Did you know that Tahrir Square in Egypt is filled with protesters again? Even as Americans prepare for the Memorial Day weekend, thousands are demonstrating against the military junta that has ruled the country since the departure of Hosni Mubarak. The crowd is by no means nostalgic for the old dictator – one of their complaints is that the military government hasn’t moved fast enough to prosecute Mubarak and his henchmen. They would, however, like to know what happened to that “vibrant democracy” Western politicians have been celebrating.
I would offer those Egyptian crowds the melancholy gift of an unhappy truth:
Freedom is hard. Tyranny is easy.
That’s why the standard result of most “revolutions” is just further oppression, under new management. While Egypt’s sincere reformers wrestle with the awesome implications of liberty, and try to figure out how they can resolve their factional differences in a constructive way, the highly organized military and Muslim Brotherhood are changing the locks on the dungeons, and preparing detailed lists of heads to crack.
The average soldier of tyranny faces little challenge, through most of his grim career. Ask a member of Syria’s “security forces” how tough it is to pick off unarmed demonstrators with a sniper rifle. Ask a Libyan thug what his “rules of engagement” are.
The United States of America is one of the few nations to wholeheartedly embrace freedom and democracy in the wake of a revolution. It wasn’t easy. Every Egyptian man and women who hungers for true freedom should know he has a brother or sister in America, who is wrestling with the very same awesome implications of liberty. We are the most advanced students of liberty the world has ever seen… but we haven’t graduated yet. Not by a long shot.
Freedom, you see, cannot exist in the absence of equality. If some are not treated equally, then by definition they are less free. We will solve many of our seemingly intractable problems when we can finally look around the United States and see nothing but equally free men and women. It is very hard to see the world this way. We’re trying, and we deserve great credit for the effort.
We became advanced students of liberty so quickly because we had one great advantage, which no other nation has enjoyed to such a high degree. It wasn’t our geography, the wealth of our natural resources, or the wisdom of our philosophers. Those things were all important, and should not be sold short, but other countries have been blessed with such riches of thought and material.
Our special advantage is the American military.
Certainly other countries can be proud of their skilled and honorable fighting forces. There is something unique about ours, and there always has been. They weren’t the best soldiers in the world at first. No, that would have been the gentlemen in red coats on the other side of the battlefield. Somehow, George Washington and his rag-tag army beat them. It was a victory mixed from courage, strategic brilliance, and sheer determination… but it transcended all of those things.
After the war, the Continental army was deeply unhappy about unpaid wages and pensions. Some of the soldiers had not been paid in years. The officers held a meeting to discuss the option of overthrowing the Continental Congress. George Washington made a surprise visit, and asked if he might read them a letter from the Congress. After an uncomfortable pause, he admitted he would need his spectacles to read it. “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles,” he apologized, “for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” That was the end of the proposed insurrection.
A lot of soldiers have grown gray, and almost blind, in the service of their country since that day. Many have given life and limb. Washington did not put on a crown, and neither will any of his successors. His men did not overthrow the government, and no American soldier ever will. Even in the terrible days when America’s fighting men opened fire upon one another, they answered to civilian commanders. They are the eternal enemies of tyranny.
The most terrible weapons to fill any arsenal of Man have been placed forever in the service of justice. The deadliest fighting force the world has ever seen is sworn to answer only lawful orders. They honor freedom with such intensity that they have left their graves scattered in every corner of the world. Tyrants will never look upon the flag carried by American troops without tasting their own doom, and knowing their own “authority” is a lie.
What a blessing to our study of liberty the American solider has been! How much the captive people of the world must wish their armies would be their champions.
This Memorial Day, take a moment to imagine you’re a Minuteman, with the hot scream of musket balls from the world’s most powerful army filling your ears… or a pilot roaring into the sky over Midway, to fight a desperate battle America cannot afford to lose… or a solider crouched in the steaming jungle of Vietnam, fighting a war all the “smart people” say you cannot win. Those hellish positions were not held as way stations in a quest for dominion or plunder.
When the men and women of the United States military arrive at their positions, well… all of a sudden, tyranny doesn’t look so damned easy any more.