WASHINGTON - In less than a month, the definition of what it means to be a loyal American has become more complicated, perhaps nearly as much as it was during the “give peace a chance'' tumult during the Vietnam War.
Since Sept. 11, now as then, long-time peace advocates are fighting for understanding and getting mixed results at best. Fully half of Americans have told Gallup pollsters since the terrorist attacks that peace protests are “unpatriotic.'' When anti-war protesters took to the streets in the nation's capital with the message, “Let's break the cycle of violence. No more eye for an eye,'' they were booed by bystanders.
For President Bush what is patriotic, he says, is spending money to reinvigorate the economy. Other say that has nothing to do with patriotism.
For many Americans, showing the flag is now synonymous with patriotism.
For others, true patriotism right now is a charitable contribution to a fund for the relief workers or the victims of the terrorist attacks or volunteering.
In Congress, doing one's patriotic duty right now is seen by both Democratic and Republican leaders as not disagreeing - publicly - with the President or pushing a conflicting agenda. But others say that is false patriotism, not in the spirit of America.
Most Americans are now reconciled to the idea they will have to endure inconvenience as part of their patriotic duty to fight terrorism, especially waiting in line for hours to board a plane. But others wonder whether that means giving up some civil liberties, as well.
The tension has even affected the language. When Reuters said that its news stories would no longer refer to “terrorists'' because one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, there was a huge outcry against Reuters in the United States. Columnist George Will, who once called the Nicaraguan contras “freedom fighters,'' called for Americans to stop reading Reuters reports.
The dilemma of how to respond to the terrorists most notably has affected peace activists, torn between desire for justice and aversion to military strikes to get it. Now when they demonstrate for peace, they are likely to be harassed by passersby. When they proselytize for peace in the current context, many who used to march with them refuse.
Rahul Mahajan, a member of the National Board of Peace Action, argues that it is difficult to get people's attention to present the arguments against military strikes. “The Bush administration's confrontational posture is likely to exacerbate the threat of terrorist attacks. The diplomatic ultimatum - `Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists' - is alienating existing and potential allies, and feeding into resentment of American unilateralism,'' he wrote in a recent op-ed piece in Newsday along with a colleague.
They added: “The `war on terrorism' the Bush administration plans to wage will increase the chances of reprisal attacks against us. A criminal investigation, with genuine international cooperation, would dramatically decrease the threat, especially if accompanied by a change in overall U.S. foreign policy.''
In the first few days after the tragedies in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, Bill Maher, TV host of Politically Incorrect, criticized U.S. foreign policy toward the troubled Mideast, saying, “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer responded angrily, “Americans ... need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and ... this is not a time for remarks like that - there never is.''
Even in the Vatican, which provides guidance to 60 million U.S. Catholics, there has been confusion. Catholic doctrine provides for the right to self-defense, but Pope John Paul II said in a speech in Kazahkstan that violence in reprisal is wrong. Then his spokesman said the Pope supports measures to bring those responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorism to justice. And Cardinal Camillo Ruini of the Vatican said, “We must not put in doubt the right, I say even the necessity and the right, to combat and neutralize wherever possible, international terrorism and all those who, at whatever level, are its promoters and defenders.''
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, stepped in to say the Pope does not condone military strikes in Afghanistan but wants peace by negotiation and dialogue.
Yet polls continue to show overwhelming support in the United States for military action against those responsible for the terrorist attacks or those who harbor the terrorists. A Pew Research Center survey conducted by Prince Survey Research Association found that 82 percent of 1,200 Americans surveyed after the Sept. 11 attack said they favor military action, including the use of ground troops, “to retaliate against whoever is responsible for the terrorist attacks.'' A Gallup Poll pegged the number of those who favor military action at 89 percent.
When a California congresswoman, Rep. Barbara Lee, cast the only vote in Congress against authorizing military force in response to the terrorist attacks because she didn't want to be part of a rush to judgment, she immediately was the target of criticism. Her office said she got death threats and was accused of being anti-American.
Jennifer Rice, whose stepmother died on United Flight 93, is pelted with scorn as she continues to go door to door asking for support for a peaceful resolution to the new war on terrorism. As a staff member of California Peace Action, she told newspaper and TV interviewers that she is angry but killing innocent people in Afghanistan wouldn't bring her stepmother back nor be “constructive.'' When people call for war, she says, “I have a right to disagree.''
Mr. Bush has made clear that he is conducting a “war'' against those responsible, using every means he has. But he and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani further define patriotism as Americans spending money.
But many financial consultants argue that now is not the time to spend money. More than 100,000 families are dealing with the loss of an airline job, and big corporations are continuing to lay people off. Robert Reich, former Labor secretary in the Clinton administration, said calls to spend money are “an odd use of the term patriotism'' and economically are “silly.''
The rush to give law enforcement officials more tools for increased surveillance and broader authority to fight terrorists has been labeled “critical'' by the Bush administration and “a violation of the Constitution'' by others as disparate as the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative Rep. Bob Barr (R., Ga.).
In Congress, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. Tom Daschle (D., S.D.), Senate majority leader, say that it would be inappropriate to disagree publicly with how the President is pursuing the terrorists or increasing military spending.
But Sen. Robert Byrd (D., W.Va.) said that the drive to be united has become “excessive.'' Instead of being patriotic, he said, members of Congress have agreed to put a “zipper'' on their lips. It would not be a sign of disunity for the Senate to have a “full and free debate'' on matters of national policy such as missile defense and details on the deployment of American forces in Asia, he insists.
One issue not likely to come up for floor debate any time soon is a bill introduced in July by 40 House members to establish a U.S. Department of Peace.
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