Freedom can be a dangerous thing

Some thoughts about quagmires and freedom.

Definition: Quagmire 1. Very unstable ground on which a person (or nation) may tread. 2. A place from which it is very hard to get out once you have stepped in. 3. Vietnam. 4. Afghanistan. 5. Iraq.

The United States is a very slow learner, and in recent decades it has seldom learned from the mistakes of others. We blundered into Vietnam on the heels of the French. We blundered into Afghanistan on the heels of the Russians.

And now our president wants to put thousands of troops into a very unstable nation, one where we are destined to be drawn into the quicksands of several tribal groups whose main goals center around revenge. Even the Iranians got their fill of that country.

Let me remind you that the United States, with only fairly minor help from a “coalition of willing partners,” went into Vietnam to “free” the people in that part of the world. One of the major goals in Afghanistan was to “free” the people there. And now George Bush and Tony Blair want to “free” the 20-plus million people in Iraq.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe that being “free” is a great blessing, but only if the nation or society has a fairly well developed sense of morality and justice to go along with it. Freedom, by itself, can be a terrible thing when it falls into the wrong hands.

To work and to last, freedom requires responsibility – and a lot of other fine traits – developed over long periods of time! Your teacher probably forgot to tell you that.

We cheered when India got its freedom from the British, but that freedom has spawned Pakistan, one of the most dangerous nations in our world. We cheered when Rhodesia gained its freedom and became Zimbabwe, but it is now one of the saddest and most uncivilized nations in the world.

The social, political and economic conditions of both of these countries undoubtedly would be better if they were not “free,” but were still functioning under British law and social structures.

We cheered when the Berlin wall went down. For decades we had been told that communism was “all bad” and that freedom was “all good.” However, Russia is now killing its own people in Chechnya, and the nation faces the possibility of breaking into more splinter groups and territories.

All of which seems to indicate that their “freedom” has led to some groups marching backward into tribal mentalities, the imposition of archaic religious traditions and practices, and revenge on anyone who opposed them in the past.

Sound sad and frightening? It should, because that is exactly the kind of future that is likely in Iraq, when and if we “free” the people there.

It is also important to note that our simple-minded faith in the absolute goodness of “freedom” has produced a blindness to the fact that Russia and other nations freed from communism may drift back to that form of government.

That drift is likely for the very reason that I have mentioned earlier: Freedom can do more harm than good when a nation or group lacks the kind of morality and justice that must accompany it. Freedom, alone, can become license and a route to great evils! Thus far, Russia seems to have lost any kind of noble base on which to stabilize its newly realized freedoms.

Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq has any viable understandings or traditions about what is necessary for democracy and freedom to work. And it is almost certain that the United States cannot impose its brand of freedom on these nations, even if it controls them for 10 to 20 years.

They do not think as we do. The best guess is that they will try to use our kind of “freedom” to work toward fundamentalist and religious enslavement for everyone. For them, “freedom” means a sneaky way to reach some terrible goals (by our standards).

Believe it or not, but the United States is also losing major chunks of its moral and philosophic base. The politicians want you to think that waving the flag, “standing united” behind political goals and marching off to war to defend freedom are enough to give purpose and direction to our nation. They are not.

If we, as a nation, exist primarily to pursue politics – with less and less concern for morality and justice – we will eventually lose our freedoms. At this point in history we are not in a particularly good position to impose our beliefs and system of government on other peoples.

It’s time for some humility and introspection. It’s a time when we would be wise to avoid quagmires.

Stirling M. Cooper

Glenwood Springs