A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from June 19, 2015
“If fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?”

Manhattan-born comedian George Carlin (1937-2008) wrote in Napalm & Silly Putty (2002):

“The contra killers were known as ‘freedom fighters.’ Well, if crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?”

It’s not known when Carlin first said the line, but it’s documented that he used it in the 1990s. Carlin probably first said it in the late 1980s.

“If fire fighters fight fires, why don’t freedom fighters fight freedom?” and “My question is. if fire fighters fight fires, what do freedom fighters fight?” were both cited in 1987.


Wikipedia: George Carlin
George Denis Patrick Carlin (May 12, 1937 – June 22, 2008) was an American stand-up comedian, social critic, actor, and author. Carlin was noted for his black comedy and his thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects. Carlin and his “Seven dirty words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, in which a 5–4 decision affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

He is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential stand-up comedians: One newspaper called Carlin “the dean of counterculture comedians.” In 2004, Carlin was placed second on the Comedy Central list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians, ahead of Lenny Bruce and behind Richard Pryor.

Google Books
Verbatim
Volumes 14-15
1987
Pg. 10:
If fire fighters fight fires, why don’t freedom fighters fight freedom?

Google Books
High Performance
Volume 10
1987
Pg. 89:
My question is. if fire fighters fight fires, what do freedom fighters fight?

24 November 1991, Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette, “East Iowa Byways,” pg. 17A, col. 1:
Mr. Byways considers himself a pretty smart guy, but even he doesn’t have answers to the questions Barbara Naness asked recently in her “In a Nutshell” column in the Midland Times:
(...)
“If crimefighters fight crime and firefighters fight fires, what do freedom fighters fight?”

Google Groups: alt.usage.english
“freedom fighter” & like irregularities
Joseph C Fineman
11/14/93
Firefighters fight fires.  Crime fighters fight crime.  De Kruif’s book _The Hunger Fighters_ was about people who raised agricultural productivity.  Indian fighters used to fight “Indians”.  What the hell do *freedom fighters* fight?  Since first encountering this curious reversal of idiom in connection with the Hungarian uprising in 1956, I have always thought of it as idiot journalese; but the OED Supp. (always a good recourse when one’s dander is up) has a quotation from a *poem* in 1942, so I suppose it is standard English of a kind.

There must be thousands of compounds of the type (noun)+(agent noun)—e.g. bookkeeper, taxi driver, woman hater, paint remover, and Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater.  Can you think of any others in which the
modifying noun is *not* the direct object of the underlying verb?  (I do not mean, of course, plain appositions such as “woman driver”.) The best I can come up with is “caseworker”, which might be taken to mean someone who works *on* cases, as freedom fighters fight *for* freedom.

Google Books
The Fourth Decade: A Journal of Research on the John F. Kennedy Assassination
Volumes 3-4
1995
Pg. 8:
Riffing on the Contras, George Carlin mused, “If crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fires, what do freedom fighters fight?”

Google Books
That’s Funny!:
A Compendium of Over 1,000 Great Jokes from Today’s Hottest Comedians

Compiled by Michael Cader
New York, NY: Cader Books ; Kansas City, MO: Andrews and McMeel
1996
Pg. 114:
If crime fighters fight crime, and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part to us, do they?—GEORGE CARLIN

Google Groups: alt.support.stop-smoking
July Firsters (or Freedom Fighters?,Any decision yet?)
Wayne Benner
7/1/96
The name freedom fighters is scary! If firefighters fight fires, what do freedom fighters fight? It reminds me of those terrorist contras in Nicaragua. Please don’t fight against your freedom....

Google Books
Napalm & Silly Putty
By George Carlin
New York, NY: Hyperion Books
2002
Pg. 200:
The contra killers were known as “freedom fighters.” Well, if crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?

Google News Archive
25 August 2005, Manila (Philippines) Times, “Chronicle of chronic adventures” by Renato Redentor, pg. A5, col. 2:
“If crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire,” asked the comic George Carlin, “what do freedom fighters fight?”

YouTube
George Carlin (1990) - Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists
schneller00
Uploaded on Dec 28, 2011
Transcript of the video:
Smug, greedy well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It’s as simple as that. The CIA doesn’t kill people anymore, they neutralize people, or they depopulate the area. The government doesn’t lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures nuclear radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they?

Twitter
George Carlin RIP
‏@GeorgeCarlinSez
Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fires, what do freedom fighters fight? ~ George Carlin #p2 #Quotes #jokes
1:01 PM - 20 Jun 2015

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Friday, June 19, 2015 • Permalink