A Not-So-Glorious Fourth

Published on
by
The Philadelphia Inquirer

A Not-So-Glorious Fourth

US atrocities are unworthy of our heritage.

by
Chris Satullo

Put the fireworks in storage.

Cancel the parade.

Tuck the soaring speeches in a drawer for another time.

This year, America doesn't deserve to celebrate its birthday. This Fourth of July should be a day of quiet and atonement.

For we have sinned.

We have failed to pay attention. We've settled for lame excuses. We've spit on the memory of those who did that brave, brave thing in Philadelphia 232 years ago.

The America those men founded should never torture a prisoner.

The America they founded should never imprison people for years without charge or hearing.

The America they founded should never ship prisoners to foreign lands, knowing their new jailers might torture them.

Such abuses once were committed by the arrogant crowns of Europe, spawning rebellion.

Today, our nation does such things in the name of our safety. Petrified, unwilling to take the risks that love of liberty demands, we close our eyes.

We have done such things, on orders from the Oval Office. We have done them, without general outrage or shame.

Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. CIA secret prisons. "Rendition" of prisoners to foreign torture chambers.

It's not enough that we had good reason to be scared.

The men huddled long ago in Philadelphia had better reason. A British fleet floated off the Jersey coast, full of hands eager to hang them from the nearest lampposts.

Yet they pledged their lives and sacred honor -- no idle vow -- to defend the "inalienable rights" of men. Inalienable -- what does that signify? It means rights that belong to each person, simply by virtue of being human. Rights that can never be taken away, no matter what evil a person might do or might intend.

Surely one of those is the right not to be tortured. Surely that is a piece of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

This is the creed of July 4: No matter what it costs us, no matter how it scares us, no matter how foolish it seems to a cynical world, America should stand up for human rights.

No, not even the brave men who picked up a quill, dipped it in ink and signed the parchment that summer day in Philadelphia lived up perfectly to the creed. But they did something extraordinary, founding a new nation upon a vow to oppose all the evil habits of tyranny.

That is why history still honors them.

But what will history think of us, of how we responded to our great challenge? Sept. 11 was a hideous evil, a grievous wound. Yet, truth told, it has not summoned our better angels as often as our worst.

We have betrayed the July 4 creed. We trample the vows we make, hand to heart.

Don't imagine that only the torturer's hand bears the guilt. The guilt reaches deep inside our Capitol, and beyond that -- to us.

Our silence is complicit. In our name, innocents were jailed, humans tortured, our Constitution mangled. And we said so little.

We can't claim not to have known. The best among us raised the alarm. Heroes in uniform, judges in robes, they opposed the perverse logic of an administration drenched in fear, drunk on power.

But did we heed them? Hardly. Barely . . .

We were so busy. Soccer practice at 6. A credit card balance to fret. The final vote on Idol.

We left it to those in power to keep our precious selves from harm. Whatever it took.

We took the coward's way.

The world sees this, even if we are too dim to grasp it. We've lost respect. We've shamed the memory of Jefferson, Adams and Franklin.

And all for a scam. The waterboarding, the snarling dogs, the theft of sleep -- all the diabolical tricks haven't made us safer. They may have averted this plot or that. But they've spawned new enemies by the thousands, made the jihadist rants ring true to so many ears.

So put out no flags.

Sing no patriotic hymns.

We deserve no Fourth this year.

Let us atone, in quiet and humility. Let us spend the day truly studying the example of our Founders. May we earn a new birth of courage before our nation's birthday next rolls around.

Chris Satullo is the former editorial page editor of The Inquirer and writes the Center Square column.

© Copyright 2008 Philly Online, LLC.

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