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The Cost of Freedom

Before I get into my first essay, I want to take a moment to thank Rachel Lucas for her work in reading the rough draft and making some suggestions that made this whole thing work. Her help has been invaluable!

Another cold, dark morning begins. The soldier has no shoes but he has wrapped some torn clothing around his feet for at least some protection as he stands in a pool of slush at his post in the frigid wind. He constantly moves his hands so that his skin does not freeze to the mental bands that warp around his smoothbore Kentucky musket. He is hungry, tired, sick, and terribly cold. But he is an American and he will not desert his post, no matter how dire the straits may seem, for he believes the cause is worth more than his own life.

American Revolution (1775-1783) 4,435 deaths

It is a warm August afternoon on the Atlantic Ocean. The crew of the USS Constitution work frantically to reload the ships artillery after each thunderous punch toward the HMS Guerriere. The compartments are so full of smoke the men can hardly see. And yet their bodies are thrown into the task at hand. As their cannons fire in rapid outbreaks, so do that of the British warship. As one crew fires their cannon a blast may come back directly at them from the enemy vessel that maneuvers in sync with little water separating the two. As the hours wage on the masts of the Guerriere fall overboard, splintered with cannon shot. The British crew must board the Constitution before their own ship sinks. The dents in the side of the American vessel give it a new name, “Old Ironsides.”

War of 1812 (1812-1815)2,260 deaths

The block of men advance quickly, trying to keep together as they move through the cypress swamp under constant artillery fire. Ahead of them stands the dominating Mexican fortress, Chapultepec. They reach the fortress walls and hoist ladders. Soldiers begin to climb into a deafening barrage of musket fire. Losses are taken. But today’s the day that the Mexican capitol, where the Mexican assembly declared war on the United States and the inhabitants of the Republic of Texas just two years ago, will fall.

Mexican War (1846-1848) 13,283 deaths

The July sun of Southern Pennsylvania beats down upon the men as the humidity hangs in the air like a hot, wet blanket. Americans wearing blue and gray hammer at each other over a small expanse of land that will forever be known as The Wheatfield. Pools of blood lay between the rows of wheat as the men constantly fire, reload, and fire again and again, leaving a black trail of gunpowder on their chins and a harsh acidic taste in their mouths from biting off the ends of the paper cartridges. They are both fighting for an ideal, and both are willing to die for what they believe in because they are all Americans.

The Civil War (1861-1865) 624, 511 deaths

The tropics vented a weather most Americans could not handle, and as a result many a soldier were dying of disease in Cuba. The horses died as well, forcing the cavalry regiments to charge up hills in the jungle without the extra help. Most of the men knew not why the United States was at war with the monarchy of Spain and were thus fighting on an island in the Caribbean. But they did know that it involved the country that they loved, and for that alone they were willing to brave the foreign jungles and beaches to defend Mother Liberty.

Spanish American War (1898) 5,379 deaths

The rain didn’t let up and the men sat in muddy pools deep within the trenches. The artillery fire from the German lines came just as regularly as the rain, but with a more demoralizing effect. For months at a time the Americans lived in the mud, hoping each day would bring something to change the monotony. They were very far away from home; gone for soldiers. This time they were not fighting for the direct safety of their homeland, but for the liberation of others. The rise in artillery technology and small arms fire had reduced warfare from infantry charges to artillery duels, trenches, and long stalemates. The main hope of the Americans was that mustard gas would not be used on his front for they had seen the men who had not survived it. But, they were Americans, and this was their lot.

World War I (1917-1918) 116, 516 deaths

The B-24 cut through the clouds like a huge eagle headed out with a purpose. The large engines roared as the plane veered into formation with the other bombers. Inside it was cold as the plane had no heaters. The crew kept bundled up and waited out the hours until they would reach their target. The thin metal siding encased a payload that would unleash utter hell on the recipient, hopefully hastening the end of the war and the treachery known as Nazism. The soldiers, hailing from places like Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Vermont, and Alabama were the original Fly Boys. They had spent hours training and running such missions. Every time the squadron went out, some never made it back as either anti-aircraft fire or enemy fighters had brought them down. But they always kept their course true and did what had to be done. The country they were so proud of back home was dependant upon them to protect the free world and that meant more to them their own lives.

