Austin, Texas... Politex's for Patriotism

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"Critical thinking is compatible with patriotism."

"Amnesia is not a requirement for patriotism."

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it. ."-- Edward R. Murrow

Dear Politex, I am disappointed in this website. In a time where this country and her citizens need to stand together and support each other more than ever before for the sake of freedom, there's someone who'll judge and criticize and dig out the negativity. No matter how excellent this country and her governments are someone will always find something wrong somewhere. --Theresa

Sorry you don't appear to understand the nature of freedom and patriotism in the U.S., Theresa. Perhaps the follow readings will help. thanks and best wishes, Jerry Politex

October 23, 2001


A True Patriot Can Pose Hard Questions

By ROBERT SCHEER, Robert Scheer writes a syndicated column

War skeptics such as Richard Gere, Susan Sontag, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Bill Maher and the Berkeley City Council should be congratulated, not vilified, for daring to demur, ever so slightly, from government propaganda. Right or wrong, they have acted as free people in a free society who understand that if our course is correct, it can survive criticism. And if it is not, it is all the more important that we gather the courage to state that criticism clearly and in a timely fashion.

It's shocking that so few have raised doubts and that the ones who have are called wimps, traitors and worse, with their lives threatened by cowards hiding behind anonymous letters and phone calls. It is no badge of courage to blindly accept the actions taken in our name by our government.

Let me be clear: Terrorism as exemplified by the murders of Sept. 11 and the anthrax scare that has followed needs to be stopped, fast and efficiently. However, there is no blueprint for accomplishing that, and as a free, self-ruling democratic people, it is not only our right but our responsibility to vigorously and openly debate the issues: the use of military force, our foreign policy, civil rights and privacy in a time of war, and so on. "America Unites" sounds great as a news logo, but unity is no simple concept. We all want our families, our soldiers, our unions, our sports teams to be united toward clear, common goals. But is it not dangerous for a democratic populace weighing if and how to wage war to value unity above all else? It's all too easy to mandate patriotism, as the New York Board of Education did last week, bringing back the pledge of allegiance to classrooms as if that will stop the Osama bin Ladens of the world.

To understand the limits of government-sponsored "unity," we might ask the soldiers of the old Soviet Union. They marched with their pledges and anthems into the treacherous terrain of Afghanistan two decades ago, while at home the dissent that could have saved them from military and economic disaster was systematically squelched.

Authoritarian societies inevitably crumble because they silence the critics who could save them from the errors of blind hubris. Dissent is not a luxury to be indulged in the best of times but rather an obligation of free people, particularly when the very notion of dissent is unpopular. This is why our nation's founders enshrined the Bill of Rights, within a few years of fighting a revolution in which one-third of their compatriots were sympathetic to the British king. They were painfully aware of the inconvenience of dissent to those who govern--even in times of war--but they valued it as essential to democracy.

The U.S. Supreme Court clearly understood this when it ruled that mandatory recitation of the pledge of allegiance--even before the divisive words "under God" were inserted--was unconstitutional. "To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds," wrote Justice Robert H. Jackson for the majority in 1943. This was, remember, at the height of World War II, when the war's outcome was very much in doubt.

If we discourage dissent now, we will give terrorists the victory they sought by destroying what they most hate about our society: its commitment to unfettered thought and expression. And if we who have hard questions about the path our leaders are taking don't speak up, we may be party to a more tangible defeat: a continuing erosion of security in a divided world we don't always seem to understand.

Empty Patriotism

Ideologues at the Gate

Arne W. Flones
Copyright 2001.
All rights reserved.

I'm sick and tired of empty patriotism. You know the kind. Waving flags, singing "God Bless America" and cheering about everything in the good ol' USA, while at the same time becoming a mute robot and surrendering everything for which people have fought and died.

In the first place, the pledge, the flag and the songs have all changed throughout history. Pledging allegiance to the flag isn't even anything the founding fathers of the United States of America would recognize. The practice was started in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, the editor of The Youth's Companion, a magazine similar to today's Readers Digest. The intent of Bellamy's pledge has been clouded by well-meaning people who have changed the original's very simple wording. This is how Bellamy conceived the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892.

"I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty, equality, and justice for all." Unfortunately, women had yet to earn their voting rights. The end of the road to equality for African-Americans was more than seven decades in the future. The Pledge of Allegiance was published without equality, but with the grammatically correct and to the republic... In this form, it was recited in the schools. "I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." That is, until 1923, when it was again changed, this time into a form we might almost recognize. "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." I'm not a big fan of this change because it symbolically elevates -- dare I say, raises? -- the flag higher than the republic. This begs the question, what good is a flag if everything for which it stands is gone? Francis Bellamy similarly opposed this change, but he lost the battle to preserve his originally published wording. The next, more ominous, change, came in 1954. Under lobbying efforts of a Catholic organization, The Knights of Columbus, under god was added. The non-secular purpose of these words should be clear to anybody. Like millions of others, I originally learned the pledge without, under god. That's the way I still recite it.

