Thursday, April 24, 2003

A break for something a little more serious...

What does it mean to be an American? I'm going to start with some lines I remembered reading a few years ago, and finally just hunted down again:

The hue and cry about "un-Americanism," it seemed to me, was most un-American. It was foreign to our deepest American traditions, certainly not worthy of them.

...I had always boasted abroad that Americans were the most carefree, ruggedly independent-minded individuals on the face of the earth, never afraid to say what they matter who, or how many, disagreed... and [that] qualified us, after the war, to champion freedom in the world...

...Everywhere I went a surprisingly large number of people seemed afraid. Of what, in God's name? Of becoming involved in controversy, they said, of getting into trouble by expressing an opinion that someone might not like.

That WHO might not like?

Well, they said, hesitantly and usually in a whisper (was I back in Germany under the snooping nose of the Gestapo, I wondered), the government, or the F.B.I, or some loyalty board, or the University Board of Trustees, or Senator McCarthy, or the un-American Committee, or the moguls in Hollywood, or the sponsor of a T.V. or radio program, or the local paper, or any of a hundred groups of self-appointed vigilantes -- or even your boss at the office or your next-door neighbor.

... "The best thing," they said, "is to keep your mouth shut -- and your thoughts to yourself. It's safer that way."

--- Midcentury Journey, William Shirer

I think there is nothing more American than to say what you believe -- to protest (peacefully, because non-peaceful protests wins nothing for anyone) a position that you oppose, whatever that may be.

People who do not believe in this war not only have the right to protest it, but as Americans they have the obligation to do so. That is a large part of what being American means -- the right to voice your true beliefs with freedom to do so in any appropriate manner or place. And it also means that others have to accept that they have that right. And they can protest that those people are protesting, but that should be as far as their power goes.

A person should not worry that disagreeing with the President of the United States is going to cause you hardship. In fact, not agreeing with the majority of the people of the US shouldn't cause you hardship just in itself. If you are an artist, and the people who disagree stop buying your product -- well, that's their choice as well. But having it decided for them by some outside force is not American.

I don't like Bush. That's not going to change the fact that he's president. I truly believe that he subverted the entire American political system by having the Supreme Court basically decide an election. I think he did it unnecessarily, because I believe he would have won the election anyway, and that just makes it worse. But he's president and I'm resigned to it.

I don't like the war -- I think a country as large and powerful as the US should have a better answer than killing people. But we don't. And we're there. While I think protesting isn't going to change a thing, I would never dream of saying the protesters were wrong to do so. They are doing what is their American right to do. It is not going to help or hinder the war one way or another, and believing it is giving moral support to Iraq seems to say that being American, and having the right to disagree in ways that the Iraqi people never could, is a bad thing.

To me, protests are the most clear-cut and obvious show that we are free and the Iraqis are (were) not. We should not only be able to disagree in protests, speeches, newspapers, personal appearances, and even blogs, but we can even elect someone different when the time comes, if the protest is great enough.

One of the other great freedoms we have is to make fun of a situation, to point out the irony and to mock and satirize it. Much like marching in the street, it is something a totalitarian government will not allow. So, in honor of my freedom as an American, I'm going to post some jokes that recently came through our email. I normally don't do this, but these did make me laugh:

"President Bush has said that he does not need approval from the UN to wage war, and I'm thinking, well, hell, he didn't need the approval of the American voters to become president, either." -- David Letterman

"In a speech earlier today President Bush said if Iraq gets rid of Saddam Hussein, he will help the Iraqi people with food, medicine, supplies, housing, education, anything that's needed. Isn't that amazing? He finally comes up with a domestic agenda, and it's for Iraq. Maybe we could bring that here if it works out." -- Jay Leno

"Democrats were quick to point out that President Bush's budget creates a 1 trillion dollar deficit. The White House quickly responded with 'Hey, look over there, it's Saddam Hussein.'" -- Craig Kilborn

"We have it. The smoking gun. The evidence. The potential weapon of mass destruction we have been looking for as our pretext of invading Iraq. There's just one problem -- it's in North Korea." -- Jon Stewart

"The president boasted at the top of his press conference that we have the support now of Britain and Spain for our attack on Iraq. You know, when you want to make it perfectly clear to the world that you're not an imperialist, the people you want in your corner are Britain and Spain." -- Bill Maher

That last one, as someone interested in history, really made me laugh!

In the end, when this war ends like all the others have, and when we move on to new Presidents and new policies, we will still all be Americans. We still won't agree, but we'll still be here -- unless we allow others to take our rights as Americans away.

But here is a final quote that I think both sides can agree with:

"Someone died for me today, and I need to either find or make a reason why I am worthy of that sacrifice.".
-- Eleanor Roosevelt on being an American during war times

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