August 6, 2002

American Government - What Must Be Done

The whole course of history turned, with 9-11. But so did it, with each of the World Wars. And, for the USA, with the Civil War.

The World Wars shook us out of our long-standing policy of letting Europeans fight European wars. WWII was truly war around the world, requiring a different perspective on war.

9-11 was a wakeup call to a 'round-the-world crisis that had been emerging for decades (and which we blithely ignored, except for the blips when our interests were hit).

American policies changed with these events. I greatly fear the changes happening after this latest one, however. The radical type of government that barely survived the American Revolution, that was sorely tested by the Civil War, that managed to come through many other tests to emerge a shining example of a successful government controlled by the people, is facing perhaps its greatest challenge from those sworn to protect it - and self-styled "conservatives" at that.

I am astounded by the Bush administration's trampling on or at best ignoring the civil rights so boldly pronounced in our Constitution. The heavy-handed unilateral decisions to incarcerate individuals - immigrants and citizens alike - without recourse to courts or lawyers or communication with the outside world could so easily be applied to you and me. We don't even know the reasons why those people are being held; how do the rest of us know what we might do, that would result in our own incarceration? That is the kind of psychological terror that Soviet people faced during the Stalin era, that the Chinese people faced during the Mao era, that ... oh, the list goes on, with Vietnamese, Cambodians, Africans, ....[see, for instance].... Our American government is fighting terrorism with its own brand of terrorism inflicted on its own people. It violates our Constitutional protections. It instills fear of our government in our people. What surer way to erode the American system? The Stalinists tried to do that and failed. How ironic, that our own government might succeed!

As the 1st anniversary of 9-11 approaches, the drums start beating for "memorials" and "tributes". Surely it will be another deluge of symbols. Just as Americans gobbled up the symbols post 9-11, of endless flags waving, photos of police and firemen, "Let's Roll!" t-shirts, pledge of allegiance controversies, so in a month we will again be awash in symbols.

Not that the symbols are bad, not that they are meaningless. They do serve as a focus for bringing us together.

But when bringing us together ends with merely acknowledging the symbols, we have lost sight of the underlying principles that the symbols merely - well, symbolize.

Salute the flag. Declare loyalty tot he nation. Weep for the destruction that those who hate us inflicted. But don't stop there.

Soldiers don't fight and offer their lives for a flag or for an anthem or for the words of a pledge. They make the great sacrifice to protect the values embedded in our Constitution, our people's government, our individual liberties. To fly a flag or say words of loyalty is our non-combatant way of honoring those deeper commitments. But don't mistake the symbols for those commitments. Our current so-called "conservative" government would love to see us battle over protecting the symbols, so it can get on with the secret undermining of the real structure in the name of national security. If we let our government get away with this, we can sit back and relax with our symbols, because that's all we will have left after the foundation has been eaten away.

We will recite the pledge of allegiance, with or without "under God". We will salute the flag. We will build a suitable memorial at ground-zero. But if our our freedoms are eroded, if our government is allowed to go off on its own track without the guidance of the people, all those symbols are worthless.

 


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