In order to end war and regain America’s freedoms, people must do it themselves

Mikethurau and Mikethurau

I’m going to guess you’re somewhere between the ages of 18 and 23. How much of your life has America spent at war? Are your memories of America at war different from your childhood memories of America at peace? I’m going to go out on a limb and say for most of us, the answer is “not really.”

For the majority of the American population, our wars are distant and irrelevant. The families of soldiers and the soldiers themselves seem to be the only ones involved with our wars, but nothing could be further from the truth.

If you pay federal taxes, you are involved. If part of you or your parents’ retirement plans includes stock in a company like Boeing, Lockheed Martin or Haliburton, you are involved. If you voted for a pro-war candidate as the lesser of two evils, you are involved. By abdicating your democratic responsibilities to vote, self-educate and serve your community, you are involved.

You won’t hear about it on the news, but there is still an anti-war movement going on in this country. Last weekend, I and thousands upon thousands of libertarians, socialists, anarchists, Democrats, Republicans and first-time demonstrators marched on the White House. Despite virtually no reports of violence, eight of us were arrested. Veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom burned the American flag and the only publication to cover the story was the Washington Post — one of the primary destinations of the march. I am opposed to America’s wars around the world, and the police state it creates.

The freedoms we lost during the Bush years have not been regained. These lost freedoms include elements of our right to privacy, our right to a fair trial and our right to know what our elected officials are doing with our money and our trust.

I am 22 years old and nearly half my life has been spent in a nation at war. I do not expect Social Security to survive until my 65th birthday and I am statistically unlikely to achieve a better standard of living than my parents, simply because I was born into the wrong generation. The America of 2010 is in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s and its wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of far fewer individuals since the age of the robber barons.

Of greater importance are the people who are even less free than I am. These people include the one percent of Americans who are in prison and the millions of others in Iraq and Afghanistan whose lives are materially worse than they were under the Saddam Hussein regime and only marginally more free. The Iraqi people have been granted “elections,” but at tremendous cost. The war in Iraq alone has cost perhaps over a million Iraqi lives according to some studies — one sixth of the lives lost in the Holocaust. All of this takes place in our name.

War should not be included in our definition of normal. However, for many of us (young people especially), being at war is just part of being an American. A free people do not grow accustomed to war. War is the health of state power, and if you study history, nothing else destroys the freedom of the individual to speak, think and act freely like war does. The decline in American democracy, government responsiveness and financial stability can all be traced back to the fact that our country has been at war for nine years.

At the risk of sounding like a soothsayer, American freedom and democracy has been in steady decline for decades, and we are getting far too accustomed to being something other than free. The government can be a useful tool, but if we rely on it to act on our behalf without sufficient popular pressure, then we are abdicating our responsibilities and agency.

When Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” I interpret that as, “You can’t count on me to end the war and fix America’s problems — that’s your job.”

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