World War II (1941-1945) 405, 399 deaths

The nineteen-year-old private could see the entire jungle valley from the rock ledge. The foliage was so beautiful as the sun went down, casting an amber light across the tree canopy. The temperature was beginning to fall slightly, and for that he was grateful. He had had enough of the heat and humidity. The fights had been tough in the jungle and he had already seen enough to tell stories for a lifetime, although he never wanted to revisit the memories. The flies buzzed around and around his head as his platoon continued to press forward through the short range of mountains toward the retreating enemy, who would eventually turn and fight again. Despite what he had seen, and what he knew lay ahead on the path, he could always go back to the day a few weeks ago, when young children swarmed over him for candy. The eyes of the little boys and girls, which had been so desolate for so long, lit up for this young GI who symbolized freedom to the impoverished people.

Korean War (1950-1953) 43, 399 deaths

Machine gun shells fell to the jungle floor by the hundreds as sweat stood in heavy beads on his forehead. The constant stream of kickbacks from the weapon jolted at his shoulder as his company moved forward. They had been ambushed by a guerilla party and were now pushing them back, but only after he had lost two close friends that he had made here. Sunlight poured in through several cracks in the green ceiling made by the thick vegetation causing a patchwork of shade and sun. The heat seemed to rise from the ground and most of the men fought shirtless with helmets on. This war had grown into a conflict wrought with political confusion. The men could get the job done, if only upper brass had the intestinal fortitude to make the proper decisions. The men had lost faith in the their command, but not in themselves. They still fought, for they still had pride. They would need all the strength imaginable to carry that pride through the throngs of their own citizens back home who would spit on them and call them “baby killers” just because they signed up to defend their country and did what they were told.

Vietnam War (1964-1975) 58, 167 deaths

The Naval Aviator checked all the gauges in the cockpit as the large aircraft carrier gently swayed as it held a steady course through the Persian Gulf. Voices came through over the radio and the men in colored uniforms running about on the deck gave him the all clear. The twin jet engines screamed to a fever pitch and then all at once a lever released and the aircraft shot forward, pinning the pilot and his reel back against their seats. A split second later the Tomcat was up of the deck and climbing out over the dark blue and deep orange waters of the sea at sunset. Colors of every shade of red and orange streaked across the sky as the pilot steadily shifted his controls, causing the plane to veer off westward, toward the setting sun. Before long they would be over Baghdad and the strenuous hours of training these two young lieutenants had invested in technical manuals and flight simulators to properly operate the surgical air-strike equipment would finally pay off. Kuwait was being liberated by the only country that had the moral sense, the economic and political capability, and the best-trained and motivated military to do so. This F-14’s payload will drop, and it will raise hell below, bringing further freedom to another people.

Persian Gulf War (1991) 293 deaths

The entire battlefield lit up in shades and hues of green. Small digital squares and crosshairs moved about in front of her eyes, picking up another moving target. It’s a tank, moving southwest at 30 mph, and at a range of one mile. The computer beeps in her ear as the tracker locks on. One quick flick of the finger and a Hellfire rocket fires from under each of the short wings of the floating aircraft toward the enemy target. Through the green sites, she sees the tank explode, sending debris and fire into the desert air. Through her mouthpiece she signals that another target has been splashed. She receives the “all clear” signal and grips the controls of the Apache, raising her higher into the air, banking northward. Another sector has been cleared and the battle group will now move on to another, shifting the rotored aircraft through the night sky to swoop down on enemy positions. She remembered watching the towers fall a year and a half ago, and that’s why she’s here. She wants her children to grow in a safe world and is willing to do anything to make that happen. She does not want her children, or any other freedom loving person, to die by way of anthrax or VX gas. And so she flies onward in the dark night.

