Recognize the cost of freedom |

Recognize the cost of freedom

Tiffany Miller

Without America’s soldiers, past and present, we would be a country divided by the Mason-Dixon line and there would be a Confederate States of America with millions of slaves paying the price. The world would have paid an even higher price with a Nazi-driven racial purging that would have carried Hitler’s message of hate and brutality to every corner of the globe with nothing to stop its flood except for a destroyed Europe in its wake.

In just the past two decades, there would probably be hundreds more terrorist attacks against America and her allies. Osama Bin Laden would be hulled up in a cave somewhere, gleefully plotting the death of innocent people without a worry in his perverted head. And in spite of continuing challenges, Afghanistan and Iraq wouldn’t stand a chance of having free elections or of the women of those countries being treated as anything more than possessions.

Above all, without American veterans, this United States of America would exist only in the dreams of our Forefathers. We would be a fractured part of a British Empire that never fully passed into democracy and away from a monarchy itself. The sparks of liberty that exploded from the American Revolution would have died away with the simple farmers who stood with pitchforks at Concord and Lexington, facing a massive red-coated army with more courage than weaponry. And with those dwindling sparks, hundreds of democracies that America’s fight for freedom set ablaze in other countries would have become just another monarchy or dictatorship for the history books.

Yet we haven’t always treated our returning soldiers with the respect and compassion they deserve. In our experimentations with the boundaries of freedom in the 1960s and 1970s, many already traumatized draftees became targets for the anger our citizens felt about the Vietnam war itself. We forgot that our government had sent them to fight in an unpopular war and they were only doing their sworn duty at the time. We forgot that until Pearl Harbor was bombed, World War II wasn’t a popular war either, but that didn’t mean the fight itself wasn’t a worthy one. We forgot that these scared, barely-adult young men needed to come home to an America that soothed their wounds rather than poured salt in them. Line upon line, however, we are learning from the mistakes of the past and beginning to fight for our veterans just as they have fought for us.

A few years ago, I witnessed America’s collective repentance when several recently returning Afghanistan war veterans stepped off the airplane and made their way through the Salt Lake City airport. The moment they stepped off the plane they were greeted by signs and loved ones warmly welcoming them home, but it was the actions of perfect strangers that truly touched me. Hundreds of people, travelers simply walking from one terminal to another, stopped to shake their hands or shouted out thank-you messages as they passed by. The soldiers responded with confusion as if they were only doing their ordinary jobs rather than risking their lives for the extraordinary work of freedom.

However, I can’t help witnessing the ongoing catastrophe that is Veteran Affairs without recognizing that the American people have the responsibility to do more. With whatever pressure we can apply, we must remind our government and our politicians that our first obligation is to our soldiers. We are in a modern age that seems to be a marathon of never-ending wars rather than the comparatively sprint-like wars of the past. Because of this, more is required of our service men and women than ever before. Multiple tours of duty have created multiple challenges, both mentally and physically, for the wounded and their families. In other words, as long as the world’s wars are never ending, our support for our veterans must be the same. We cannot literally heal their wounds, but we can help to provide jobs, donations to reputable veteran organizations, and the political pressure on our politicians to help rebuild their lives. We can make sure that our fighting men and women receive the best medical care, best military equipment, and best America to come home to. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” If our soldiers, veterans, and their families must pay that price, shouldn’t we at least be willing to recognize the cost?

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