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“You can have peace or you can have freedom. You cannot get both at once.” – Robert Heinlein
Robert Heinlein made this comment during his speech at the 1976 MidAmeriCon World Science Fiction Convention, where he was guest of honor (skip to 7:40 to avoid a dull introduction). Heinlein was a cold warrior; he was a warrior, period. He understood freedom was not free, and the tree of liberty had to be renewed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. During his life, he saw the US struggle against four tyrannies: Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union. He died before the ultimate victory against the Soviet Union, but he understood the only way to overcome tyranny was to fight it.
It occurs to me that since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States – temporarily – achieved what Heinlein felt was impossible: simultaneous peace and freedom. The US has been enormously blessed during the last 30 years. Yet as Heinlein observed on several occasions, all bills come due. The bill for the last 30 years’ domestic peace is being presented. The question is, how do we pay it? Do we accept tyranny and resign ourselves to peaceful lives as serfs or do we take arms against it and opt for freedom?
However simple the choice, the path we choose will be difficult. On one hand, the perpetual humiliations to which a servile class is subject. On the other hand, the blood and treasure that will have to be spent — not by a nation, but by each individual in that nation — to maintain freedom.
In 1976, the choice most Americans would have made would have been for freedom. Peace without freedom is ashes. Today? Maybe it is the natural pessimism of the old (I turned 65 this month), but I wonder if most Americans would not rather have peace.
We shall see.Published in