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Our choices are not free from consequences

Choices. An American ideal.

I know it’s been hard during COVID and, for most people before COVID, but traveling around the world to visit other countries, experience different cultures and see myriad governing philosophies at work has made it clear beyond question that the difference between the United States and almost everywhere else is our ability to choose for ourselves.

The Founding Fathers exalted our freedom to choose by prioritizing liberty together with life and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. These were primary examples of our inalienable rights.

We are hearing a lot lately about our right to choose. But it is not just the debate over a woman’s right to decide what’s best for her and her health — you know, the abortion issue. Women just want what men have — the liberty to make their own health decisions.

That debate is front and center in the redder parts of our country, which clearly and recklessly believe that oppressing 50% of all Americans is a recipe for the continued good health of our democracy.

I am not sure how the Founders would have reacted to the abortion debate —if ever they had the time to even consider it given the high rate of infant mortality in the 1700s — because they were more than a bit Neanderthalish in their own approach to women. Fortunately, this country has tried to rectify that attitude over the past three centuries as we continue to perfect this less-than-perfect union.

But that is not the choice I write about today.

I believe all Americans have the right to choose what is best for them and their families. I also believe that in a democracy, each person’s individual rights end where other Americans’ similar rights begin.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, when I stepped onto my college campus for the first time. It was during the war in Vietnam, and there was a virtual certainty that almost every young male would be drafted for military service at some point.

Many young men were leaving for Canada and other countries to avoid the draft. And there were a few, most famously Muhammad Ali, who would later choose jail as a matter of principle for their refusal to enter the service.

The war in Vietnam was part of the discussion I was having with my parents as I entered the gates of Georgetown University and walked onto Copley Lawn a lifetime ago.

“Pick one,” my dad told me. There was a sign above each of two desks: Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC. My father explained very directly that while I had a choice of which branch of the service I would enter, I did not have the choice to leave this country. It was either military service or jail — no running away. Parents could do that back then.

He explained that in his experience — of which he had plenty — officers lived longer during war than enlisted men. “So pick one,” he insisted.

Reluctantly, I chose to be an officer in the United States Army — grateful that Uncle Sam actually wanted me — which turned out to be an honorable and satisfying decision.

That was the time I learned the valuable relationship between the choices we make and the consequences that result from those decisions.

In the United States today, there are people making a choice not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even though the overwhelming scientific evidence proves that the shots save lives.

In many cases that refusenik position is now costing people their jobs because companies across the country, determined to protect their employees and customers, are mandating vaccinations.

In one prominent example, a professional basketball player has forfeited millions of dollars because he has refused to comply with his team’s vaccine mandate, an irresponsible action affecting his teammates and his fellow citizens.

That is his choice. No vaccine, no more millions. Just like I had a choice to go to the Army or go to jail. In both cases we must, as citizens of this great country, be prepared to accept the consequences of our choices.

In my case, my decision to join ROTC meant the possibility, even probability, of being killed in the war. By comparison, losing a job or some money because a person refuses to be vaccinated seems just a minor inconvenience.

So we have choices and we shouldn’t condemn those who choose — however unwise and selfish they may be — not to get vaccinated.

By the same token, those who exercise their free will as Americans shouldn’t squeal too loudly when the time comes to pay for their irresponsible decisions — with their jobs, their health or their money.

That’s the American way.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.

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