What makes the United States unique and great is not a pledge, a flag, or a song, all of which are more properly labelled culturally transitory trappings of patriotism. The USA is great because of a body of law and the people who have chosen to live under that law. That's why, in the United States when an immigrant takes the oath of citizenship, or when a citizen takes an oath of public office, they swear to uphold, not a flag, not the President, not a god, not an ideology, but the Constitution of the United States of America.

The flag, the songs, the Pledge and all the rest of the patriotic trappings are mere surrogates for the Constitution and the citizens who lived, died, and worked to preserve the Constitution. If a person wants to know what it means to be a patriot in the USA, all he has to do is to read the history of those citizens. And when one speaks of US citizens, what a gloriously diverse citizenry it is.

The USA is not Caucasian, Latino, African, Asian, Persian, Aborigine or any other specific ethnic origin. The USA is not Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Shaman, Wiccan, atheist, or any other religious belief. The USA is not Democrat, Republican, Whig, Federalist, or any other political persuasion. The name of the country is The United States of America. The motto of the USA is E plurbus unum, one out of many. The USA is the summation of many ethnic, religious and political backgrounds. To be united in the United States of America is not to be all of one race, religion, gender, or political opinion; it is to be united in spite of being of a different gender, race, religion, or political opinion.

Ideologues at the Gate One cannot honor the USA without respecting the diversity of heritage, the diversity of belief, and the diversity of opinion of her citizens. The extent of differences and the extent to which the differences are tolerated is what makes the USA great.

No amount of flag waving can cancel racial, religious or gender intolerance. No amount of singing God Bless America will undo the whittling away of the Bill of Rights that so many have died to protect. No amount of empty patriotism will make up for silencing political dissent in the name of patriotism.

As a proud and patriotic citizen I am appalled at those who would use the words traitor or treason in conjunction with political dissent. Yet that is precisely what I am hearing in the United States of America today. Political ideologues like the Laura Schlessingers of the world think people who disagree with the President are guilty of treason. My opinion of the difference between patriotism and the trappings of patriotism illicits a label of traitor from a conservative friend of mine. (Fortunately, like patriotism, I do not measure friendship by political opinion.) The definition of patriotism says nothing about preserving the purity of ones political ideology. Under the Constitution of the United States of America, not even the President has the power to define patriotism in those terms.

I would defend with my life people's right to say anything they want, including calling political opponents treasonous traitors. However, I will also defend myself politically by reminding those same individuals that history shows that when put into practice, the regimes that benefit from such policies are always short-lived. It seems like it's a policy which always ends up biting the hand that feeds it. The founding fathers of the USA understood this. That's why freedom of speech, the press and to peaceably assemble are prominent in the Bill of Rights.

So let's all stand together and wave our flags and sing our songs. But let's not forget that it is the writers of the Constitution and the citizens who lived and died to protect it for whom we pledge, wave, and sing. Using patriotism to oppose your political opponents is empty rhetoric and empty patriotism.

Evil Evildoers Of Evil
How to feel calmly patriotic and yet not the slightest bit reassured by Bush & Co.

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, October 19, 2001

This much is true: It really is possible to love your country and value your freedoms and still believe the government is full of fools and prevaricators and BS artists and Dick Cheney. Really.

It is still possible to feel warmly patriotic in personal and important ways and yet believe the military and the generals and the war machine do not have your best interests at heart and really couldn't care less what those interests are anyway but thank you for sharing now please sit down and do as we tell you and by the way, thanks for all the flags and the money.

And it is still possible to feel unified and spiritually connected to all that is good and righteous about your generally nonviolent Americanism -- you know, wine and sex and good music, large dogs and literature and clean water and tongue kissing in the streets -- and still be depressed when our famously nonintellectual president talks to the country like we're all five years old and heavily dosed on Ritalin.

When Bush employs phrases like "bring the evildoers to justice" over and over, 17 times in one speech alone, and he furrows his brow like a serious Muppet and offers carefully scripted reassurances deliberately lacking in polysyllabism and detailed explanation because that would be, you know, complicated.

When he repeats primitive little maxims like "There are no negotiations" and responds to press-conference questions about the vitriolic anti-US hatred that has blossomed around the globe by saying, "I'm amazed. I just can't believe it because I know how good we are," thus causing a giant global spasm of multinational cringing and openly insulting the intelligence of anyone who can walk and breathe at the same time.

When he delivers very earnest speeches he had no part in writing, and when he is forced to speak extemporaneously, sans script or TelePrompTer, and is reduced to simplistic good-guy/bad-guy platitudes and flustered, rapid blinking, and who cannot for the life of him articulate a complex idea, some sort of nuanced elucidation of our nation's motives and positioning, that contains more than one possible level of meaning.

But perhaps that's too harsh. Unfair. He's the president, after all. He is a Good Man. He's our leader right now, he's doing his best and he's all we've got. This is our rallying cry, our motto: He's all we've got. There's your bumper sticker. And there he is.

