An Open Letter to Our Fathers and Grandfathers
You Won the Battle But Lost the War
By Aaron Zelman
Executive Director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership
Fleet Marine Force Medic, Third Marine Air Wing, Vietnam Veteran
To our fathers and grandfathers who fought in World War II:
America owes everything to you. You sacrificed your youth, you saw your buddies die before your eyes, you gave up life and family and love as you fought in Europe or the Pacific -- all to save the world from fascism.
We can't even measure how much we owe you -- you, and the staunch women who stood with you -- the WACs, the Waves, the nurses who treated the wounded under unthinkable conditions, and the Rosie-the-Riveters who kept the country going back home. Yet, in the decades since the end of the war, your victory has been stolen. From you, from your children, your grandchildren, and from all of us.
You won a long, hard, painful battle. But when you came home, you lost the war. You lost the Bill of Rights and freedom. And so we all lost.
America is becoming a lot like the countries you fought against.
The country you fought for was a land of self-reliant people, people proud to stand on their own two feet. It was a country of decency, of neighbors and neighborhoods, where people took care of each other, their families and themselves. It was a country where citizens had a say in what their government did, a country where the government respected private property, family life, the right to worship, the right to express opinions without fear, the right to own firearms, and the whole way of life those freedoms stood for.
It wasn't perfect, but it was America.
The countries you fought against were rule-ridden bureaucracies where citizens did what they were told -- or else. They were countries where people were supposed to hate whomever the government wanted them to hate, and to love and trust the government more than they loved and trusted themselves. In these countries, children belonged more to the rulers than to their mothers and fathers, and private property was subject to control by bureaucrats. In these countries people didn't dare do or say anything the politicians didn't approve of.
Today in the United States there are people who spit on the memory of your sacrifices -- people like Sen. Charles Schumer, who successfully pushes "gun control" laws that trash the Second Amendment, and Sen. John McCain, whose infamous "campaign finance" law made free speech a federal crime for independent advocacy groups. We shrink before officials who decree that unpopular opinions are "hate speech." We endure leaders who tell us that it's wrong to hate certain groups of people, but perfectly okay for those groups to hate and malign others. Today much of America is controlled by people who'll fine us or even put us in prison for doing perfectly harmless things to our own land and homes.
Free speech. The right to keep and bear arms. Property rights. The right to live your daily life free of interference from people who want to push you around. Weren't these rights the very things you were fighting for?
The steady downhill slide
This process of destruction isn't new. You no sooner came home than the government you fought for started handing over power to the governments you defeated -- and even worse governments. They did it by handing authority to the United Nations, an organization dominated by unfree countries who don't share, or even have minimal respect for, the values that gave us the Bill of Rights. All they want is to take what they can get from us.
The U.N. quickly dragged us into another war in Korea - where many of you also suffered and died. Since then its powers have expanded so much that the U.N. has gained control over some U.S. lands (in the name of "biosphere sites," "world heritage protection," and "anti-desertification" treaties). Now they've even got a world court -- run from our own New York City, even though the impotent U.S. voted against it. This court can try American citizens and soldiers without giving them any of the constitutional protections you fought so hard for.
And next they're talking about imposing global taxes. On you. On what Tom Brokaw rightly called The Greatest Generation. And on us, your sometimes-less courageous successors.
The downhill slide has been steady: inflationary spending, debasement of the currency, punitive taxes, propagandizing of schoolchildren so they can't think for themselves, restrictions on property rights. Politicians have maneuvered to prop up the dangerously broken Social Security system, which Ronald Reagan rightly called an "intergenerational Ponzi scheme." They've created giveaway programs that let everyone from drug addicts to billionaire businessmen live off the sweat of ordinary working people. The regulations of this Nanny State have us so wrapped in bureaucratic red tape we can hardly move. And often we dare not express our honest opinions for fear of being labeled -- sometimes even punished -- for being a "hater," a "gun nut," or an "extremist" (which sometimes means nothing more than being an independent thinker).
Your federal government even passed a "gun-control" law (the Gun Control Act of 1968) based directly on the Nazi law that Sen. Thomas Dodd had the Library of Congress translate for him. This Nazi law was then signed by "Mr. Great Society," President Lyndon Johnson1
Did you risk your life fighting Hitler so that American politicians - some of whom you voted for and contributed money to -- could impose Hitler's very own laws on you? But that's exactly what happened -- and that was only the camel's nose under the tent when it came to "gun control."
Who's to blame?
Good Americans were once spirited, individualistic, independent, and skeptical of government power. Now, good Americans are a lot like the stereotypical "good Germans" of Hitler's day, compliant, docile, and worshipful of government.
This is largely our fault -- we of the Baby Boom and Generation X. We let you down. We, who in many cases knew nothing but comfort and security, weren't willing to sacrifice for freedom, as you did. Fat, happy, and lazy, we believed our government when it said it would take care of us, so we could remain children forever. We believed the slickly smiling politicians when they told us that if we just handed them enough power and money, they would eliminate every danger and make us as eternally content as sleeping babies in a nursery.
