Confusions and Delusions

There are so many! Let’s just take one example to start with: a free country. Since childhood we’ve heard this land referred to as a "free country," and around the fourth of July, the "free country" rhetoric swings into high gear. The term has even become a part of our language, signifying approval for doing something about which one might ordinarily have second thoughts: "Go ahead! It’s a free country, isn’t it?" But what does the phrase actually mean?

The word "free" means, among other things, at liberty to move about at will; unconfined. But that hardly seems appropriate to a country. Was America spotted last week in Mongolia? Is it expected next week in Peru? This is surely not a free country in that sense.

How about "free" meaning gratis, at no cost? Now we’re getting somewhere. If a group of people can obtain whatever they want at no expense to themselves, it’s surely free! There is such a group, of course, and it could well be argued that they own America, having gotten it by virtue of their power to create "money." Those would be the bankers, of whom Josiah Stamp, President of the Bank of England, said, "Bankers own the earth. Take it away from them, but leave them the power to create money and control credit, and with the flick of a pen they will create enough to buy it back." The proverbial man on the street, however, is blithely unaware of this — for which the bankers no doubt would thank God if they believed in Him. No, a "free country" doesn’t mean one acquired for nothing by insiders, at least to the average American.

Since a "country" is defined as a territory, area, or place, or the people inhabiting it, maybe a "free country" is one in which the people are free. That’s it! When Americans speak proudly of living in a free country, that must be what they mean! The people living in this land are free! Free from what?

Freedom is a sort of negative thing. If you are free, you are free from something which would otherwise limit or control you. Interestingly, a synonym for " limit," or "control," is "govern." And we are familiar with the term "freedom fighters," calling to mind the doughty Hungarians who threw rocks at tanks, or the brave young man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. Against whom were they fighting? The government, of course. When we speak of our American forefathers, and their fight for freedom, we refer to their fight against government. On Memorial day, when we hear ennobling words about those brave Americans who gave their lives to protect our freedom, against whom were they fighting? Governments. Fighting a foreign government makes you a patriot, a hero. Fighting your own makes you a traitor (if you lose) or a terrorist. But, for sure, when people fight for freedom, they are fighting against a government.

That makes sense, because there is no other organization that can take your freedom away from you. At his worst, Al Capone was a threat to the freedom of a tiny percentage of Americans, and a minor one at that. All Al demanded was money. His victims could smoke, drink, and do whatever else they wanted, so long as they turned over a share of the profits. Those who opposed Capone weren’t designated "freedom fighters," and we don’t have a holiday in their memory. And no one contends that their struggle was to preserve our freedom. Soldiers do that!

Soldiers, however, fight wars. And who starts wars? We may read that Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Germany? I thought it was agreed that countries don’t move about: they’re not "free" in that sense. So how did "Germany" invade Poland? Did the German people invade Polish territory? How did that come about? Was there some sort of referendum, perhaps over the telephone, or using semaphores, whereby the population of Germany decided it would be a good idea to risk the lives of their sons to march into Poland and claim it as their own? That was no doubt like the consensus in America wherein my neighbors and I decided to send our youth to Panama, or Grenada, or Afghanistan, and then Iraq. Do you remember that? I’m getting old, so my memory may not be reliable, but I don’t recall having any say in the matter. Likewise, my father had no particular enthusiasm for sailing off to Europe to kill German boys in WWI, but fortunately for him, the war petered out before he got out of basic training.

There seems to be a persistent confusion of a country with its government and its people. When a government adopts a policy of sending its best and brightest off to fight and die, if necessary, in some foreign battle, it always refers to itself as the "country," as though it were, reluctantly no doubt, acceding to the spontaneous wishes of the people to go kill some foreigners. It is remarkable that the people of a "free country" are not at all free to decline the invitation of their government to go slaughter other people who speak a different language. Ignore that invitation and you’ll find yourself in jail, wearing a uniform and doing what you are told. (Accept it, and you’ll find yourself in camp, wearing a uniform, and doing what you are told.) And how easily those who are about to die (perhaps) accept the delusion that they are doing it for the "country," or the "people." Or freedom!

What can be more absurd than the concept of a "free" people being compelled to go off and fight, and possibly die, against some other people who no doubt accept the same delusion regarding their freedom! How can "free" people be compelled by strangers? Are there free people anywhere? I know of no place on earth where people do not labor under governments, and the concept of a free people under government is oxymoronic. In theory, governments are instituted to protect and preserve the rights of the people; to do justice. In practice, without exception, governments become self-serving corporations supported by the people. The roles are confused: the servants become the masters; the sovereigns labor on behalf of their subjects! And, despite the plain evidence to the contrary which surrounds and envelops them, they maintain the delusion that they are free!

It isn’t bombs and rockets that subjugate people; it is ideas. Especially bad and erroneous ones.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.