Except for Cheney, which isn't exactly reassuring. No one has ever seen this man's mouth actually move. No one can take one look at his oddly spiritless and wan figure and not think, oh dear God, that man is running on fumes. From a bunker. With ropes and pulleys.

But you're not supposed to. In fact, you really aren't allowed to criticize the president or the veep right now, not supposed to feel strangely leaderless and adrift, not permitted to look upon the events of the past weeks with much wariness or bitterness or a disquieting sense that we're setting things in motion that have no predictable outcome -- ugly, subterranean, hateful things that could last years and will surely cost billions and will deeply entrench the nation in a bizarre and poisonous shell game with shadowy opponents of largely unknown capability and do you hear that? That soft roaring? That's the sound of the GOP-stroked military machine, quietly cheering.

Never mind the staggering multibillion-dollar political mess in Saudi Arabia that fueled bin Laden's network for years, or the enormous oil fields that are desperately vulnerable to terrorist attack at any moment. Never mind the US government's outright rejection of new advancements in alternative fuels to get us away from oil and out of the Gulf entirely.

Instead we get: Evildoers. Air strikes. Hundreds of dead civilians. Rumsfeld denials. And Bush, squinting, saying things only small children and shoppers find comforting and manly.

It is, Bush tells us, a war on terrorism. We will eradicate terrorism through largely violent and aggressive means, because that is what we must do and what we always do and everything else takes too damn long. We have to do something. This is the common wisdom. Bush said so. Mr. Rumsfeld told him so, with his black and shiny hawk eyes all a-glimmer. Disagree? You traitorous whiner.

This war, it will be just like the War on Drugs. It will be potent and effective and our objectives will be clear. The nation had a nasty drug problem and we declared a war on drugs and spent billions over many years and now you can't buy drugs anymore. It will be just like that.

There is more than one way to respond to the horror of Sept. 11. And there is more than one kind of patriotism. We forget this. You do not have to rally around Bush and tolerate Cheney's chthonic creepiness and wave a frantic flag and believe every scripted half-truth that drizzles out of the Pentagon, applaud the nonstop attacks on an already demolished nation. Pro-America does not mean pro-war. Or pro-Bush. Or anti-Afghanistan. Or pro-little-flags-on-SUV-antennas.

It means thinking independently and getting better informed and filtering your news very carefully and realizing that just because one version of the American aggro attitude is currently being ramrodded down society's throat doesn't mean you have to swallow.

It means you don't have to find Tomahawk missiles really cool or think all those tens of thousands of Europeans and Egyptians and world citizens protesting the US bombings must be commie jerks, or feel sad and morally depleted when you can't seem to draw any intellectual nourishment whatsoever when Bush declaims, "Terrorists want us to stop our lives, stop our flying, stop our buying. But this nation will not be intimidated by evildoers." You don't have to buy into that infantile hokum for a moment.

After all, this is America.

And our flag was still there

Barbara Kingsolver

MY DAUGHTER came home from kindergarten and announced, "Tomorrow we all have to wear red, white and blue."

"Why?" I asked, trying not to sound wary.

"For all the people that died when the airplanes hit the buildings."

I fear the sound of saber-rattling, dread that not just my taxes but even my children are being dragged to the cause of death in the wake of death. I asked quietly, "Why not wear black, then? Why the colors of the flag, what does that mean?"

"It means we're a country. Just all people together."

So we sent her to school in red, white and blue, because it felt to her like something she could do to help people who are hurting. And because my wise husband put a hand on my arm and said, "You can't let hateful people steal the flag from us."

He didn't mean terrorists, he meant Americans. Like the man in a city near us who went on a rampage crying "I'm an American" as he shot at foreign-born neighbors, killing a gentle Sikh man in a turban and terrifying every brown- skinned person I know. Or the talk-radio hosts, who are viciously bullying a handful of members of Congress for airing sensible skepticism at a time when the White House was announcing preposterous things in apparent self-interest, such as the "revelation" that terrorists had aimed to hunt down Air Force One with a hijacked commercial plane. Rep. Barbara Lee cast the House's only vote against handing over virtually unlimited war powers to one man that a whole lot of us didn't vote for. As a consequence, so many red-blooded Americans have now threatened to kill her, she has to have additional bodyguards.

Patriotism seems to be falling to whoever claims it loudest, and we're left struggling to find a definition in a clamor of reaction. This is what I'm hearing: Patriotism opposes the lone representative of democracy who was brave enough to vote her conscience instead of following an angry mob. (Several others have confessed they wanted to vote the same way, but chickened out.) Patriotism threatens free speech with death. It is infuriated by thoughtful hesitation, constructive criticism of our leaders and pleas for peace. It despises people of foreign birth who've spent years learning our culture and contributing their talents to our economy. It has specifically blamed homosexuals, feminists and the American Civil Liberties Union. In other words, the American flag stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder? Who are we calling terrorists here? Outsiders can destroy airplanes and buildings, but it is only we, the people, who have the power to demolish our own ideals.

