This year, some pundits have noted that July 4 is extra special because it is our first national celebration since Sept. 11. It is a special time to consider and emphasize all that is great about this country. In many ways, all that is true. But unlike Pearl Harbor, the enemy is hard to get a grasp on these days, even if patriotism is more visible than usual.
We expect in times of war that sacrifices have to be made. But our freedoms—freedom of speech, the right to be tried by our peers, freedom to move about, and all things associated with liberty—should not be among them. Sacrificing hard-won freedoms for a flag that symbolizes those freedoms is, by definition, irrational.
As Americans we have the right—if not the responsibility—to criticize our government. When Attorney General John Ashcroft warned the Senate Judiciary Committee that any who question the actions of the Bush administration were aiding and abetting terrorists, he had it wrong. That chilling message hearkened back to the onset of the Cold War and the McCarthyism that would do away with dissent in order to shore up patriotism and advance a political agenda. Forgotten in the frightened frenzy to fight communism was that dissent is the cornerstone of democracy. Political freedom ought to include the right to be a socialist or a Republican. Freedom ought to mean that you don’t have to be Christian or be made to pledge to God above.
Following Sept. 11, the United States detained some 1,000 men of Middle Eastern descent without charges or proper legal representation. Nine months later, none of them have been connected with terrorism. Freedom ought to mean that you can have a Middle Eastern name and not be swept up in a dragnet and held indefinitely. These are things that Attorney General Ashcroft and the Bush administration apparently don’t understand.
As we continue the fight with our invisible enemy, those who detest the United States and would harm us by acts of terrorism, it might be well to remember that those extremists are tapping into patriotic notions of peoples elsewhere. If we damn those who would parade a child wearing faux suicide bomber’s regalia while celebrating July 4 with exploding Bin Laden heads, then we certainly can’t be seen as being better than the enemy.
What we ought to ask ourselves at this time of patriotism is if we wouldn’t rather attempt to confer upon those less fortunate countries the same rights and privileges we enjoy? And whether that kind of sentiment and subsequent action would change the present atmosphere more than Red-bating did during the Cold War.