"Nobody can give you freedom."
--Lord Acton

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?"
{{dead silence}}

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?

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