HILL: So much freedom owed to so few

The U.S. Capitol Dome is seen beyond American Flags around the the base of the Washington Monument in Washington, early Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Have you ever served in the military? Has anyone in your immediate family served in the military? Has anyone you know or worked with ever served in the military?

A high percentage of the 557 million Americans who have ever lived in the United States since its founding have never served in uniform protecting our nation’s freedom, so don’t feel bad if you have not served. Since the mandatory draft was abolished in 1973 by President Nixon, the only people who have served in the military are those who have volunteered on their own volition rather than having been forced to do so by law.

Since 1776, slightly over 10% of our fellow citizens have served in the US military. Every one of them was, or is, a hero. Regardless of where they served during combat or peacetime, each of them deserves our hearty praise and thanks, not only for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend but every single day.

Roughly 57 million of our fellow American citizens have served in the military since the Revolution. Outside of the Confederate Army, 2.5 million of them, or 0.45% of all Americans who have ever lived, suffered casualties defending U.S. interests. One million have lost their lives defending the interests of our country either in combat or post-combat related injuries.

Winston Churchill said of RAF pilots after the Battle of Britain, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” 

Every living American owes a huge debt of gratitude for the freedoms we take for granted to the minority of American citizens who have served in the military — and even more to the small number who have died. Every single one of them deserves to be remembered this Memorial Day weekend or thanked in person whenever you meet them.

Contrary to public opinion, U.S. military personnel do not come disproportionately from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds, according to the Heritage Foundation. They are significantly more likely to come from high-income neighborhoods, have more education than peers in their age cohort and are far more likely to come from the South, as has been the norm since 1775.

Whenever anyone sings the national anthem and puts their hand over their heart, they should be remembering every American who has defended our collective freedom. Every time a person sees a flag being raised at an event, they should think of at least one person they know who served in the military to protect our freedom, not diminish it.

Heroes who have served in uniform defended not only our right to free speech but also our right to disagree with anything said or done by any other person in elective office or any other aspect of life. Our freedom of speech includes the right to disrespect America by kneeling during the national anthem or desecrating the flag in some form or fashion. 

However, by comparison, it is easy to kneel or protest in the safety of an NFL football stadium or NBA arena. It is not so easy to fight the Nazis, Imperial Japan, communists in the former Soviet Union during the Cold War or a terrorist guerrilla army in the Middle East in uniform and in person when our adversaries are hellbent on destroying America and with it, all of our attendant freedoms.

Protestors should proudly salute the flag and stand at full attention and sing loudly during the national anthem with their hands over their hearts to be thankful for having the American freedom to disagree with authority.

Prince Harry was quoted as saying recently he thought American freedom of speech was “bonkers.” It’s no wonder an isolated, privileged scion of royal lineage wouldn’t understand the concept of American “freedom of speech.” His great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather King George III didn’t understand it in 1776 either.

Every soldier who has served since then has protected our American freedom to not only question authority but to oppose it whenever we want to express our disagreement with them. The real heroes in America are those who have served our nation in military uniform, not athletic uniforms. They deserve our respect, not arrogant and uninformed contempt.