It's a fact of our culture that the loudest mouths get the most airplay, and the loudmouths are saying now that in times of crisis it is treasonous to question our leaders. Nonsense. That kind of thinking let fascism grow out of the international depression of the 1930s. In critical times, our leaders need most to be influenced by the moderating force of dissent. That is the basis of democracy, in sickness and in health, and especially when national choices are difficult, and bear grave consequences.

It occurs to me that my patriotic duty is to recapture my flag from the men now waving it in the name of jingoism and censorship. This isn't easy for me.

The last time I looked at a flag with unambiguous pride, I was 13. Right after that, Vietnam began teaching me lessons in ambiguity, and the lessons have kept coming. I've learned of things my government has done to the world that made me direly ashamed. I've been further alienated from my flag by people who waved it at me declaring I should love it or leave it. I search my soul and find I cannot love killing for any reason. When I look at the flag, I see it illuminated by the rocket's red glare.

This is why the warmongers so easily gain the upper hand in the patriot game: Our nation was established with a fight for independence, so our iconography grew out of war. Our national anthem celebrates it; our language of patriotism is inseparable from a battle cry. Our every military campaign is still launched with phrases about men dying for the freedoms we hold dear, even when this is impossible to square with reality. In the Persian Gulf War we rushed to the aid of Kuwait, a monarchy in which women enjoyed approximately the same rights as a 19th century American slave. The values we fought for and won there are best understood, I think, by oil companies. Meanwhile, a country of civilians was devastated, and remains destroyed.

Stating these realities does not violate the principles of liberty, equality, and freedom of speech; it exercises them, and by exercise we grow stronger. I would like to stand up for my flag and wave it over a few things I believe in, including but not limited to the protection of dissenting points of view. After 225 years, I vote to retire the rocket's red glare and the bullet wound as obsolete symbols of Old Glory. We desperately need a new iconography of patriotism. I propose we rip stripes of cloth from the uniforms of public servants who rescued the injured and panic-stricken, remaining at their post until it fell down on them. The red glare of candles held in vigils everywhere as peace-loving people pray for the bereaved, and plead for compassion and restraint. The blood donated to the Red Cross. The stars of film and theater and music who are using their influence to raise money for recovery. The small hands of schoolchildren collecting pennies, toothpaste, teddy bears, anything they think might help the kids who've lost their moms and dads.

My town, Tucson, Ariz., has become famous for a simple gesture in which some 8,000 people wearing red, white or blue T-shirts assembled themselves in the shape of a flag on a baseball field and had their photograph taken from above. That picture has begun to turn up everywhere, but we saw it first on our newspaper's front page. Our family stood in silence for a minute looking at that photo of a human flag, trying to know what to make of it. Then my teenage daughter, who has a quick mind for numbers and a sensitive heart, did an interesting thing. She laid her hand over a quarter of the picture, leaving visible more or less 6,000 people, and said, "That many are dead." We stared at what that looked like -- all those innocent souls, multi-colored and packed into a conjoined destiny -- and shuddered at the one simple truth behind all the noise, which is that so many beloved people have suddenly gone from us. That is my flag, and that's what it means: We're all just people together.

Barbara Kingsolver is the author of nine books including "The Poisonwood Bible," (Harperflamingo, 1999).

Authentic Patriots

By BILL TAMMEUS - The Kansas City Star, 10/5/01

"One of the more serious -- but so-far little discussed -- questions raised by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is about the nature of patriotism. What does it mean to be patriotic? Is it just flying the American flag? Just singing "God Bless America" at every turn? Just voicing support for our national war on terrorism?

"If, in fact, patriotism does not go beyond those responses, it isn't worth much. I certainly am not suggesting flags and songs are wrong or silly. Not at all. But they're the frosting on the cake. Real patriotism runs deeper. It's multilayered and not merely a short list festooned with reds, whites and blues and set to a rousing Sousa march. If patriotism is just waving the flag, then Samuel Johnson was right that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." And, worse, Guy de Maupassant was right that "patriotism is the egg from which wars are hatched." What we must understand in this nervous time, this wounded time when everyone is rallying around the flag, is that patriotism, properly understood, is a necessary virtue. But patriotism distorted -- as it was in the Vietnam War era phrase "America, love it or leave it" -- is no virtue at all.

"My own short list of what makes up patriotism certainly isn't exhaustive, but I don't see how it's possible to claim to be a patriot without these characteristics. A patriot:

"Is well informed. And not just about current events but also about history. One does not get well informed by relying on one source of information. If, for instance, you get your news solely from television, there's no possible way to be well versed. And your sources of information should represent different points of view. If, for instance, your newspaper's editorial page tends to be conservative, also read a publication that tends to be liberal in its editorial positions. I don't think it's unpatriotic not to be able to name all the presidents in perfect order. But patriotism does require knowledge of the broad sweep of both national and world history. If, for example, you don't know approximately when the Civil War was fought and -- more to the point -- why, it's hard to imagine how you can process today's events and draw lucid conclusions about public policy.

