Conquer we must when our cause it is just

Editor’s Note: This column is the third in a series of three.

Over the Christmas break, looking for a little extra cash, I volunteered to work with a National Guard unit doing its annual training. This battalion had just received its mobilization order for an 18-month deployment that would eventually take it to Afghanistan.

These self-sacrificing women and men received all sorts of advice on how to prepare themselves and their families for the activation. One of the most significant pieces of advice came from a retired four-star general who reminded them of the essential nature to believe in our nation’s cause in Afghanistan. He suggested that the blind mindset of “I’m just doing my job” should be replaced with the empowering attitude of “I’m doing something important.” He implied that this simple attitude can often determine the level of success during deployments.

Upon reflection, I found myself having a difficult time defining exactly what that “something important” was. Were we defending our freedom, enforcing justice, protecting our “interests” or helping oppressed people? Despite my simplistic cravings, I could not flatten the issue into simple terms-it just seemed too complicated.

There seems to be a fair amount of similar haziness clouding our nation’s efforts to define what that “something important” really is.

Once again, polarization has widened the gap between us. Some say our involvement in Iraq reeks of corruption and greed, while others say we only had intentions of peace and security when we went to war. Apologists defend the motive to go to war under the pretense of freeing oppressed people. It’s easy to understand such a defense. It’s only natural to believe that we would go to war only for righteous reasons. I commend the altruism that many profess. How noble of us to help others when they need help.

In a noncriticizing tone, I can’t help but point out, however, that our selflessness was almost pushed upon us under the notion of threat and loss of safety. It seems we adopted the motive of securing freedom for Iraqis and Afghans in an effort to foster a sense of nobleness. We should not fool ourselves by thinking that altruism was our supreme motive. Our involvement abroad-both in Iraq and Afghanistan-was undeniably motivated by our own interests.

Of course, preserving our peace and safety is one of our prime interests. How we go about that however, can differ immensely in strategy.

Defending ourselves from terrorists by occupying Iraq and Afghanistan is very comparable to protecting ourselves from communism during the Vietnam War. It seems a very faint and indirect connection between impoverished people with rifles and bombs thousands of miles away and our country’s safety and freedom. Many Americans have unquestioningly bought into the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense.

It is said that the Vietnam War was motivated by the philosophy of containment. Perhaps our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stem from a similar philosophy. Is it too unfathomable to think that our recent show of force is our newest diplomatic philosophy to deter would-be terrorists? It’s a difficult pill to swallow to think that lives are being used to set a precedent of philosophy. The context of such large experiments is often lost on the personal level, hence the difficulty in defining a viable, clear purpose for sacrifice.

Lastly, I find it intriguing to see how the American public has mingled the ideals of freedom with our security and other interests, as if they were connected. How ridiculous to imply that our freedom was threatened. Our freedoms were never threatened by terrorists. Arguably, only our lives and interests were threatened.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing disgraceful about protecting ourselves. But going to war to protect our “interests” is another matter, especially considering how loosely the word “interest” can be defined.

We should be ashamed if our interests are anything connected to economics, the status quo or convenience. Conversely, we should also be morally content if our interest is solely our desire to live. The words of Francis Scott Key serve as a prophetic warning of sorts, when he wrote: “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just.”

Hundreds of Americans have died believing our cause was just. I hope they were right.

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