Fact: I get all choked up when I'm reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Fact: I'm moved to tears when I sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." And fact: "America the Beautiful" makes me weep.
Another fact: I grew up in a Gold Star family. I know that when a soldier is killed in action, the scars of the loss extend down through the generations and live forever.
So naturally I attend my town's Memorial Day celebration, a day when tiny Dummerston does itself proud. Monday evening we enjoyed a full program and a packed Grange Hall. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1034 presented the colors, and the American Legion Post 5 band really swings. We proudly saluted the area's retired military men and women, and those who are serving now. We sang patriotic songs and listened to a speech by the adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, Maj. Gen. Martha Rainville. Afterward, we enjoyed punch and baked goods. A pretty good showing for a small Vermont town.
I was moved to tears many, many times during the ceremonies. But I was also moved to thought. First I wondered, since I am such a vocal critic of the current president of the United States and a fierce opponent of the war in Iraq, if I was even welcome at this event.
Power seeks more power, and to divide, you conquer. These are just facts of life, laws of nature, if you will. To win power for itself, Republicans have wrapped themselves in the flag - a good move for any political party.
But the right wing of the GOP has taken it much further, and in the process, created a fundamental evil. They have chosen to demonize those who not accept all of their precepts, some of them quite loathsome, which include a right to empire, unbridled capitalism, fundamentalist Christianity, domination and destruction over (rather than conservation and preservation of) the natural world, and the revoking of women's liberation.
This means they have excluded me and half the country - people who would rather vote for a geranium than a Bush - from our natural rights of citizenship. They have created a climate in which to challenge the ruling party - on any grounds - means we are automatically "against the United States."
In their eyes, then, my poor progressive heart has made me a traitor. My joy in being an American, the pride I take in the beauty, people, accomplishments and culture of this great nation, the sheer gratitude I have for the freedom to write these words and see them published - these precious things I treasure are denied and scorned.
A nation divided against itself cannot stand - Abraham Lincoln said that. At a time when America has new - and very dangerous - enemies, we need to be united. But instead, for political gain, we've been divided by such nonsense as "red states" and "blue states," and, within those states, by breakfast cereal (crunchy granolas), hair length, tattoos, and footwear (Birkenstocks).
If terrorists actually came up Spaulding Hill Road, would they kill my neighbors, who vote Republican and support the war, while sparing me? Am I not an American, too? If you prick my finger, do I not bleed red, white and blue? (Sorry, Shakespeare.)
It is perfectly possible to support - nay, regard with awe - the men and women who serve in our armed forces, and still deplore the people who have, with their lies, arrogance and greed, sent them into harm's way.
That being said, it was dismaying to hear Rainville speak about fighting for "freedom" in Iraq, when Iraq did nothing to warrant our attack on it, and "defending our Constitution," when the people who are undermining it most are the members of the Bush Administration. It was even harder to understand why she said our armed forces "are the most respected in the world." We are definitely feared, but the world thinks of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo when it thinks of the American military, and those images do not generate respect.
The truth is that we are an invading, imperialist army in Iraq, and we cannot be blind to that fact, especially not on Memorial Day. Otherwise, we dishonor both our soldiers and truth itself.
I dare anyone to call me a traitor for saying these things. I dare anyone to tell me I can't pledge allegiance to the flag or cry when I sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's my country too, damn it, right or wrong. And when it's wrong, it's my duty as an American to try and make it right.
As Lee Greenwood wrote in his song, "God Bless the U.S.A.," which was sung beautifully by Tim Johnson on Monday night, "I won't forget the men who died... 'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land/God bless the U.S.A."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who lives in Vermont and writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.