(do) You Gotta Fight (for your right)...?
...to parrrrrrty? When the Beastie Boys demanded this statement, lyrical masterminds and BOR believers that they were, I don't think they genuinely conceived of actual fighting to relinquish a right (since, as my mother always sternly reminded, partying is not a right but a privilege and privileges can be taken away).
Our Founding Fathers and Mothers did have to fight, very literally, for their rights. An entire war that resulted in a new nation and the beginning of the end of an empire was fought on the basis of rights and the sometimes-tenusous relationship between the government and its people. Another war less than a century later tore the country apart and again yielded in new rights and freedoms previously unrecognized. Many wars were yet to come, many still are, but in the end, retribution is declared and the victor claims the stakes.
My husband recently started a subscription to Ancestry.com (and this is not an advertisement for them in anyway but I can't deny my excitement). We relished in tracing our family ancestry through generations, across multiple lineages and through decades of time. I discovered many new things about my family that were previously unknown to me, including the fact that I am kind of (as in, through marriage but not biologically related) to a famous Civil War General, Quincy Adams Gillmore and also related to an Admiral who served in the War of 1812 and another solider who served during the Revolution. It turns out that my family was very involved in military service, a trait that regrettably has not remained consistent in recent years. Members of my family have been traitors (Colonial militia men in support of American independence) and patriots (arguably example A and also Union supporters and Allied troops).
(Left: My great-great-great-great-great grandmother, the original Laura Merrifield, married Quincy Gillmore who apparently fought and strategized better than he posed for pictures. #nofilter #nokidding Right: My grandfather would grow up to fight in WWII, serving our country in the South Pacific as a fighter pilot. I like to think that I look a lot like him but I am not sure if that is actually true.)
(I am not, as it turns out, related to either Benjamin Martin or Mel Gibson, and I can't say that I was terribly disappointed by that confirmation.)
The stark irony that almost every man who has served his country in this capacity from my family has not had any post high-school level education and thus may have had a more limited understanding of the very principles for which he is fighting is not lost on me. As I reflect on this, I consider that many people join causes and organizations for a variety of reasons, not all universal or even shared. Sense of duty, family honor, political ideals, oppression, corruption, injustice number just a few of the reasons that could inspire one to fight and die for his country. How do we explain these ideals, however, the principles and the rights and the freedoms that we gain through victory if they aren't mutually shared by all or even many? How do we understand the paradox of motivation and sacrifice for a shared victory?
I grapple with this concept thinking about my own service to the community and how what I do, while significant to me, is so small in the grand scheme of life. Not everyone needs or can fight on the front lines (literally and figuratively) but some must in order to secure our position. Everyone could contribute in their own ways through their own strengths and talents but not each of those contributions is viewed equitably, nor should they necessarily be. The sacrifice of a life is a risk only some take and it is a price only fewer still will pay. Is that life? Is that fair? (And yes, I know life isn't fair but I don't think settling for what we believe is true is the same as working toward what we believe ought to be true.)
All of these questions and ideas swirl through my head as I finished the second season of the Serial Podcast about Bowe Bergdahl (which I highly recommend if you were like me and didn't pick it up right when it came out) and I kept tracing my ancestry back through decades of marriages, moves, babies, and wars. Edwin Starr proclaimed "Absolutely nuthin'!" when he asked (presumably himself) "War! What is it good for?". I am not so idealist nor dove-ish despite a preference for an earnest effort through diplomacy. What is war good for, for us, though? What rights or freedoms do we gain or expand, for ourselves or for others? What about those conflicts in which we seemingly don't? Is it still "good"? Even when we gain "absolutely nuthin'"?