In economic terms, the private ownership of “property” means far more than merely possessing real estate (although the right to own land is a key component of the concept). More broadly, private property rights involve the ability of the individual to own the means of economic production.
Whether those means are of an industrial, intellectual, or virtual nature, an individual’s right to harness them, utilize them, and to produce wealth with them, apart from governments and other collective bodies dictating the process or confiscating the spoils, is key to the survival of a free society.
The heroes of World War II well understood that when this right to private property is compromised, the other rights of the individual soon collapse. After all, Adolph Hitler’s reign of terror began with the confiscation of private property from merely one people group - the Jews - yet it didn’t end until over 60 million people, roughly 2.5% of the world’s population at that time, had lost their lives.
With this in mind, allow the stories of two WWII veterans – an Army medic & a Navy seaman – to underscore the point.
Anthony J. Malone was from Middletown, CT. He was a rare breed—a soldier who joined the peacetime US Army in 1938 between the wars. He was issued a World War I uniform and a doughboy helmet that looked more British than American.
In his helmet Tony Malone penned his first two initials and his last name. The leather headgear bore the markings “A.J. Malone, Co ‘H’ 16th med. Reg’t, Ford Devens, Mass.”
He trained to be a medic. Tony Malone was a soldier without a war.
Until December 7th, 1941.
Men ran to enlist, standing in line for hours. Tony Malone was already there. His wartime duties would take him to places that today’s history books reference with a sense of awe: fighting in North Africa, Sicily, D-Day, and ultimately to Hitler’s Lair. His helmet went with him.
The Navy seaman was Bill Mansfield from Grant’s Pass, OR. He joined at the end of World War II, seeing no combat. As the war ended, he joined the US Army Air Forces and was deployed to Korea during that conflict. Like SGT Malone, CMSGT Mansfield became anonymous to the pages of history but not to the small groups they commanded.
When World War II ended, Malone discarded his helmet and returned home to Connecticut. Unbeknownst to SGT Malone his helmet became a symbol of a by-gone era and the beginning of a legacy for generations to come. His helmet travelled undetected for 64 years till 2009 when Boise, ID high school students researched and found Malone. He had passed away 8 years earlier – one of a 1000 or so World War II vets that had died on a particular day.
Bill Mansfield passed away on another day in 2012, equally anonymous and yet equally impactful on the lives of his small band of brothers.
Malone lived through World War II with his small unit of men – they protected him, and he them. His heirs lived to see his legacy continue through the silent witness of a helmet.
Mansfield lived to see healing be a part of his personal relationship to his estranged son. They formed a deep friendship. His legacy lives on through a soon-to-be West Point - his grandson - who will be sworn into the US Army in 2014, almost seventy years after he entered boot camp and World War II.
With each passing year, fewer and fewer Americans have such a direct, multi-generational connection to World War II. Yet the domestic and global free trade that empowers our economy and enables our very way of life is a legacy from our veterans that is ever-present, if only we’ll stop to consider it.
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.