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Patriot Games
October 25, 2001
by Isaac Peterson

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"In order to save the village, we had to destroy it."

I haven't heard that one much since the Vietnam era. I've sure been reminded of it a lot lately.

George W. Bush has reminded us over and over that the United States was targeted by terrorists because we're the land of freedom and liberty, and the war to eliminate terrorism was going to take a long, long time.

John Ashcroft didn't miss a beat in pushing anti-terrorism legislation on Congress. It was a real laundry list of basic rights and freedoms that would be tossed out the window. Some of the saner voices in this country pointed out that what Ashcroft wanted would not have done a thing to prevent the September 11 attacks. Some members of Congress resisted Ashcroft for a while, but most of them finally gave in and passed most of his bill.

Some people, but not enough, were able to see that Ashcroft's, and this administration's agenda was pretty much the same after the attack as it had been before. And they have an excuse to go ahead and push for rolling back liberties here in this country: fighting terrorism.

We were told that the fight is going to be a long one, and that in the meantime we need to give up some rights so they can do what they need to do. Terrorism is incredibly hard to fight because individuals can be terrorists, as well as nations, and it's hard, if not impossible sorting who's who. They don't want to admit what an uphill job they've taken on, but they're going to milk it for all it's worth. If they can't wipe out all the terrorists who target the United States because we're the land of freedom and liberty, then they'll take away the terrorists' incentive to attack us by wiping out freedom and liberty. In order to save freedom and liberty, they had to destroy it.

This isn't all that new in this country - we've had laws limiting freedoms before in times where the country's interests were at stake. There was the Sedition Act of 1798, which called for jail sentences for criticizing the government. In 1917, there was the Espionage Act and another Sedition Act, giving jail sentences to people criticizing WWI. There were the 'loyalty oaths' and Congressional hearings used to 'smoke out' Communism in the 1940's and 50's, and other steps and laws the government has used to stifle dissent. And no Supreme Court has ever ruled that any of it was unconstitutional. I can't imagine the current court ever saying that the administration that they installed can't do whatever the hell it wants.

And they're getting us to go along with it. They've got the majority of people answering polls to say that they would be willing to give up freedom for security, and have got a lot of us waving flags while our rights to freedom and privacy are being lined up to have the same future as the Macarena.

Since Sept.11, we've been barraged by people waving flags, selling flags, anything you can imagine with flags. It's the patriotic thing to do, we're told, and anyone who has a problem with it is either unpatriotic or a traitor. Same with anyone who asks questions or makes statements that aren't in line with what the Bush administration is saying are acceptable forms of expression or discourse right now. With all that, let me risk being called unpatriotic or worse.

We're told the flag is the symbol of our freedom and liberty, and that's why we should fly it boldly, and fly it high. We all learned the story of the first flag in elementary school, how it was put together by Betsy Ross. And the story of how seeing the flag inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. You know all the stories. But what if there was something better than the flag we could be lining up behind right now?

What about the Constitution? I mean, every country has a flag. I am not putting ours down, but we're not unique for having a flag. Every podunk, one horse country, and every jumped-up dictatorship has a flag. That doesn't make them free. We come a lot closer to being unique for having a Constitution, and that is what is supposed to make us free.

The flag is just a symbol for (among other things) what is in the Constitution. The Constitution even gives people the right to burn the flag. Neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has changed that. It's not a crime to burn the flag. When your flag gets tattered or touches the ground, you're supposed to burn it. But try breaking through the glass and burning the Constitution. Would that be a crime? What do you think?

I'm having a hard time in some ways with the idea that waving a flag somehow automatically makes someone patriotic. We've seen George Bush the elder make campaign stops at flag factories to score political points. The flag didn't stop his and Reagan's administration from selling arms to our enemies. It didn't stop Oliver North or any of the others involved in Iran-Contra from lying to Congress about it. Hiding behind the flag hasn't stopped anyone from doing things that are forbidden in the Constitution, from George Washington's administration on down. In fact, the flag has been used to give cover for lots of people trying to subvert the Constitution.

And every now and again, we get some hyped up politicians trying to push a Constitutional amendment making it a crime to burn the flag. I wouldn't be surprised to see someone try it with the patriotic fervor we're going through right now.

But if the flag really symbolized what most of us think it does, wouldn't it be a better idea to make Flag Day (June 14) a national (paid day off) holiday? Flag Day comes and goes every year, and no one knows or notices. I would think that having a day where we honor the flag would be a much better tribute than a Constitutional amendment that would punish people for exercising their rights.

As far as the Constitution goes, I'm having trouble understanding how being patriotic means standing by while our rights are stripped away. I am feeling like the flag is being used again to distract us from the real importance of what's happening. We're being told to wave the flag and cheer while our basic freedoms go down the tubes. We're waving flags while we're losing our rights to speak freely, to assemble, to question, and to read what we wish to read or listen to what we want to hear. We're losing our right to privacy. I'm not having any trouble seeing this as something that could evolve into a real problem for women in particular, since Roe vs. Wade, and other rulings were based on a right to privacy.

And we're being told that the war against terrorism and 'evil' is going to be long and costly. They have to tell us that-it would be stupid to put a time limit on it, or declare at some point that we had won. They can't risk saying the job is done and then having the United States attacked again the next day. And that means that for who-knows-how-long, our rights are just words on a piece of paper under glass. Especially the 1st and 4th Amendments-the ones that guarantee freedom of speech, right to assemble, and protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Those have usually been the first to go. Ask Japanese-Americans who were around how much fun WWII was.

United We Stand. What do we stand for? What do we stand against? We're told that we're in an 'us' and 'them' situation. But with the way things are turning out, a lot of 'us' really are 'them'.

Sooner or later (probably sooner), we're going to build a monument to the victims of the terrorist attacks. It will be large, expensive, and it will be impressive. There will be some moving inscription, and maybe include their names, like the Vietnam War Memorial, and will probably stand for centuries. But I think that John Ashcroft and the rest of this administration have already started building the monument to them. And I have a hard time believing that those people would want their deaths to stand for what we're doing right now.

 
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