"Oh Say, Does That Star Spangled Banner Yet Wave . . .O'er the Land of the Incarcerated, and the Home of the Scared?"
by Jack Ballinger
April 29, 2003
U.S. consular officials are ''scratching our heads'' over U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's claim that Pakistanis, Palestinians and others are using Haiti as a staging point for trying to get into the United States.
Ashcroft made the claim in a ruling Wednesday that Haitians need to be detained while they seek asylum.
Of course, if you ask aloud "How can Ashcroft/Bush/America do such things in OUR NAMES?," you always stand a chance of being labeled a "terrorist sympathizer" which can get your ass very closely acquainted with those Haitians, Afghans [from 13 years old and up] and others we may never know about but whom we have put in never-ending detention without any right to representation. [Homeland Security, don't you know.]
We have thousands of male Muslim immigrants who were recently forced to go to government centers to "register". Those that were subjected to interrogation were not allowed any legal representation
They were olive skinned folks, and none of them followed America's religion of choice. Using race and/or creed to discriminate was against the law, in my America.
In today's frightened America, this discrimination is considered "patriotic."
These Muslims all looked different than my Irish/German family, and that might be the reason why I haven't heard much anger expressed by my white Anglo family and friends.
They're not considered White, yet they can't get the support of the major minority groups, as they’re not really Black or Hispanic.
In today's frightened America, that makes them easy to pick on.
I know that Irish, German, English etc. immigrants weren't subjected to this special registration indignity.
Yet each of those white-skinned countries have had terrorists that, for many years now, have killed innocents around the world, while they were home based within those countries borders.
I know that the government is not forcing Blacks and Hispanics to register, yet terrorists acts occur in the homelands of many of them also. (Haitians are the first, but probably not the last, exception to the rule here.)
Do you wonder why they weren't "registering" Whites, Blacks and Hispanics? That's simple!
Had anyone in the Bush administration even hinted at something like that, you would have had a race to see which politician could be the first to publish the Articles of Impeachment.
And many other abuses, from databases that throw a shade of terrorism over someone who has been late on a mortgage payment through improper police surveillance and subsequent data storage on people who did nothing more than participate in a lawful protest.
America, you can't allow this slow but sure stacking of abuses to our country's standards to immunize you from shock at the current and growing size of the stack. Things are happening at such a clip that every day produces a new outrage that, had it taken place just a short time ago, would have produced a scream heard from Maine to California.
Believe me, spending those first days after 9/11 watching 24/7 news with nothing but death and destruction on the screen was frightening to me. They played the fall of the towers over and over, until the image itself started to become, God forgive me, almost meaningless.
But the memory of the live images, those are burned into the mind's eye of us all. I was not immune to the heady combination of fear and a taste for revenge.
I can't honestly blame any politicians for immediately capitulating on anything the Administration requested. But our fear was irrational and, I believe (although there is room for debate on this), unintentionally fanned by those news images and the subsequent painting of the whole of America with flags. While the "patriotism" was comforting at first, it was soon used as a drug to "hook" Americans to whatever fear reducing plan the Administration could concoct that would increase the Administration's powers, remove protections from some "un-favored" people, reduce union coverage in the Federal bureaucracy and grant financial favors to others. (You can read of Halliburton, Bechtel etc. elsewhere.)
Didn't we need to ignore our protections for "security?"
No! We've spent hundreds of justifiably proud years under a Constitution and a growing Bill of Rights. Yet, without anything approaching the cumulative assaults on our freedoms that we now find necessary, we conquered a fairly powerful Nazi/Japanese machine and a rather daunting Soviet cold war threat.
But now, 19 guys with box cutters have us acting as if the Nazi's won the last war.
"Give me liberty, or give me death"?
I keep hearing right-wing politicians and commentators using the same tired line to refute those who complain about the shredding of civil liberties and judicial protections.
"The Constitution and Bill of Rights are not suicide pacts," they say.
And that sounds perfectly sensible.
But It's Wrong!
They Are A Suicide Pact.
If Not, They're Not Worth The Paper They're Written On!
We Pledge/Salute/Vow/Promise that if one goes, so does the other. That is, if anyone, whether foreign power or American President, attempts to shred our Constitution or Bill of Rights, we'll die protecting them. And that includes protecting Muslims from being treated any differently than you or I. If you don't believe that, it's every American's PATRIOTIC duty to explain to you that this IS the American way!
If we don't believe that the freedoms they grant are worth our lives, than you might as well use Arlington Cemetery as a dog run. Hold a graffiti contest on the Vietnam Veteran's Wall. Tear up our textbooks and replace them with books on obedience to power.
Documents that so empower the average man and reduce the power of the government can only be meaningful in a land where there is an implied agreement by its citizens to willingly lay their lives down protecting the rights of the Iraqi news vender, the Japanese salesman, the Irish mailman and the black stockbroker. We have long lists of American heroes who died while attempting to preserve the very freedoms we, in our miserable cowardice, now so willingly allow our own government to destroy.
