My service in the Army was not from an interest in conquering, destroying, or killing. Not because of a fascination with weapons and the machinery of war.
Not to demonstrate superficial patriotism or allegiance to an American manifest destiny. Or a need to assert our cultural or political beliefs for the purpose of dominating others.
I served to assure our freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The “Four Freedoms” often mentioned as rationale for our involvement in World War II.
For a Christian, war is antithetical to everything we hold sacred. Yet, to preserve those sacred values we must sometimes do what is necessary to stand firm. Then strive even more diligently to serve humanity in ways taught us by Jesus Christ.
Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day. Created in 1868, it commemorated those who died in the American Civil War. Flags were placed at the graves of soldiers killed in that awful conflict.
The word freedom had diverse meanings in that era. The nation was finally free of overt and organized military conflict. Most citizens lived their lives free from the possibility of violence promulgated by bands of marauders. Or other groups inspired by hatred and narrow belief systems.
Slaves were freed from bondage.
Americans freely expressed opinions and found ways to rebuild a broken nation. Just as Abraham Lincoln said in his famous Gettysburg Address:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln’s phrases, “under God” and “new birth of freedom” connected to his reference to “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Those aspirations were linked to the American Constitution. The glue that preserves the union under a watchful and caring God.
The word freedom, then, does not mean unfettered license to do whatever we want. Nor does it give those with personal ambitions mixed with rhetorical skills, charisma, and a perceived sensitivity to populist inclinations the right to marshal followers for the purpose of domination.
Our American system, with its effective “government of the people,” controls the ambitions of those who would convert the people’s freedom into an opportunity to exercise their own will.
Unfortunately, the 20th Century experienced too many ambitious leaders who dominated their own countries. They attempted to spread their ambitions and power beyond their borders: Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Hideki Tojo, Mao Tse-tung, and a multitude of others.
God has given human beings free will. But its unrestrained application can bring misery to many. Unrestrained free will, if allowed to work against God’s will, destroys us.
Jesus said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:34-36 KJV).
Freedom, therefore, is not easy or unrestrained behavior. For the Christian, it is abiding by the teachings of Jesus. For an American, it is exercised within the limits of our Constitution and the body of laws emanating from it.
World War II was probably the greatest example of how we human beings can destroy ourselves. Especially if we allow those who assert their own sense of freedom as being more important than the freedom of others. World War II directly or indirectly killed 85 million people. They died from violence and diseases caused by war-caused deprivations.
Americans have long held mixed emotions about all things military. We hesitated three years before finally seeing the need to enter World War I. Anti-war sentiment, led by famous people such as Charles Lindbergh, kept us out of World War II until the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Those experiences changed our political outlook and behavior. One important outcome was the emphasis on continuing readiness. An intense ongoing interaction with the world community. Our intervention into the Korean War was based on containing the spread of Communism. Its results are still unclear. Even dubious.
In 1961 and 1962 I was an army officer participating in one of our country’s readiness efforts. Preparing to fight the USSR over the Berlin Wall and the Cuban missile build-up. Later in that decade we moved beyond readiness and again tried to contain Communism in Vietnam. Armor could not be used effectively in the terrain of Vietnam, so I was not deployed.
As a Christian, I held deep reservations about serving as a combat officer. Fortunately, my service ended before deployment to a shooting war.
What sustained me during my years in the military were four phrases published during World War II. Later, these phrases were graphically depicted by artist Norman Rockwell:
The Four Freedoms:
- The freedom from fear.
- The freedom from want.
- The freedom of speech.
- The freedom of religion.
Those phrases aligned with the words of Jesus, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
The current Russian government and its military attack on Ukraine uses fear and deprivation to conquer another nation. Restricting free speech. Using the Russian Orthodox Church to make religion the tool of national pride.
Memorial Day is more than honoring those who suffered and died. Rather, it is a time to acknowledge the values for which they sacrificed themselves. Values taught us by Jesus Christ Our Lord, who makes us free indeed.
Through Jesus we have no need to fear or feel deprived. Through Jesus we can speak our truth. Worship with the love and conviction we have in our hearts. Follow his commandment recorded in John 15:12, ”Love one another, just as I have loved you.”
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