"Registers and votes. The level of voter registration and participation in elections in America is a shameful scandal. Patriots vote. It's the very lowest threshold of citizenship. Other patriots died so we all could go to the polls. Each time we skip that civic duty for anything but emergencies, we dishonor their sacrifice. And patriots vote not just in presidential elections but in local and state contests -- including primaries. Patriots also understand the issues and grasp where the candidates stand on them. They follow the debates, are up on the arguments, feel at least reasonably confident expressing an opinion because they have considered it carefully.

"Praises and criticizes the government. I'm always stunned at how critical some people are of whatever the government does -- until a national crisis arrives. Then some of them brook no criticism at all, imagining it to be unpatriotic. But the truth is that we don't defend our principles by abandoning them in crises. We don't honor freedom of speech by forbidding it. In good times and bad, we need to follow what our representatives are doing in our name and, if it's done well, praise them, but, if not, call them to account. It is not treason to disagree with the president. It can, however, be unpatriotic to silence dissident voices.

"Is active in his community. Patriots know who their neighbors are and care about their welfare. They volunteer for good causes. They donate money, property and time to help people in need. They also support education, especially the public schools, understanding that a learned and educated citizenry is crucial to our republic.

"Understands that people in other countries also can be patriotic without being a threat to our own nation. People in Taiwan, France, Colombia, Ghana and India may see the world differently than most Americans do. Patriots make room for such views without demonizing the people who hold them. Patriotism requires more than waving Old Glory. If we don't understand that, we don't have much to defend."

Gersh Kuntzman: Un-American Activities
Our columnist examines the quickly shifting role of patriotism in the weeks since the attacks

Oct. 6 — FOR ABOUT A WEEK, I was actually proud to be an American. Watching our nation respond with unity to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 filled me with the feeling that we are a decent, thoughtful, caring, intelligent people. Well, that didn’t last long, thanks to a sudden shift in the very notion of patriotism. Now, if you aren’t waving a flag, cheering every focus-group-tested word out of President Bush’s mouth or supporting the use of force, you’re a threat. You’re anti-American. You must be silenced. The examples are legion: a columnist in Texas is fired for questioning President Bush’s leadership skills; a columnist in Oregon is fired for questioning President Bush’s leadership skills (sense a pattern?); a professor in New Mexico is disciplined for criticizing American foreign policy; talk-show host Bill Maher—whose show’s very name, “Politically Incorrect,” warns advertisers that he aims for controversy—loses key sponsors because he suggested that the suicide bombers of Sept. 11 were not “cowards”; a rap group removes a song critical of New York City cops because it is deemed “inappropriate” at this time; conservative columnist Ann Coulter, who urged a violent form of revenge against nations that sponsor terrorism, was dropped by; a friend of mine has been threatened because her car bears a bumper sticker, NO MORE BUSHIT—even though she affixed before Sept. 11, when such criticism was tolerated.

Instead of recoiling at these attacks on that most American ideal of free speech, our country has accepted them as part of the war effort. Indeed, only a few card-carrying ACLU members seemed to mind last week when the president’s spokesman, Ari Fleischer (who once said that gas-guzzling was part of the American “way of life”), warned all Americans that “they need to watch what they say, watch what they do” in this time of crisis. (As if evoking the specter of “thoughtcrime” from the book “1984” wasn’t enough, Fleischer fashioned himself as Big Brother, rewriting history by removing the words “watch what they say” from the official transcript of the press conference.) Maybe Fleischer should have warned today’s patriotic demagogues, rather than the writers who’ve lost their jobs questioning our nation’s patriotic psychosis.

“I’m getting calls all day and night from people who scream at me that I’m un-American,” says Dan Guthrie, the columnist (make that former columnist) for the Daily Courier in Grants Pass, Ore. “That doesn’t bother me. It’s the death threats that get scary.” Guthrie lost his job because he suggested in print that the president responded “lamely” because he “skedaddled” rather than immediately returning to Washington after the attack. Tom Gutting, a columnist with the Texas City Sun, also learned the cost of criticizing the president. Gutting’s column accused Bush of being “a puppet ... controlled by advisers” who is leading us into a war that will solve nothing. Gutting called for Americans to “be vigilant citizens, as our Constitution demands.” Gutting’s boss had a different definition of patriotism and fired his columnist, calling his writing “not appropriate during this time our country and our leaders find themselves in.” (Want to do the American thing and decide for yourself? Read Gutting’s column at: Gutting is anything but un-American. In fact, he says he is moved to tears when he reads the Constitution. (Weird, perhaps, but certainly patriotic.) “People call me a communist or yell, ‘Go live in Afghanistan’,” he says. “A communist?! I love this country, but there is no asterisk on the First Amendment that says ‘Except in times of crisis when you must support the president’.” Two hundred and thirty years ago, such subversiveness would’ve made Guthrie and Gutting Founding Fathers. Today, it earns them pink slips.

