"Nobody can give you freedom."
If you're in Baltimore, MD, this phrase may sound familiar to you, and with good reason. Coming into the city northbound on I-395 (aka Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.), the road bends to the left at this hairy intersection and you find yourself on Howard Street. A few lights later, you pass under Mount Royal Avenue, and if you look closely, you'll notice that a local wag has expressed this cynical thought in spray paint on the overpass.
I didn't notice it until my first day of Air Force ROTC. I was driving a Ford Aerostar with a few other wet behind the ears cadets in tow, and we were all overwhelmed by a day of indoctrination. Not that it had been a bad day, we'd just all been up since 0400, and were all overloaded with new information. My friend Ben, who was sitting shotgun, saw the motto at the same time I did, and we both said it simultaneously. But we didn't just say it; we'd been trained on command voice, so we shouted it:
"No government can ever give you freedo-o-o-o-om!"
with the last syllable trailing off as we flew under the overpass
. The other two or three cadets cracked up, until one of them said, "Hey, isn't that kind of... anti-establishment
And then I think we all realized it at once: no government can give you freedom--you have to take it, seize it, and exercise your rights, or you don't have them. That's how we--"we" meaning "those Founding Fathers" everyone talks about--got the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. But even then, the government's handwriting on a piece of paper doesn't guarantee you anything; it's writing on a piece of paper, and until you take the freedom, the paper is useless.
Furthermore, whoever sprayed it on the overpass gets it: whoever he or she is--we'll give "her" the benefit of the doubt--she's one of the only Americans out there who is taking advantage of the freedoms that I give up by wearing the uniform. The idea that "No government can ever give you freedom" is subversive--if you're not out exercising the freedom the government has "given" you, and that I work every day to secure for you, then you may as well be in jail.
For the next four years, every time I passed under that bridge--most of the time in my uniform--I was only too proud to shout, "No government can ever give you freedom!"
...and going the other direction under the overpass, I would gleefully shout, "freedom you give ever can government No!" This doesn't make as much sense, but it's a free country, right?