What Does Memorial Day Mean? More Than Anything, Freedom


I graduated from college two weeks ago. As as strange and stressful as the transition period has been, the one feeling tends to dominate it all. This sense keeps coming back over and over again that I am free. I no longer have to submit myself to the rhythms of semesters that have dictated the basic structure of my life for the past seventeen years. No more pattern of fall classes, Christmas break, spring classes, summer break, repeat.

Sometimes it’s scary — almost like Sartre’s nauseating freedom to which we are “condemned.” I can really make any choice I want to. I could explore the world, start a business, stay cooped up in my bedroom and play video games all day, and no one could tell me otherwise. That means I have to take responsibility for my actions. There’s no one to blame but myself for what I do or who I become.

Other times it’s exhilarating. It fills me with excitement like nothing else because we live in a world of unprecedented opportunity. I don’t have to move back to my hometown and do the same job my father does. No one expects that of me. I’m free to become who I want and to find out just how far my knowledge and skills can take me.

The point is that as an American, I’m a free man. And I see myself as a free man.

That’s the beauty of America. That's why I’m a little more thankful than usual this Memorial Day.

You can debate the extent to which freedom ought to be extended. Meaningful freedom isn’t possible without some sort of structure, after all. You can gripe about how our freedoms are being taken away by federal policies or how oppressive, hate-filled ideologies continue to plague society. But at the end of the day we still see ourselves fundamentally as free people.

I think we take this for granted far more than we realize. Sure, we “get” the freedoms outlined in the Constitution and understand how they protect us. We assume them, in fact. Most Americans don’t think twice about criticizing the government. Most of us aren’t afraid of the police suddenly breaking down our door and taking us away. Regardless of ideology, we still assume our own freedom. Most people throughout history, in most times, places, and cultures, didn’t have this same assumption.

This is the fundamental tenant that has allowed Western civilization to thrive for so many years. The Greeks defeated the Persians at Marathon because each Greek soldier saw himself as a free man. The English drafted the Magna Carta because they wanted to extend freedom to the common man. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb because he was free to experiment and innovate and reap the rewards of his own genius. PolicyMic exists today because its founders saw great benefit in the freedom to exchange ideas and viewpoints.

There seems to be a lot of cynicism and disillusionment with our armed forces these days. We look back and past wars like Vietnam and wince. We question our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and so on. And we are right to do so. Hard questions deserved to be ask when so much blood and treasure is on the line, but more significant than that is that we actually can question the legitimacy of these wars.

That is the freedom that our soldiers have devoted their lives to protecting. Regardless of what else our men and women in uniform do, this cause, at least, is worth fighting for. And it's reason enough to celebrate today.