But Dan Guthrie and Tom Gutting are just two small victims of our country’s orthodoxy. The bigger problem is a nation where all debate is stifled in the name of unity—sort of like those dictatorships that we’re always condemning. A recent poll shows that we trust our government more now than at any point since 1966. Doesn’t that concern anyone? In 1966, trust in government was the problem. Oddly, most of the forced orthodoxy is coming from the right, the supposed defenders of our freedoms. Apparently, if you live in the so-called Blue States, you’re supposed to remain silent about the president’s performance even though the people from the Red States spent the entirety of the last presidency making as much noise as possible. Back then, such divisiveness was considered patriotic. Now it’s un-American.

While we’re at it, here’s my current list of thoughtcrimes: 1. I agree with Bill Maher. The men who crashed planes into the World Trade Center were not cowards. Cowards are people who plan such attacks from the safety of their caves.
2. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is right: Western civilization is “superior” to modern Islamic civilization, where oppression, not democracy, is the rule. Free speech? Even in supposedly moderate Egypt, the president picks the editors of the top papers. American allies? How come Friday-night prayers even in supposedly moderate mosques feature the obligatory venomous attack on the United States. (Look at me, agreeing with Jonah Goldberg of the National Review! Isn’t this a great country?)
3. It bothers me that Muslim shopkeepers who’ve lived in my neighborhood for 25 years feel they must fly the American flag so they won’t get beaten up by their fellow Americans.
4. “God Bless America” is a lousy, cloying song. Give me “America the Beautiful” any day.

Exercising my free speech (hell, I don’t exercise much else) will probably generate plenty of anger from readers. What else is new? I mean, did you catch these recent attacks: Conservative columnist John Podhoretz criticized a New Yorker essay by Susan Sontag for “dripping with contempt for the nation’s politics, its leaders [and] its economic system.” (Podhoretz could recognize it because that was his role before Jan. 20, 2001.) Now Podhoretz is complaining that liberals want to restrict free speech. But it wasn’t liberals who axed Guthrie, Gutting and Coulter.
Steve Dunleavy, another consumer of raw meat, complained in The New York Post about liberals, “whom I regard as traitors in this time of crisis ...” The liberals’ crime? Not supporting greater access to guns. (No, really.)
Later, his Post colleague Andrea Peyser mocked pacifists as “fuzzy-headed academics [who] must have eaten a few too many magic mushrooms.” The pacifists’ crime? Pointing out that American mistakes—such as backing Osama bin Laden against the Russians (we called him a “freedom fighter” back then)—helped create the horrible world we now live in.
Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin even complained that liberals view “the U.S. military as an outdated, hierarchical, racist, sexist, homophobic and imperialistic institution.” Is it un-American to point out that the U.S. military has been all of those things at various times?

Americans should not be happy about where this “1984”-style orthodoxy will lead. In Florida, for example, it’s already being used as a cudgel against would-be opponents to a congressional run by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Republican spokesman Daryl Duwe previewed his party’s strategy when he warned Democrats, who are still angry about how Harris used her office to assist the Bush campaign last year, that bringing it up “would be a losing strategy ... Post-Sept. 11, they do not want to hear the Democrats talk [about it].” In other words, a terrorist who lives in a country where a man can be flogged if his beard is not sufficiently unkempt has neutralized our ability to criticize our political rivals. Wasn’t that his goal? But forced orthodoxy goes far beyond the public’s fear of criticizing government officials. No one wants to take chances anymore. Take a seemingly innocuous example from this season’s sitcoms. On both the supposedly daring “Sex and the City” and the dull “Friends,” sexy single characters found themselves pregnant—but the writers never even entertained an abortion plotline. Wouldn’t want to offend anyone, would we? Then again, why not? Sure, people went nuts when Dan Quayle criticized Murphy Brown—but aren’t we a better country because he was able to say what he felt? After all, he did turn out to be partially right. Hmm, maybe there’s something to staking out a controversial position.

Published on Thursday, October 4, 2001 in the Denver Post
Waving a Flag is the Easy Part
by Reggie Rivers

At times like these, it's difficult for most people to be truly patriotic. We've seen American flags tied to car antennas, affixed to bumpers, pinned on shirts, displayed on front porches, unfurled at sporting events and raised on flag poles to declare our allegiance to our nation.

While I agree that the flag is an important symbol, I believe true patriotism is a much bigger challenge than that.

It's easy to display an American flag. It's easy to lay your hand over your heart and say the pledge of allegiance or sing the national anthem. It's easy to say that we have the best country in the world. It's easy to say that we support the president. It's easy to say that the government should do whatever is necessary to root out terrorism.

But is that really patriotism?

It's easy to watch the images on TV and wish ill on the people who committed these acts of terrorism. It's easy to send donations to relief funds to help the victims. It's easy to nod our heads in agreement when threats are issued against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. It's easy to say, "United we stand" and "God bless America."

But is that really patriotism?

For many people, patriotism means that you never say a harsh word about our country, especially in a time of crisis and especially if that criticism is about our foreign policy. For some, patriotism means giving unflagging support to our military, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with their current mission. For some, patriotism means that we put aside our differences and cancel our debates so we can show our enemy a united front.

