Today, as I sit in my comfortable house with my air conditioner running, in front my computer while vegetables are cooking on the grill, I would like to take a moment to think about you who are serving either at home or abroad on Memorial Day. I write this letter not for any specific country, nationality, class or ethnicity. If you are wearing a uniform today, I would like to address this to you no matter where you are in the world. I do so in the hope that you may read my words and come, if not to understanding, than at least to consider what I write.

As a former sailor in the Navy, I understand very well the sacrifice that goes into military service. It is not merely a sacrifice of life and limb. It is a sacrifice of time and a sacrifice of will. It is a sacrifice of energy and initiative. Members of any branch of any military serve for the love of their country. They say they defend freedom everywhere they go. I believed these statements, for I never saw any evidence to the contrary. Until, that is, I left the service.

Though I cannot claim to have seen combat, I have in the years since my discharge seen military members torturing prisoners. I have seen them wage wars of aggression against peaceful people who pose little or no threat to them whatsoever. I have seen them become the vanguard of a corporate state called America which does not care for the will of the people or the concerns of those who serve in uniform. I have seen members of the military struggle through hardship and suffering, only to find that the government they served discards them like used toys after their time in uniform has finished. I have seen military suicides rise sharply even as high-ranking officers of every branch are relieved of their duties while members of the executive branch, fearful of public dissent, try to craft a command chain that will not rise against the White House.

I have seen unarmed protestors march in the streets with nothing more dangerous than a poster with a slogan written upon it suffer abuse at the hands of police officers. I have seen a woman molested by a police officer in New York City receive a verdict of guilty for assaulting the officer who touched her breasts without her consent. I have seen people forcibly removed from their homes for doing nothing more dangerous than owning a plant. I have seen despair increase in America the economy stagnates, jobs become scarce and the national debt remains unaddressed. At present, it’s all the government can do to pay off the interest of the money it has borrowed, let alone make headway on reducing the debt.

Even while all this is happening, I have seen government aid go to terrorist organizations such as Al Basra Front in Syria. I have seen youtube videos of Islamist militants decapitating people they do not like even while they chant in unison how they bring their jihad upon their enemies. I have seen uprisings in Spain, in the Ukraine, in Venezuela, in Nevada. I have seen the world become a more dangerous place than it was previously.

Because of this, I feel I must address you the soldier directly. As a member of the military, you are enjoined in a constant battle to defend your nation. This is what you are told. Yet, unless you live in a country such as Switzerland, it may often be the case where you are sent overseas to a foreign land in order to fight an enemy you know nothing about. Your leaders may know about your enemy, but it is doubtful whether you have ever sat down with a terrorist and asked him why he hates America so much. You may not have had a conversation with a member of Hezbollah or the IRA or any other terrorist group. This being the case, why are you sent to fight them?

The truth, which your leaders will not tell you, is that soldiers are sent out to solve conflicts that politicians cannot solve on their own. In many cases, the machinery of government is so unwieldy, so incompetent that instead of creating peace, it instead sows the seeds of hatred and discontent throughout the world. The arrogance of government officials today seems to know no bounds. Not only are they willing to plunder another nation’s resources and kill another nation’s citizens, they are also not willing to engage their honor, their wealth or their persons in order to do so. They fight wars by proxy hoping that soldiers will be able to eliminate a concerning threat.

Years of warfare in this world have created a necessity, which has sparked an invention of warfare never seen previous to the rise of terrorism. Where once soldiers wore uniforms and confronted each other on a field of battle, enemy combatants are now civilians. They may be brainwashed children with bombs strapped to their chests. They may be old women with handguns hidden in purses. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult to tell friend from foe. The only way government knows how to react to such a change in circumstances is to assume everyone is guilty before proven innocent. Better to suspect everyone than to always be reactionary and miss an opportunity. This is how government perceives the problem.

In the process, however, the very soldiers such as yourself who wish to defend freedom now become enemies of freedom. Where once people had the right to speak what they would, now they are only allowed to utter approved speech. Where once citizens may have been entrusted to own firearms as responsible adults, now the government presumes to tell the population that people cannot be trusted with guns even while it is the biggest customer of firearms in the country.

Of course, the examples I use come from the activities of the American government. However, anyone who wishes to examine the conduct of his or her government shall always be able to find questionable behavior. There is, for example, the government of Japan having no idea what to do about the radiation leaking into the Pacific Ocean from their damaged nuclear reactor at Fukushima. There is the government of Brazil destroying lands occupied by indigenous tribal people in order to build shopping malls and parking lots. There is the government of Canada retracting its protections for their indigenous people in order that they might progress on the Keystone XL pipeline- a project which is already proving to be a disaster. There is the government of Russia imprisoning an all-female band named Pussy Riot for the crime of making a statement the ministers of the country disagreed with. There are governments in Africa who are persecuting people for the crime of being gay or lesbian.

In fact, to list the corrupt and incompetent behaviors of government would take a lifetime to tell, for every day brings a new behavior to light.

Consequently, I write to you, the soldier, who in the course of your duty has seen conditions worsen, has seen the service become more about sitting down, shutting up and obeying orders than making a contribution to the objectives of your superiors. I write to you because, in spite of all the evil in the world, in spite of everything that is working against every person in this world, you still have a choice.

Free will is not an illusion. Pulling the trigger of a gun requires neurons in the brain to fire, sending a signal along your nervous system which tells your finger to curl up. Each step you take, each action you perform, every word you speak is voluntary. You have a choice as to whether you wish to obey the orders of those politicians who, for want of personal human decency, would destroy the world in order to build a palace for themselves. Each person is responsible for his or her own actions. With the responsibility to choose also comes the freedom to choose your own actions based on your beliefs.

That is why, this Memorial Day, instead of remembering the soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty, I would rather have you remember that your life is important. Your choices are important. You have a value unto yourself as a human being. You are not a machine. Whether you choose to behave like a machine in an oppressive system is entirely your choice. I will not tell what you choice you have to make. I will only tell you that, in spite of all you may have heard and seen, you are the only one who determines what course you take.