The Costs of Freedom
Five years of this war, and no end in sight.
By Monica Benderman
20/03/08 "ICH" -- -- I received an email from a friend in Iraq. She was asking me to sign a petition and distribute it as widely as possible. Young Iraqi refugee girls were being forced into prostitution in Syria. She was working to draw attention to their situation and hoped for a global response of help for them.
What can be said about this? I signed the petition and passed it along. I’ll talk about it with those who will listen. The young girls hope things change – I would not want to give them a false sense of hope. Are you willing to pay the cost of their freedom?
I received a phone call from a man representing a publicity organization preparing a press release for the anniversary of the war. He was looking for a quote from us about the war.
What is left to be said? When things have been repeated over and over; when the subject has been broached in as many different ways as possible in the hope that different voices might finally reach the people – what is left to be said?
My quote – “These past five years have been nothing but wasted – wasted lives, wasted money, wasted breath, and wasted time.” Emptiness took over where I had tried to put feeling, and as I thought about the war and what this man was asking, the emptiness became very dark, frustrating, and cold. I have hope for my life – I make my choices and live knowing I will deal with the consequences of my choices – therein lies my freedom. I know well what freedom costs, and I am willing to pay.
In the years before the war I lived a different life – not a military life, but one in which I learned just how little the veterans who served this country really did receive in the way of valid support for what they had given in the name of justice and civic responsibility. People criticized them for having served and others praised them. But few people ever seemed to make the real effort to support the sacrifice the veterans had made to help move us all closer to peace; a peace the veterans stood on the frontlines for, so that those behind the scenes might be able to do the work needed to see that the roots of that peace took hold. I worked to facilitate the care of veterans, World War II, Korea, even those from Viet Nam – I listened to their stories and those of their families. I saw war from the outside looking in.
In the last five years, I have come to see the real cost of freedom up close and personal. I have lived it every single day of my life, oftentimes twenty four hours of each day. I lived the days while my husband was stationed in a combat zone and I received no word from him for months on end. I lived the days when he returned and I saw someone home who seemed far removed from the man who left. I lived the days when the anger inside him grew – at times becoming a fearsome rage emanating from a man I seemed to have never known. I lived the days when that anger grew so quiet even the breathing was hard to hear and the silence became a darkness no light was strong enough to pervade.
I lived as my husband struggled against a corrupt command, an abusive leadership who refused to do what was right to ensure the soldiers who had entrusted their lives to this command were given the care and respect they needed for their service. I lived through his anger as he reached out to do what he could to call attention to what was needed to bring about the change he and those he served with knew was needed. The soldiers were doing all they could. They volunteered to defend their constitution, a leadership abused the commitment the soldiers made and the laws of this country bound our soldiers, trapping them into a service that no longer represented the duty for which they had enlisted.
For some, conscience stepped in. I lived as my husband made the most difficult decision he has ever had to make – and all I could do was tell him I would do what I could to be there for him, to help him with the choice he made – I said I would not leave. I didn’t want him to return to war, I could see what the effect of war was doing to him – not the combat tour, but the lack of responsibility anyone in a leadership role felt they had to the oath of service they had taken. In the end, my husband made his choice, and spent the past three years in a different war; a war for his conscience. The first year of this battle was spent in jail.
The cost of freedom is the price real people pay to stand by their word even when corrupt individuals abuse the very laws they have taken a sworn oath to follow.
The cost of freedom is the price real people pay when these corrupt individuals are placed in leadership positions with no intention of leading with any sense of honesty or commitment to truth; and yet people continue to stand with integrity and dignity for the principles in which they believe.
The cost of freedom is the price real people pay when men and women forget their humanity, believing their power lies in their ability to amass material wealth: when their success is defined by how much they have, not how well they live; and yet people continue to face their adversaries with respect for their own lives and purpose.
The cost of freedom is the price real people pay when their strength is held in servitude to those who have little strength of their own – and in their role as cowardly leaders seek to control the strength of those who serve with a sense of obligation that becomes so overwhelming there seems to be no way out other than to bow to the false authority; and yet people continue to stand strong knowing someday the tables will turn.
I know the cost of freedom. I know the price that must be paid. I know the power of the evil domination that threatens to overwhelm the hope that is left in this country.
I know how much this false power has to lose when people finally see the light and stand against it. I know with that much to lose, the corrupt leadership of this false power will do anything they must to maintain control over the illusion they have come to love. They will destroy life, claiming it to be a sacrifice in defense of life. They will destroy the financial base of a country, claiming the money is needed to keep that country free. They will destroy the unity of the people which makes the country strong; keeping us divided with talk of racial disharmony, sexist abuse, class inferiority, all the while insisting on the power of unity.
The cost of freedom is the strength it takes to stand against a current of adversity and stay committed to principle – the strength to keep one’s word.
The cost of freedom is what happens to a man when he faces the anger and the rage of a machine he has dared to speak against – one man, one human being – relying on the strength of his heart against a mechanized adversary with no conscience. The price is that man’s conscience in a victory for the machine if he has nothing to hold on to giving him hope that his struggle will one day result in something more than mere survival.
I have lived while wars have been fought. I have lived when the anger and regret for giving up the illusion of success granted by servitude to the machine has become uncontrollable in a man trained to keep his emotions in check, as he struggles to survive in a place society promised would be better than the illusion if he would only leave it. Promises shouldn’t be given if there is no intention that they will be kept.
I have lived full of reassurances – offering the hope desperately needed – insisting that the machine can be beaten if we just stand together facing it without giving in. The difference, the machine doesn’t breathe, or eat, or sleep – the machine doesn’t know doubt, the fear of failure, or the sense of worthlessness at taking one’s family to the brink of disaster for a stand on principle that seems to have so little meaning in a society where illusion has the power.
What we, as a nation of citizens of conscience, have allowed to happen is incomprehensible in terms of the costs to humanity. Five years and counting, and the conscience of this nation has gone into hiding as we hear those in our leadership positions seeking to reassure us that their deplorable actions as human beings actually have any real value in moving us all closer to peace and justice in the world.
There is nothing our leadership has done that has value to anyone but themselves and there is nothing left to say to a nation of citizens who can’t seem to figure out that the freedom they demand takes diligent responsibility, real effort and a sacrifice of life few seem willing to pay.
It’s not about dying on the battlefield – freedom demands something far more difficult. It’s about living with conviction – the courage to stand on principle knowing the consequences will be stiff, and at times quite painful.
Death for freedom is a cowardly concept, and to believe in our leadership when they tell us of the noble honor in dying to defend our freedom is to live as cowards believing in an illusion destined to destroy our humanity.
Freedom takes strength; strength those in our leadership positions fear – for it is a strength they can only borrow from others. They lack the understanding of reality needed to acquire such strength for themselves. The kind of strength freedom demands is not found in lies, manipulations, secrecy and deception; the lifestyle an illusion of power must have to continue. The strength of freedom comes from living what we know to be true and doing so against all odds.
Those who claim to lead us now are nothing more than cowards hoping the people of this nation do not wake up and realize the strength they have – in conscience. Conscience requires a hard look into the eyes of reality - it’s not an easy road, but freedom is worth the effort.
I know the cost of freedom and I am willing to pay. Are you?
Monica, and her husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten-year Army veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq and a year in prison for his public protest of war, continue to work within their community for peace. They may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Their book “Letters From Ft. Lewis Brig” is now available at bookstores and through Lyons Press. Please visit their website, www.BendermanDefense.org to learn more.