As Americans celebrate the 4th of July, our Day of Independence, we say phrase like, “freedom isn’t free” and we honor those who “died for our freedoms.” However, people actually did die for our freedom, lots of people. Throughout history people have chosen to die for various causes.
Here in the colonies, a few, a small percentage of the colonists, decided to stand up for liberty and independence. At first, they just wanted equal representation in Parliament as British citizens. Mostly German and British immigrants, they were used to the rights of citizenship, unlike many of the “conquered colonies” of the major powers. As a result, they were unwilling to be viewed as primitives to be exploited for tax revenues with no say in their government.
Of course, many opposed such rebels; even their own neighbors. More soldiers died from lack of shoes, pay, food, disease and other privation than in battle. Those captured by the enemy often died in horrible conditions while we took the British prisoners and treated them better than our own. After the war, soldiers were denied their pay and often became homeless without healthcare. (Not much has changed in the care of veterans.)
Why did these few men and women stand up and gain our liberty? Was it worth them dying so people two hundred years later could be free to scorn their sacrifice?
What would you die for? In most militaries men ultimately die for their friends next to them in battle, not for a cause. The Hessians we defeated at Trenton by crossing the Delaware were sold to the British by the Lords of Hesse in modern Germany. They were sent here to fight in order to get gold in their lord’s coffers. The British soldiers were mostly underclass, unemployed and often joined in lieu of jail. They served for life and if wounded were discarded to be homeless beggars.
Most people in the world have died because of some tyrant or king. Hitler accounted for 50 million, Stalin for about the same, Mao about the same. Ethnic cleansing claimed as many, whether in ancient Rome, Carthage, Egypt, Judaea, or modern day Rwanda and Bosnia.
Many, though not as many as one would think, have died for religion. The great battles of Catholicism between Charles and the Muslim Sultan, the Catholics versus the Protestants, the Muslims versus the Hindus, the Jews versus so many. At least these died for the hope of eternal life, although the rank and file probably just died because they were drafted to the cause. Few were real crusaders for any religion.
Most people die from disease, poor nutrition, natural disasters, fellow humans, or even old age if they are lucky.
So on this 4th of July, how many of us Americans today would give their lives for future people to live free. Not as many as one would think I believe. World history is filled with those who suffer humiliation, slavery and poverty and never rise up for fear of their lives. It always takes a few that believe in something to change things, even for a moment.
“Greater love hath no man than to lay his life down for his friend.” So says the Bible. Most of us would lay down our lives for our families without thinking about it. Others show heroism to help others. Some will die for their beliefs.
It is because of those few men and women so long ago though that I am able to write this blog post. I want to thank them for dying so I could do what I want two hundred years later. Let us never forget their sacrifice or those who have sacrificed since then. I personally joined the United States Air Force and served to do my part. We were all willing to die for our country, but we always preferred to have the enemy die for theirs. Luckily, I never saw direct combat.
On this 4th of July, please, for me, give a veteran a sturdy handshake or a hug. Let them know you appreciate them and all those who have gone before.