Dying for Your Country

It's usually a bad idea

Freedom is a Better Cause

We have been hearing a great deal of praise for our men and women who "fought for their country" in the Second World War. But that does not do them justice.
The people that they defeated also fought for their countries, and in Japan hundreds deliberately "gave their lives", by suicide.
The difference is, that our guys fought for the cause of freedom, to which Fascism and Nazism and the worship of the Emperor are antithetical. I'm not at all sure about the worship of the flag, or of money.

It's a pagan Roman idea anyway - dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - but at least I will say this for Horatius Flaccus: he did not promise Paradise for those who died. They would go to their Hades and quietly fade away, as the memory of them would fade in the world above.

But in 1314, Robert the Bruce's Scottish troops defeated about three times their number in English cavalry, foot soldiers, and even the English archers, whose deadly skill with the Welsh longbow had been so successful at Falkirk against the Wallace. Thus ended the English occupation of Scotland. The Council of Arbroath six years later published a declaration that:
"it is not for honour and glory, it is not for riches and power, that we fight.
But only and alone we fight for freedom, which no true man loses, except with his life."

You can see a copy of it in the beautiful Princes' Street Gardens, in Edinburgh. They also promised that if their king abandoned that principle, despite the service he had done, they would abandon and replace him.

No other adequate reason has ever been proposed for warlike activity. Let us hope that we shall never suppose otherwise. In particular, let us not imagine that fighting for economic empire is a legitimate reason to take other people's lives and risk our own.

Like the battle of Bannockburn, the battle of Agincourt was won by the better-organized, smaller force. This time it was English against French. The crucial strength was probably the bowmens' trained muscles and arm joints. But unlike Bannockburn, it was a victory for the invaders, and the common people of the winning side got nothing unless you count reflected glory. Fortunately for them, the English gains in France were wiped out by Joan of Arc before the court of England moved to France. Otherwise Shakespeare's "Henry V" would have been written in French, or not at all.

Let us also view skeptically slogans that use "freedom" carelessly.

Napoleon rose to power in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and declared himself Emperor. Even so, he introduced the principle of advancement by merit, which was a novelty in Europe of that time.

There is reason to consider that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" fits Orwell's definition of doublespeak. If Iraq elects and keeps a government that is not theocratic, I will confess myself as poor a prophet as any "psychic".


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