Last Saturday I did something unheard of in my college career — I arrived at the football game fifteen minutes before kick-off.
I was not worried about being hassled by security. Rather, I wanted to hear the national anthem. Of course I had heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” countless times, especially at the many sports events I have attended in my lifetime, but this time it was really important to me.
I dare say I was not the only one.
To say a wave of patriotism has swept our country would be a gross understatement. For weeks after the terrorist attacks American flags have sold out in hours. Chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” break out at all occasions, and patriotic songs are the order of the day on radio stations of all genres (not to mention Friday and Saturday night walks home).
Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A” has been a particularly ubiquitous melody. The chorus begins, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”
But the problem is while most of the country can claim the first line of the chorus, too many have forgotten the second.
Two weeks ago I wrote that a military response to the terrorist attacks was necessary, for the only alternative method of combating terrorism would be to severely curtail our freedoms.
This alternative was problematic not only because it would fail, but also because giving up our freedoms would be a de facto surrender to the terrorists. I ended with a declaration that even if I had to go to war, freedom was something worth dying for.
Blind patriotism, however, is not worth dying for. Yet that is what is being practiced by too many Americans in the wake of the attacks — Americans all to willing to sacrifice our most important freedoms in the name of national unity.
Most egregious has been the actions of several newspapers around the country, which last week fired or disciplined several journalists for having the gall to criticize the president.
One of the first was Dan Guthrie of The Daily Courier, located in Grants Pass, Ore. In his column “Dogwatch,” Guthrie wrote that Bush “skedaddled” after the attacks. “Most of his aides and Cabinet members split for secret locations, too,” he wrote.
According to Guthrie, the airline passengers who fought the terrorists “are the heroes of this rotten week. They put it all on the line. Against their courage the picture of Bush hiding in a Nebraska hole becomes an embarrassment.”
After the paper received hundreds of letters and emails protesting the column, the editor, Dennis Roler, did not defend his columnist’s right to free speech, but instead offered a front-page apology for Guthrie’s column: “Criticism of our chief executive and those around him needs to be responsible and appropriate,” Roler wrote. “Labeling him and the nation’s other top leaders as cowards as the United States tries to unite after its bloodiest terrorist attack ever isn’t responsible or appropriate.”
Roler is terribly wrong. Not only is it never appropriate or responsible to fire someone for expressing a perfectly valid opinion, it is even more inappropriate and irresponsible to deny someone freedom of speech in the face of attack on our freedom. Just what does Roler expect the United States to unite around, if not freedom?
A similar case occurred at the Texas City Sun, where City Editor Tom Gutting penned an article entitled “Bush Has Failed to Lead USA.”
After publishing a front-page apology, Les Daughtry Jr., the editor, offered his personal refutation of Gutting’s article on the opinion page. Daughtry writes, “[George W. Bush] has full support from our allies, all branches of the armed forces and frankly, it appears virtually every citizen in the United States and many throughout the world, except, of course, Tom.”
But Daughtry is ignoring that the Toms are what make our country what it is. A free democratic state does not mean having unanimous support for our politicians. Rather, it is the antithesis. And the protection of that dissent, beginning with the right to free speech, keeps our democracy intact.
Similar sentiments are being displayed in the pages and on the website of The Badger Herald. Some opinions, letters and feedback have called for the censorship or even deportation of the authors of particularly strong opinions. Such demands are more in line with the fascist ideology of the terrorists than with the ideology of freedom.
In my opinion some of the controversial opinions are flat out wrong. But while that means I can criticize them (and I have), I have no right to censor them.
At this time of national crisis, it is essential to remember what we are fighting for. If our actions are not based on the preservation of our freedoms, then there is no point in fighting, for we have already lost.
Benjamin Thompson ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science.