You know what? I'm not going to go up to a veteran and thank him for protecting my freedom.
You know why? Because unless he is a hundred years old, chances are that that ex-soldier didn't do a damn thing to preserve and protect my freedom.
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who choose to enter the service. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who put their life on the line in service to their country (even when their service takes place in wars and conflicts with which I strongly disagree).
In fact, I respect and admire so much what our armed forces do, that I get a sense of outrage or… or… something… when they get patronized from the mouths of people who apparently overstate what soldiers do.
Because, in point of fact, soldiers do not preserve our freedoms. To do so, our freedoms have to be under attack. And I am hard-pressed to think of a war since the Civil War when this was an issue. You know who preserves our freedom? The same people who enshrined our freedoms in the Constitution — lawyers, activists, politicians. Civil rights workers, the ACLU, etc. Not the 82nd Armored Division.
It's true! Take one freedom — say, free speech, embodied in the First Amendment. Now tell me the soldier, the unit, the branch of the military in which that freedom was "preserved". Tell me the war, and identify the enemy who was attacking free speech in the first place. You see what I mean?
"Ah," you say. "But what about national defense? Certainly, soldiers provide for our national defense."
No argument there, but when was our national defense breached to such an extent that our freedoms were threatened? Not 9/11. Yeah, 3,000 people were killed by al Qaeda, but did al Qaeda even target, much less threaten, freedom of speech? Of course not. The terrorists took lives, not freedoms. And but for the Bush administration circumventing the Constitution here and there, our First Amendment freedoms are as they were on September 10, 2001.
Even with WWII, could Hitler and Japan have actually conquered the United States and maintained control over it, such that we would lose our freedoms? Personally, I don't think it was possible, and not because of our WWII soldiers at the time, but because the world is too big and the German army was too small. We would have, at worst, lost our sovereignty, which is not the same thing as losing our freedoms.
All I am saying here folks is, let's get real. Most of the wars and conflicts in the last century and this one were wars to protect American geopolitical interests — those interests of the country as determined by its Commander in Chief — and were not wars to protect the freedoms of American's citizenry. Korea? Vietnam? The Gulf War? Iraq? Afghanistan? Panama? They were wars for land, to prevent aggression, to combat ideologies, and lots of other things, but NOT to "preserve our freedom" What freedom would you have lost had those wars been losses?
So thank a soldier for his sacrifices. Her valor. His dedication. Her willingness to risk her life. But don't patronize what they do by saying they "protect our freedoms", because — unless you happen to be saying that with respect to George Washington or General Grant — that kind of praise is nothing more than mindless Sarah Palinesque "look-how-great-I-am-because-I-am-pro-military" pablum. Frankly, our soldiers deserve better — meaning, more thoughtful – commendation than that.