Every year, in preparation for the week of July 4, the Independent staff searches the state for the subjects of our annual Freedom Fighters issue. We’re looking for people of conviction and organizations of purpose, neighbors doing the hard work of taking the freedoms we enjoy seriously, and the harder work of defending against the multitudinous threats to those freedoms. We have an institutional soft spot for underdogs, because they have to fight longer odds, and we tend to come back with civil libertarians, social justice activists and political position-takers—citizens putting it all on the line to protect our rights, or to advance some cause—democracy, equality, opportunity—we find laudable.
This year it wasn’t that simple. This issue arrives in the third year of military operations in Iraq, and as regular readers have no doubt noticed, Indy staffers, like Americans everywhere, have substantially mixed feelings about that war—its political justifications, its planning, its human and financial cost and the circumstances of its eventual conclusion.
But this isn’t about us.
This year, as the daily death count of American soldiers continues to pile up on the evening news, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion—even if you question the necessity—that the hardest work of all is being done by American soldiers in Iraq, who do that work in the face of the same questions and qualms as the rest of us, and who do it with their lives on the line.
This year, our Freedom Fighters issue is about honoring the seven Montana soldiers who answered a call to duty every bit as solemn as the one that compels their counterparts on the social justice front, and who paid the ultimate price for the convictions—their own and others’—that put them in harm’s way. By memorializing them, we express our hope that their loss, and their families’ loss, will be neither forgotten nor in vain.