This I Believe

Paul - Reidville, South Carolina
Entered on May 17, 2006

Freedom is the essential human trait

This I believe: that freedom is the essential human trait. It not only segregates us as a special species of animal but also is designed to help us overcome our fallen natures and direct us to goodness. But freedom is both gift and affliction.

It can be constrained by circumstances, even circumstances we can avoid. That’s why many young people today avoid military service. They don’t want their freedom re-stricted by regulations and uniforms and orders from some guy with bars or stars on his collar. So they opt out of what used to be part of the maturation process for young men. They decide not to join up, and they leave the defense of our nation’s freedom to others. They are, of course, free to do just that. That’s the gift of freedom.

The affliction of it comes when that exercise of freedom limits our personal and communal freedom. If we elect not to serve in the military, we depend on others not only to fight our wars but also to represent us in the rest of the world. We are no longer free to tell our own story, to act out our own conscience. When someone else in an American uniform abuses a prisoner or burns a village, we suffer some of the consequences because we chose not to serve. Instead, we let him or her stand in for us.

That’s one reason I joined up. I didn’t want Lieutenant Calley to represent me in Vietnam. I didn’t want the Vietnamese people to think that American people were like that. I wanted to be free to express my basic goodness, America’s basic goodness, hu-manity’s basic goodness.

I wanted also to use some of the strength of this free nation to help free other peo-ples. We may have done a poor job helping the South Vietnamese, but at least we tried. We failed to try in Rwanda and I feel remorse for that failure even today. We exercised our freedom to do nothing; as a consequence of that choice, nearly a million innocents died.

I believe that God gave us freedom so that we can choose excellence. Whether we do or not is one of the burdens of being special creatures.