Why a Free Man Fights
By Major Scott D. McDonald, USMC
The following essay is adapted from remarks made to Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division by then-Captain Scott D. McDonald on the eve of battle in Iraq.
Gentlemen, we have embarked upon a mission. That mission is a just, moral mission. There are those in this world who will damn us; those who will claim we come as conquerors and terrorists; those who will rail against our righteousness and our cause. Do not heed their cries, it is they who are unjust.
We, the American fighting men, are unique. In more than five thousand years of human civilization, never before have men taken up arms for an idea. Warriors of days gone by fought for treasure, fought for power, and fought for lust. Only with the dawn of the American Republic did men rise up in defense of liberty.
Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, the American Revolutionaries established a government of a form unheard of since ancient times and unique in its construction. Ideals that had been forged, bastardized, and then forgotten during the classical period of Western Civilization were reintroduced and given new life under the banner of individual liberty.
And so a society of free men, united under law, was born and began to prosper. They lived for themselves and for their prosperity. They lived with the understanding that the sanctity of their rights, as protected by their interest in their republic, was the enabler of their fortune. With this affluence came the acknowledgement that man benefits from the protection of individual rights.
The proper approach to a nation under law recognizes that not only must my rights be protected, but that the principle of individual rights for all is just as sacrosanct. In short, for a being who requires the protection of his rights to prosper, it is irrational to violate the rights of another.
This principle—the principle of individual rights—is the foundation of the American Republic. In fact, it is for this reason we have a republic instead of a democracy. The American Revolutionaries wanted to protect individual rights under the rule of law, rather than let them atrophy under the fungible whim of the majority. With keen foresight, leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued for the subordination of the powers of our elected rulers to a constitution crafted as the defender of those individual rights.
As part of that bargain, we withheld from our government the right to use coercive physical force proactively. Our government is barred from using force except as a reaction to injustice. We do not allow our government to enforce behavior and morals where one has not violated the rights of another. This idea, unique in human history, ensures that our rights are protected not only from other individuals, but from the government as well.
Thus, we are left alone to live our lives, emancipated from constraints upon our liberty, protected from the random seizure of our property and free to pursue our own happiness.
Ensconced as we are within boarders that protect us from the rampant collectivism that embraces the rest of the world, why then do we engage in expeditionary campaigns? What drives a nation of free men to take up arms and carry war to foreign shores? Contrary to the rhetoric of contemporary sophists, we are not the defenders of international liberties. We empowered our government to protect our rights, not to spend our treasure on protecting the misbegotten notions of others.
There comes a time, however, when in order to defend our republic—and by extension our rights—we must carry the fight to the enemy.
Those who despise our ideals, who scoff at our liberty, lurk in far off places. Their lairs serve not only as planning cells, but launching pads for the use of force against our citizens. Their targets, however, are not the innocents who perish in such attacks, but the very principles on which our republic was founded.
Having displayed intention and means to bring death to our shores, it becomes not only the right of our government to take action against such criminals, but an obligation based on the sacred trust we have placed in our government to defend our rights.
We, the men who volunteered to defend our constitution and the way of life that it enables, march to the sound of the guns, not because we are bloodthirsty, nor because we love death. We come willing, ready, and committed to defending those freedoms, without which our lives would be unlivable. We are men who have tasted freedom and refuse to live without it. We are men who fight to be free.
We retain that sacred charge of the American Revolutionaries and carry it into a new era, an era where we are under threat from people who oppose all that we know to be right. With integrity of purpose and moral conviction, we will defeat the enemies of our Republic and return to bask in the glow of the temple to the triumph of man, which we call the United States of America.
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