Thursday, July 17, 2008


Friday, July 4, 2008
8:00 p.m. A "tribute to our veterans" was held at the ball park. The Cuming County Choraliers sang a medley of songs, one for each branch of the armed services. In the grandstand, those who had served stood as their branch's song was sung, a lot of old men, World War II veterans, among them. The Coast Guard song was included in the medley, and I saw one man rise for that. The old soldiers heard our applause, our appreciation for their service.

Yet the problem with the 4th of July is that we end up with too much "patriotism" and not enough love of country. We should be able to honor our veterans without accepting the current administration's war policies and its approval of torture, but a ceremony as West Point's does not allow for changing the framework of the national conversation, no matter how badly we need to. The term "war on terrorism" is jingoistic at best, and at worst it leads to unthinking hu-yah. For a start, you cannot make war on an idea, "terrorism;" you must make war on actual terrorists. Because of such fuzzy thinking, we've seen a lot of excesses in the past seven years. The term and the actions associated with it have concealed rather than revealed, contrary to the ideals of our Constitution and the open society we espouse; in the murkiness we have been led astray and have lost our way as a nation. We cannot achieve success if we cannot see what we are doing and what we need to do.

An officer from the Marine Corp gave the key-note address at the ceremony, speaking to the valor of those who have served in all our wars. In large part his seemed to me like a cut-and-paste speech, snatches of it sounding like things that the president and the vice president have said since 2001, the secretaries of state and the secretaries of defense, and other administration spokespeople. At times I felt as if I were being preached to by someone reading from the president's old speeches.

How can one criticize such a presentation without sounding unpatriotic? It is difficult. Yet love of country is much larger than those who speak of "patriotism" would have us believe, and those of us who think so we need to start speaking up.

At the end of the tribute to veterans, a troop of West Point Boy Scouts retired a worn American flag by burning it near home plate. I was moved beyond words as flame devoured the flag and "Taps" was played three times. However much I might disagree with the Bush administration, the flag is my flag too, and seeing one of them go up in flames as the last notes of the trumpet faded away was a powerful moment. I was surprised at how much I was moved by the experience.

To be continued....

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