a smarter workforce in service and technology based industries, we do need to address our inability to produce the goods and raw materials we consume. Our saving grace would be if China were to stumble over social issues, but even then the runner-up in the next century will be India (the EU will take awhile to get their act together). Maybe we shouldn’t take too literally the phrase “when in Rome.” History didn’t turn out so well for the Romans.

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Since I’m your brother’s age, I share many of his sentiments, including a huge distaste for a draft. And like him, I knew many of the WW II generation, and yes, their perspectives are/were different.

    The world IS a different place today. After WW II, the USA had both the luxury and the advantage of a robust industrial infrastructure and minimal “collateral damage”, unlike Europe or Asia. Today, Ameica has grown “fat and lazy” from this economic success, with many people of “draft age” expecting a new car and a computer job for graduation, not an “invitation to serve” from our government. Concurrently, the global economy has gone global, empowering people around the world – we’re no longer the only economic powerhouse out there.

    I disagree that as the largest power we have a responsibility to “solve” every other country’s political “problems”. People are more willing to serve in the military when their nation’s interests are truly at stake. We were attacked in WW II. We weren’t in Vietnam, nor were we in Iraq or Iran. Should Al Queda and Osama be “taken out”? Absolutely! But Saddam was a dictator running a “country” made up of three warring tribes/factions. Totalitarianism is one way of doing it; the current anarchy is another. We can’t change centuries of tribal hatred and retribution, whether it’s in Iraq, Israel or Africa. We do need to defend our borders, but we need to get past the concept that we’re either the world’s policeman or that democracy is the best and only answer to government. We may not like how some countries are being run, be we sure as hell wouldn’t want any furriners telling us how to run ours!

  5. Interesting reflections. Often I wonder how I might have made out in the military. I think it might’ve given me a more productive way to get my head together after high school and before college.

    I dunno if I’d blame suburbanization directly for the loss of localized community; I’d put the blame more on the nationalized and globalized economy that constantly shifts people all over the country. Generic suburban development is just one facet of that, allowing someone to buy a home in Wisconsin that’s identical to the one they just left in North Carolina or whatever.

    The form of those suburbs *does* make it harder to establish the kind of community you’re talking about, though, regardless of the economic context.

  6. In the July 3 issue of Time Magazine, they featured Teddy Roosevelt who forced the US to become a world superpower through increased Naval prominence. He was raised in a world of wealth and went to Harvard but called it every man’s duty to be willing to fight for freedom and he volunteered for the “Rough Riders” putting his money where his mouth is.

    Interestingly, there was also an unrelated article by Robert Putnam, Harvard author of “Bowling Alone” in which he tried to prove that Americans were getting less social and that the decrease in “social capital” led to a number of ill factors (increased crime, political polarism or apathy, etc.) His story was about recent research that set out to debunk his theory but ironically it helped prove the fact that Americans are getting lonlier.



Comment on this Article: