One of the spoils of war is that the victorious country can punish those who opposed its actions, even its own citizens. With a sort of Orwellian logic, the message to Americans by Bush supporters is clear: “You have the constitutional right to protest. So, you should be grateful for that right and show your gratefulness by not protesting, no matter how questionable your government’s actions might be.” If you do speak out, question, or criticize you will be labeled “unpatriotic,” or worse. You might be ostracized. You could lose your job. If you’re a celebrity, there’s a good chance you will be publicly bashed or threatened.
President Bush set the tone for this climate of censorship when after 9/11 he claimed in an Address to the Nation, “you’re either with us or you’re against us.” With that statement he might as well have declared half of the country as the “enemy” (and you know what he does to them), considering that a year later more than half of the country was against his rush to war with Iraq.
Bush, who ran for the presidency as a “uniter,” claimed that the UN would be irrelevant if its members voted in any way other than the way he wanted them to. Does that sound like a leader that champions democracy or one that has skills as a uniter? Secretary of State, Colin Powell, answered, “Yes,” when recently asked in an interview if France would be punished for its anti-war stance. The blatant “rewarding and punishing” our country has engaged in, to attempt to coerce war support, is counter to the democratic principles the U.S. claims it wants to spread throughout the world.
Bush also said during the presidential campaign that if elected he would be “humble” with his foreign policy. Ironically, the majority of the world considers his presidency to be the most arrogant in U.S. history, as was described in “The Arrogant Empire,” an article featured on the cover of a March issue of Newsweek.
More than half of Americans and the majority of the world had realistic and serious questions about a nearly unilateral, pre-emptive war on Iraq without international backing and were not convinced by the administration’s attempt to link Iraq with recent acts of terrorism against the U.S. Counter to the “fringe group” stereotype the media seems bent on portraying protesters as, Americans who protested the war consisted of religious leaders, labor unions, former veterans, military leaders, progressives, as well as conservatives. Even Bush’s own father expressed his concern in a speech for Tufts University in March, saying that the case against Saddam was “less clear” than it was in 1991 and that the question of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction “could be debated.” Bush Sr. also stressed the importance of allies and U.N. backing in such serious U.S. foreign policy matters, something Bush Jr. has ignored.
Just weeks before the start of the war, it was reported that 56% of Americans still wanted to wait for UN backing. Once the war began, many Americans felt they had to support the war in order to “support the troops” - an action of good intention that unfortunately became a commercialized slogan that further divided the pro and anti-war camps.
Another one of the spoils of war is that the victor gets to spin the war in the light most favorable to them, and this is what often ends up in our history books. Although no weapons of mass destruction have been found, no one knows where Saddam is, the fight wasn’t fair, the country is in chaos, and more than 2000 civilians have been killed, the war in Iraq is considered a victory; and so more have jumped on the Bush band wagon, creating even more polarized and hateful divisiveness in our country. One caller to a country radio station, heard during the recent Diane Sawyer interview with the Dixie Chicks, wanted the musicians strapped to a missile and dropped over Baghdad, for criticizing President Bush.
This is the quote by President Roosevelt that one of the Dixie Chicks read during that interview: “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.” I suspect that many of the same people who are intolerant to criticism of the current president are also the ones who engaged in malicious and near constant “Clinton bashing” during the previous presidency.
Helen Thomas, who was the first recipient of the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, established by the White House Correspondents Association, and who has covered every president since Kennedy, said she would like to see more Americans inform themselves of the facts and speak up because, “Everything that’s done by the government is done in your name…You are responsible whether you like it or not.” Helen recently spoke up by criticizing the president’s policies on Iraq. The White House responded by relegating her to the back row in the press room, and she was not called on during the president’s March 7th press conference on Iraq.
Ironically, those Americans who would have the protestors shut up are also espousing freedom. Yet it seems to me that what they are wanting is more in line with a communistic fascist government, where no one is allowed to disagree. I would like those Americans who think protest is unpatriotic to consider the words of historian Henry Steele, “Loyalty is the realization that America was born of revolt, flourished in dissent, became great through experimentation. Our tradition is one of protest and revolt, and it is stultifying to celebrate the rebels of the past while we silence the rebels of the present.”
Perhaps the substantial protest of Americans from all walks of life is a sign that a new sense of patriotism is being reborn, the kind reminiscent of our Founding Fathers, who also challenged the status quo and who bravely fought against the abuse of imperialistic power, the very thing the Bush Administration has recently been accused of. Actor and long time political activist, Martin Sheen, recently said on CNN, countering the notion that protest is unpatriotic, “I can’t begin to tell you how much I love my country. I love it enough to risk its wrath by pointing out the things that will destroy it, harm it very deeply.”
I believe a patriot is one that is an active and informed participant of his or her government, one who is passionate about upholding the ideals its country stands for, not just in word but in deed. This could mean going to war to defend your country, but it also could mean guarding against the overstepping of your country, such as when it initiates offensive wars against weaker nations.
I am greatly inspired by those who have publicly spoken out against our actions in Iraq, despite the risk that they will probably be mocked and discredited. Those who have done so have caused me to broaden my understanding of the meaning of patriotism and have made me want to be a more informed and active citizen.
Colleen Redman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and poet living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.