But is that really patriotism?

I'm a patriotic American. I love this country, and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world. That love compels me to guard jealously the only thing that there is to be patriotic about - the U.S. Constitution. People tend to get wrapped up in the flag at times like these, but every country has a flag. How many have a constitution?

The United States is the greatest nation because individual citizens here have the freedom to think, to act, to travel and to create. We have freedoms of speech, press, dissent and religion. We're guaranteed speedy and public trials, insulated against self-incrimination and unreasonable searches, and protected, by Supreme Court review, from legislatures that seek to violate those rights.

The Constitution should be the focus of our patriotism, because everything else is just window dressing.

But it's hard for people to be patriotic at a time like this. In our pain, anger and search for justice, we get caught up in the symbols of patriotism rather than the substance. We wave our flags at the terrorists and scream, "You've failed! We're still standing, still proud, still united, still Americans!"

Which is true. But while we're waving our flags, our legislators are chipping away at the document that makes us great. They're expanding wiretapping authority, extending the time that people can be held without being charged with a crime, and signing over billions of dollars with carte blanche spending authority.

While we're proving with our symbols that the terrorists don't scare us, our government is leaning toward a guilty-until-proven-innocent model of profiling, hoping to secretly record the meetings of certain religious groups and pushing for wide-spread use of surveillance cameras coupled with face recognition software so that computers literally could know where any of us is at a particular moment.

If we're really committed in keeping terrorists from stealing our freedoms, then we must be true patriots to our Constitution. But in times like these, it's difficult for people to be patriotic. It's much easier to wave a flag.

Former Denver Broncos player Reggie Rivers ( writes Thursdays on the op-ed page and is a host on KHOW Radio (630 AM, weekdays from 3 to 5 p.m.)

Published on Wednesday, October 3, 2001 in the Chicago Tribune
In Dire Need of a Patriotism of Dissent
by Lloyd J. Averill

A patriotism of dissent has been one of the most vital ingredients of American political life throughout history. It has always been in the national interest to "speak truth to power," and never more so than in times of crisis. We are now entering an era in which the nurture of an active patriotism of dissent will be a most difficult, but most essential task. Patriotic dissent is required if we hope to achieve anything approaching rational and moral balance in American policy and behavior. It is essential for people of faith and goodwill, who seek to honor the prophetic traditions of all religions, to explore what we can say to predispose such an outcome.

We need each other because, clearly, the national mood and political momentum generated by the events of Sept. 11 will move massively against patriotic dissent. It is an admirable sign of national strength when some disaster brings Americans together, and that strength has been shown in small and large ways since those sad September days. Expressions of unity demonstrate an awareness of a common humanity amid our great diversity, a capacity to come together in grief and in resolve, and the presence of shared bonds that are present but sometimes go unnoticed.

Unity is not, however, acquiescence, especially in a national tradition that values dissent. We share a common heritage, but a part of that heritage is respect for diversity of commitments, for differences in outlook and aspiration. So we must be vigilant lest the celebration of a kind of spiritual unity be turned into an expectation of, or worse a demand for, political uniformity.

I have no idea who first characterized the events in New York, Washington and western Pennsylvania as "war." The striking fact is that the characterization was taken up at once by President Bush and by his administrative apparatus, which made an immediate effort to persuade the American public that waging this new form of war would involve a long-term commitment.

Prior to the day of crisis, the president's approval rating had sunk to nearly 50 percent. He and his administration had been in trouble, even among congressional faithful, and had increasingly experienced political heavy weather among the public on a wide range of domestic and foreign issues. By late morning on Sept. 11 there was an instant transformation. Suddenly, the wartime leader of a nation victimized by cowardly attack, the president reduced his response to crisis to a few simplisms (Osama bin Laden "wanted dead or alive"), spoke them with obvious conviction to a public desperately seeking firm assurance, and soared to an unprecedented 82 percent approval.

What is the same, of course, is the man, George W. Bush, with all of his limitations of political outlook and vision, though now with a stronger sense of mission to see them realized. He is surrounded by the same advisers, many with a Cold War mentality, now given fresh range and new opportunity. There has been no transformation of the Bush program with respect to missile defense, education, the environment, patients' rights, taxes or Social Security. Those issues still are what they were, with whatever strengths or defects they had before Sept. 11. But with the radically altered political climate, they now face a strikingly altered prospect.

A patriotism of dissent is needed now on at least three levels.

On the first level, we must say "no" to the president when he promises that America under his leadership will take action against the terrorist threat, "whatever the cost." We must dissent if the cost is an assault on essential civil rights, and especially if hasty legislative action seeks to subvert due process, invade essential privacies, detain without formal charge or adequate representation and utilize secret evidence. Conveniences are expendable; essential rights are not. A reduction in the freedoms that are the essence of the American experiment, and are anathema to our ad-versaries, can never be in the interest of national security.