Persian Gulf War II (2003) 130 deaths

Listed above are the past (and current) wars that the United Sates of America has been involved in. I have not included the numerous minor wars and peacekeeping missions we have been involved in over the two and one-quarter centuries that our country has existed. Some of the numbers are partly accurate as well as estimated (especially the earlier wars) because there have been times when no one could be entirely sure how many died at a specific battle. The numbers also do not included the countless thousands upon thousands upon thousands of men who came back maimed and scared for life, either physically or psychologically.

Some wars extracted a greater toll than others. Regardless, no death is less important than any other. Right now, close your eyes and think about yourself; your whole self. Who you are, where you’ve been, your dreams, your fears, your hopes, your loves. Imagine all of that wiped out in an instant. Bam! Gone. One minute you’re fine and the next your life is extinguished. No chance for preparation, no chance to say goodbye. Your family and your friends will never see you or talk to you again. Would you give that for your country? All the numbers listed above are heroes who have. They did not give the last full measure of their devotion to anyone or anything but you. You.

We walk this earth, we live on this continent, and we make this country what it is and what it will be in the future by investing in what we believe in and by investing time and energy into the next generation. That is how we survive, that is how we became such a great and powerful nation, and that is how we shall maintain it.

Throughout our history we have given young soldiers their deaths by engaging in warfare. And it is because of the blood that ran from their bodies as they were left lying face down in the mud that we have the freedoms we have today. War is ugly. It is nasty. It is one of the most terrible things in the world. The only thing worse than warfare is not engaging in war when it is prudent to do so. Nazism, fascism, communism, and oppression have all been either wiped out or seriously hindered by our use of military might. The end must always justify the means; for us, and for millions of others around the world, it has.

The liberation of many nations has come at the body cost of the United States military. All we have ever asked in return is just enough ground to bury our dead in. We do not continue to add states to the Union, we do not have a growing surplus of provinces and territories across the globe. We do not have, nor do we desire to posses, an empire. We just love our way of life and have a deep-rooted guilt towards nations that are under oppressive rule. That is our means of war. Not loot, not greed, not a land grab, but guilt; a hope that people around the world will feel the same joys that we do in freedom of thought, religion, commerce, life.

Those who have died for us are not far away. They lie in their graves across this country and on other shores. Excavators still find the graves of Continental Regulars, often buried in their uniform and with personal belongings nearby. The bare bones and huge grinning smile are a reminder. How about the fields of bleached white grave markers overseas, the acres of old friends laid to rest at Arlington, the small grave tucked away in a corner at your own local graveyard where an unknown hero lies? From their eternal rest they cry out to us to make their deaths worth something. Don’t let the hell they endured be fruitless.

That cool Tuesday morning in September 2001 was an important shift in the course of history. The three thousand innocent men and women who died in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania are still fresh in their graves. They, too, are war casualties. They, too, scream from their graves for us to avenge them, to make the country safe from threats at home and abroad so no one ever has to watch buildings, full of people, tumble to the ground again. That is why we fight terrorists and countries that sponsor and harbor these organizations who are determined to destroy us and our way of life. Do you wish to live in a country where there is always a threat of a terrorist attack and a color code at the bottom of the TV screen?

Bin Laden attacked us because he believed we were weak. We tucked our tail and ran like a scolded dog after Mogadishu, and because of that, he thought we would run from Afghanistan just the same as soon as American blood was spilt. He was wrong. They all were.

Anti-war protestors must understand this. They are not actually campaigning for peace, just their own personal “intellectual” pseudo peace. They must understand that since 9/11 we can no longer afford to be a reactive force; we must be proactive when it comes to national security matters. They must be reminded about 9/11. About the fires, the people jumping out of windows from the sixtieth floor, the completely unprovoked attack on our country. Perhaps things would be different if they had lost a loved one there. Perhaps things would be different if they weren’t so hell bent on blaming America first for everything. It must be made clear that many of us are still angry over 9/11 and that anger is a perfectly moral response. We are angered that so many people died, and we fear may happen again, closer to home. That is why we fight.

Being a history buff, I often reenact Patrick Henry’s famous speech at special events. His words are as prudent today as they were in 1775.

“Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in a country as that which we posses, are invincible by any force our enemy may send against us…The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone, it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave…Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”

Posted by James Finch: 04/04/03

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