Like most everyone, I cannot remember a time without war either looking in our window as a “cold war” or active as a “shooting war.” To be honest, I was never enthused about any of it. I admit “duck and cover” exercises were more entertaining than math drill, but even a young kid in a staunch Catholic school run by an order of drill sergeant nuns knew there were things more entertaining, most of which required freedom from parochial uniform. I was seventeen when Vietnam was heating, and a few years later standing in line for winter quarter classes when JFK was killed. Age twenty-six I was nearly taken by Selective Service, possibly the biggest social casualty of the Vietnam era. Eight years earlier, if required, I’d have served—perhaps not gladly, but I’d have gone. A mortgage and career made two years away a far less desirable prospect than when I was a free-range idiot without those attachments.

I weaseled my way clear of active duty to age 28, but while my personal involvement was less direct, the presence of combat never missed a beat. The Vietnam-type “hot war” ground on through three presidencies and was later followed by smaller military events in Lebanon and Grenada, plus bigger ones defending Arab oil kingdoms. The potential for conflict seems unlimited and its demands non-ending. For all the funds the oil states gathered, you’d think the Saudis and Kuwaitis could afford their own defense. Yes, they could, couldn’t they? But in that part of the world, it was more politically acceptable to have an infidel army do the dirty work. That statement may sound strange or extreme, but as it was with Vietnam, the causes underlying conflict and action are far more convoluted and questionable than the young lives the warring parties spend in pursuit of aims, many of which were and remain hidden.

There are different ways to view the pieces, but I see the combat stage set for Afghanistan and Iraq back when Carter was in office. Remember him? Like most of us and the West in general, Carter had no concept of what was in store when Iran’s Western-leaning Shah was replaced by an ayatollah. Supported by oil money (as was his mission), the ayatollah lived in exile in France until his time arrived to call the West (where he’d been sheltered, remember) the Great Satan so that he could get about the serious business of turning the clock back a thousand or so years. I think all of us (including hapless Jimmy Carter) can be forgiven for not grasping Iran’s “revolution” as a deliberate “devolution” to authoritarian rule based on sanctified practices you or I might shy from calling enlightened or progressive.

Do I care that the ayatollah exercised some strange or somewhat repugnant personal habits? No, I don’t. I’ll gladly free him of every lurid accusation and still find plenty of cause to question his motives and hold him and his beliefs as pivotal to starting the current phase of global combat based on religious division. Conflict funded by oil money continues to this day in more places and on more levels than we realize. Sometimes the reality is so obvious we see without believing. But when believers from the ayatollah side say “Freedom is Western terrorism,” they mean exactly that, and for the sake of their cause are committed to weakening “Western terrorism” any way they can.

Unlike a hot or shooting war where assets are neutralized or forces taken out, the other type of combat goes on in a form of relentless trench-type conflict. It works like this. There are people determined to define freedom according to limiting sectarian rules. This is not new in the U.S. We had a similar clash at the time of the Civil War, when one side fought for the “freedom” to own and control others. They were, have no doubt, sincere in the correctness of their conviction, but also have no doubt that support of freedoms that require obedience from those holding other beliefs is and ought to be open to challenge. I’m probably not getting this across in the best fashion, but our system of freedom is not one of exclusively hard and fast rules. We temper rule or regulation with conscience. Soldier or citizen, we are allowed to reject an order we believe illegal or immoral. In a short version, we respect the right of the individual to question and challenge any or all authority.

I watched a lesson on the two sides of freedom not long ago where one side was quite adamant in its impassioned defense of freedom that over and again degraded and called for the silencing of views the speaker found objectionable. Doing this, they frequently maintained that everything they represented was found entirely and exactly in the U.S. Constitution, though frankly, with the speaker acting as if there should be no separation of state from his/her religious belief, I suspected they were not really accurate about the Constitution. Separation protects belief from domination by a local sect. Separation also places freedom of conscience as equal to freedom of worship, neither of which is required. It is for the individual to determine what they believe and respect. Those are not things I want any state to tell me. Real freedom is free, just as real democracy is more than being allowed to vote in a dictatorship.

I suspect the American people are up to the challenge of mortal moral combat. It’s disappointing when we see a question/challenge answered with an accusation of bias or bigotry. We know that is an evasion and misdirection. We learned those skills as kids trying to explain what happened to the car we borrowed or why we needed a later curfew or more allowance. Many of the ways we use or enjoy freedom are trivial. In fact, couldn’t you say that loss of minor or trivial things in our lives counts as the canary in the coal mine signaling loss of greater things?