On a second level, we must be prepared to say "no" to still-troubling aspects of the Bush administration's foreign policy. We must be prepared to say "no" to any use of overt military force, or covert action, that destroys innocent civilians. To call such consequences "collateral damage" dehumanizes its victims and ourselves, reducing or eliminating differences between us and our terrorist adversaries. We must dissent from an American arrogance in foreign affairs that seemed to be the style of the young Bush administration, and that may become even more marked post-Sept. 11. And we must say "no" to the president, in the Congress and in public forums, on a wide range of policy issues domestic and international that possess no greater virtue or validity now than they did prior to Sep. 11. Wartime leadership should not immunize the president against organized and principled political opposition. I consider national missile defense to be among these.

On a third, pressing, more fundamental level, we must admit that we live in murderous times. If we are to honor those who died on Sept. 11, most fundamentally we must dissent from murder--from the capricious, wanton taking of human life quite apart from any demands of justice.

Political philosopher Albert Camus once said that we must make a choice: between being murderers or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all of the force of their being. As individuals and as a nation, in the post-Sept. 11 world, we will be facing some agonizingly difficult decisions. There is danger that, given their difficulty, individually we may simply permit others to make them for us, in which case we may find, too late, that we have sided with the murderers.

Lloyd J. Averill is a professor emeritus from the University of Washington. He lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Reprinted with permission from Sightings, a University of Chicago Divinity School publication.

Published on Friday, October 5, 2001 in the Toronto Star
Now is Not the Time to Stifle Debate
by Rachel Giese

Not long ago, I complained to a friend about the endless profusion of American flags, a gesture that in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks was understandable, even moving, but now just seemed perfunctory and opportunistic.

Every television network has reworked a flag into the logo that appears at the bottom right of the screen. NFL players have pasted tiny flag stickers to the side of their helmets. Fashion designers have sent models down runways clad in flags reworked in every possible way as sarongs, embroidered patches and T-shirts.

A week or two after the attack, my Sunday New York Times had an entire section devoted to full-page ads from big corporations commemorating the events of Sept. 11, all with stars and stripes designs underscoring their company logos.

The next day, my friend responded by sending me an e-greeting from Yahoo, one of a special Sept. 11 series. It had an animated American flag with George W. Bush's "beacon of freedom" speech scrolling across it and "America the Beautiful" playing in the background. Nationalistic, simplistic and very, very tacky, it perfectly summed up everything I'd been kvetching about.

The U.S. has come down with a virulent case of patriotism. That was expected, even necessary. National pride and a love of country created a sense of community in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that enabled rescue efforts and raised millions of dollars for victims and their families.

The trouble is, after the initial rush of brother and sisterhood passes, Americans make very dangerous patriots.

Democracy, plurality, liberty and freedom. The foundations of the American constitution, the very values the U.S. president says the terrorists so despised, these very things, paradoxically, are the first casualties of patriotism and military action.

For proof, one needs to look no further than America's own history. In times of conflict, when the nation has been at its most patriotic, it's also at its most conformist, eroding civil liberties, criminalizing dissenting voices and locking up people without cause.

In World War II, more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were interned in camps. During the Korean War and the Cold War, there was McCarthyism and blacklisting.

Anti-Vietnam War protesters were routinely beaten by police or had their ranks infiltrated by the FBI.

Since Sept. 11, the American battle cries have been "my country right or wrong" and "you're either for us or against us." Never mind that the "us" is a democratic nation with a diversity of belief systems, viewpoints, political convictions and philosophies.

Already two American journalists, Dan Guthrie of Oregon's Daily Courier and Tom Gutting of the Texas City Sun, have lost their jobs for writing critical opinions about George W. Bush's leadership.

TV's Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher was attacked by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer for calling the U.S. cowardly for "lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles" away. Sears, Roebuck and Co. canceled its advertising after Maher's comment, to which Fleischer, sounding dangerously like a modern-day Roy Cohn, replied: "The reminder is to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and that this is not a time for remarks like that."

In Canada, many columnists and pundits have been quick to take up America's cause, treating the only remaining global superpower as though it were a tiny child in need of kid glove care, shielding it from any dissenting or challenging opinion. This is a chilling stance from people who should have a vested professional interest in free speech. "Now is not the time for criticism," said one. "Don't kick a neighbor when he's down," admonished another.

Now is exactly when we need dissent, debate, diversity of opinion, deep scrutiny and free expression the most. As America and Britain ready their troops for war. As Afghan refugees, facing starvation, pour into Pakistan and Iran. As violence flares up in the Middle East despite a ceasefire. As Canada deliberates about whether to cede sovereignty over its borders and its immigration polices to the U.S. As Justice Minister Anne McLellan promises new legislation that will give law enforcement officials more power to find and prosecute terrorists and, in the process, will also make it easier for government and police to tap phones and Internet communications and to search private homes.

Never mind the flags. The greatest tribute one can make to the U.S. right now is to exercise the principles upon which the country was founded but hasn't always managed to uphold. To speak out. To challenge authority. And to defy all attempts at conformity of thought.

Rachel Giese's column appears in The Star on Friday.


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