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Previous column:
Back to the Fifties


A Call to Patriots

In my e-mail this morning, I received yet another diatribe about the "ungrateful" French and Germans, who refuse to support our war in Iraq. I hear on my morning news that one of our fearless patriots has called for the denial of student loans to anyone who protests the war. All around me I see the frightening philosophy that if one does not support the actions of this President and his advisers, one is unpatriotic and a supporter of Saddam Hussein, a supporter of terrorists, one who bears direct responsibility for the bombing of the World Trade Center. It is no longer acceptable to say, as Trent Lott did of another President's bombing of Iraq, "It is fine to not support your president in a time of war and at the same time support the troops fighting it."

What is this? Is our democratic government now so insecure that honest and peaceful dissent must be suppressed? Do we want citizens or robots? Would throwing tea into Boston Harbor now be seen as an unpatriotic act? Shall we abandon all pretense of being a democracy and declare the President King George, and make it a crime to criticize his actions? My country right or wrong? Is that what we really believe?

"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger." --Hermann Goering, Nazi leader, at the Nuremberg Trials

We rightly condemn those Germans who did not protest Hitler's genocidal government. We do not accept, "I was just following orders" as an excuse for immoral behavior. Yet we demand unquestioning obedience from our citizens, even those whose consciences tell them that this war is wrong, that it will be a destabilizing factor in this already shaky world, that waging war in the name of peace will lead only to chaos.

We demand that our allies support us, even if they are convinced that we are pursuing a policy that is not in the best interests either of their own people or of the people of the world. Hey, we saved their butts fifty years ago! How ungrateful of them not to follow us blindly wherever we may lead!

Now, suppose this: I have a brother who, when we were children, fished me out of an icy pond into which I had plunged. My brother saved my life. But now, I have a quandary. This brother, to whom I have so much cause to be grateful, has become a serial rapist and murderer. Should I report him to the police? Or should I, from gratitude, keep silent and allow him to continue his bloody ways?

The brother of Ted Kaczinski had the answer. It must have cost him dearly to expose the brother with whom he had grown up, whom he loved. But it was more important to him to save lives. So he reported his brother to the police, leading directly to the arrest of the Unabomber, and the undoubted saving of innocent lives.

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -- Theodore Roosevelt (Remember Teddy Roosevelt? He was the President considered so patriotic that his face is enshrined on Mount Rushmore, along with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson.)

It is not moral or patriotic to stand by in silence when one is convinced that an action is immoral, not even when that act is committed by one's own government, or the government of an ally country. Protest is honorable, ethical and patriotic. It behooves every person who calls himself a patriot to stand up for the dissenters, whether individuals or foreign governments. It does not matter whether one agrees with them - the important principle is that people be free to dissent. That's what democracy is all about - isn't it?


Copyright, Jeanne deWard, 3/29/03


On the Left, by Sheba
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