We chose to ignore the fact that this is the path to an all-powerful police state. We chose not to remember the historic truth that Ronald Reagan and many others have expressed: A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away. Already we see the government rationing heath care -- rationing care to the very people it falsely and grandly promised to protect! How long before the old, the chronically ill, the "unfit" are decreed to be, as the Nazis put it, "useless eaters"?
Maybe you won't live to see the all-powerful state at its most cold and brutal. Will your children or your grandchildren be the ones to suffer?
It's a crime and a shame. It's un-American in the truest sense.
But when you cry, "Why are they doing this to my country?" at least part of the answer also has to be, "Well, where have you been all this time?"
Look in the mirror.
Your early life was tough, scarred by the hunger, insecurity, and national self-doubt of the Depression. You did your duty in a war that was longer and more brutal than anybody bargained for. When you came home, you were tired and just wanted -- perhaps for the first time since your childhood -- to live normally. And you deserved your peace.
But as Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."
The dirty little secret is that freedom wasn't stolen from us entirely by other people. We lost freedom ourselves because we weren't vigilant. We didn't exercise our rights or responsibilities as citizens -- we of the Baby Boom and Gen X, but also you, our fathers and grandfathers of World War II..
We went on voting for politicians who lied to us. We obeyed -- or maybe even enforced -- unconstitutional regulations. We had our hands out when politicians bought our freedom in exchange for subsidies, grants, and "entitlements." We tolerated, sometimes even cheered, violations of the Bill of Rights, as long as they were committed against people or groups we didn't like, not realizing the Bill protected our rights, too.
When every president since Richard Nixon told us we had to fight another war, a War on Drugs, we paid our taxes and cheered as millions of our fellow Americans went to prison, as no-knock midnight raids became an American institution, and as police forces were corrupted by the lure of illegal drugs and black-market money, just as they had earlier been corrupted during Prohibition. None of this has saved our children from drugs or made American streets safe. On the contrary, it's been one of the biggest destroyers of the Bill of Rights, and one of the biggest factors in increasing violence and police-state power in the U.S.
Even those of us who called ourselves conservative or libertarian often demanded that "there ought to be a law" against every activity we disliked. We forgot the very essence of freedom: The essence of freedom is leaving our fellow citizens, and the citizens of other countries, alone as long as they're not using force or fraud against others.
It's a fact -- though sometimes not a simple one to live with: If you want freedom you have to accept that, every day, millions of people might be doing things you don't personally approve of. You have to recognize that it isn't your right to stop them. That was what people came to America for. We hate it when others try to keep us from living our lives as we wish. But how often have we demanded laws to keep others from going about their own peaceable business?
Look in the mirror. We have met the enemy. And as Pogo said, "He is us."
It's time now for True Americans to act.
You World War II veterans, you World War II nurses, and you Korean War veterans ... you all have one last job to do in the fight for freedom. My fellow Vietnam veterans, this goes for you, too -- and for the young soldiers who fought in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Somalia. It goes for you, also, Rosie the Riveter.
You must teach the coming generations about what freedom really means. You must teach them it's not just having a lot of consumer goodies and fancy electronic toys. You must remind them that those pleasures are the product, not the heart, of free individual choices - and that those choices are protected by the Bill of Rights. You must remind them of the real meaning of the things you fought for -- the freedom of peaceful individuals to speak, believe, and live as they wish, unfettered by government dictates and punishments -- and to respect the right of others to do the same.
In fact, each and every one of us must do this if we want to restore and maintain freedom.
We must all live our personal lives like free men and women while we fight to restore the values of freedom to our country and our culture.
We must fight ALL enemies, foreign and domestic -- as you pledged to do when you signed on to serve your country. We must recognize that some of our most ruthless, implacable enemies ARE domestic -- men and women who look like us and talk like us but whose values are as foreign to America as those of any Hitler, Mussolini, or Hirohito. We must not allow ourselves also to become domestic enemies of freedom by supporting their policies.
America today seems a fallen land -- politically and economically powerful, but empty inside. A land that has lost its heart, its passion for freedom.
But freedom doesn't have to be gone forever. Many times in the past enemies made the mistake of thinking that America was lazy and complacent, too well-fed and self-satisfied to put up a good fight. The Japanese believed it before World War II. The terrorists believed it before September 11.
Our enemies have always been wrong.
You can never underestimate the fighting spirit of the American people, once they know that a fight is necessary to preserve their own future and their children's. An awakened America is a powerful thing, and dangerous to all opponents. We put aside our petty political differences, our daily pleasures, and our selfishness and we fight like wildcats.
There's hope for freedom -- if we can unite behind the Bill of Rights, unite behind freedom and individual rights. We must remember what the Bill of Rights is. It is a list of things an honest government -- a government that is truly of, by, and for the people -- is forever forbidden to do. And we must never ask our government to do these forbidden things, or stand by silently when it tries to.
To unite behind the Bill of Rights is to unite against crushing, bloated, grasping government power. This time our fight may not have to be with guns and cartridges. This time our weapons can be ideas and ideals. This time our job is to fight against the apathy and ignorance of our own culture. This time our aim is to arouse other Americans so they'll neither want nor tolerate an un-American government whose false promises of security are used to enslave them
Let us make forever sure that our American dead have not died in vain, that they have truly died for freedom. Let us live -- and cherish -- that freedom every day of our lives.