by Isaac Peterson
"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
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
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