Had the founding fathers thought those principles were not worth dying over, Tony Blair wouldn't have to suffer for being cozy with Bush.
Tony would be our Prime Minister!
Those great documents were the basis for millions of sacrificed lives. We've fought many "just" wars throughout our brief history just to preserve a land where those two documents ruled.
Not a country wherein an Attorney General can choose a color from a small selections of crayons and, suddenly, if he chooses Red (the highest Alert Stage in Ashcroft's box of crayons) an American can be locked up, without any legal representation, for doing nothing more than walking out the door of his or her home. (True!)
I find it highly ironic that the "average" alert stage America has been under since 9/11 is "Yellow!" If I had a higher opinion of the intelligence of those who choose the color to represent our daily fear level, I'd credit them with brilliance for that choice. We're "Yellow" for letting that chart overrule our freedoms.
If you're an American who is even "suspected" of having given money to a charity that "might" be connected to a suspected terrorist organization you can have your phones tapped, your personal banking records searched and have all manner of invasions of your privacy justified by those 19 fanatics with box cutters.
(For years, Irish Sweepstakes tickets were sold in the US as a means of helping fund the Irish Republican Army [IRA]. Anyone believe that my Irish friends will be locked up under these "anti-terrorist" laws for buying a ticket?)
Realize this, survivors of the Nazi regime would have found great humor in these changes to America. Removing civil rights, using "government suspicions" as a legitimate excuse for incarcerating people and using patriotism and fear of a convenient bogeyman to get the populace behind draconian changes in a democracy were all tactics that go back way before Ancient Rome, and were most recently perfected by Hitler and his crew.
Of course, I would have to agree with those who say, "9/11 changed everything."
As I see it, 9/11 was the day we lost the war on America's ideals. Osama and his bizarre yet small troop of (15 Saudi and 4 "other", none Iraqi) homicidal boy scouts took my America away, as my countryman stood by shaking in their boots and allowed their irrational fear of 19 hijackers cause them to forget the most elemental lessons from grammar school textbooks.
"Liberty or death"; "sacrificing liberty for security gets neither," "regrets of having only one life to give for our country" and scores of other sayings from Americans of courage are not just throw away lines in our history. They have true meaning and should trump any box of crayons of fear.
If our irrational fears only caused us to send our young off to war against countries that hadn't attacked us*, had no real means of attacking us and had no evidence of being aligned with those 19 hijackers, it would still be a tragedy of immense proportions.
But by our acquiescence to allowing this irrational, "UNPATRIOTIC" and selfish power grab from inside our own government, no matter how foul it smells as long as it comes wrapped in a flag, we've spit on the graves of the founding fathers, the veteran's of wars (from our War of Independence, Civil War, 2 World Wars) and every kid who lost his life in uniform while believing he was fighting to keep America strong. As a Vietnam Vet, I can't help but think that our President should have to stand facing that wall of over 50,0000 names of those who fought in his stead, or on a platform at Arlington National Cemetary, and explain to those ghosts of the truly courageous his rationale for razing those revered documents, and all the freedoms they symbolize!
We've become the frightened child who runs to their parents' bed, seeking comfort from a nightmare. Only, instead of a caring parent who will assuage our fears, we have run to a group of sadistic adults who will exacerbate that fear and use it to its own advantage.
Wake up, America! It's time to face that fear and get out of bed with those who seek to harm all that you once held so dear!
I only wish we had a President, or can have one in the near future, who would make the speech that's really needed:
"My fellow Americans. What happened on 9/11 was that 4 planes were hijacked. Nothing more, nothing less. They were purposely crashed, causing 3,000 deaths. It was horrible.
We need to mourn those deaths, pay homage to the many acts of compassion and courage that followed the tragedy and strongly condemn the terrorist cowards whom had realized that debating their case for a theocratic and repressive government, no matter whether they thought they had some legitimate grievance, wouldn't be a winning strategy in America. They resorted to immense violence to make their point, and for that reason they lost any credibility. We will hunt down their leaders and peers until we no longer have any left to find.
And we must take a lesson from this attack. Security at both our air and sea ports must improve. Other problems, as highlighted in Mindy Kleinberg's testimony before the 9/11 Commission, must be addressed. And this must be done quickly and efficiently, so that Americans can rest assured that their government is on the job.
What we must guard against is allowing those 19 misfits to cause substantial changes in our government. If we allow ourselves to degenerate into something less than we were on 9/10/03, if we allow indictment without representation, if we allow imprisonment without trial, if we allow criticism of the government to be equated with treason, we've lost much more than 3,000 lives on 9/11. We've lost the soul of America!"
Instead, we get to read things like:
One of the many maddening feats of this Administration is that in choosing to fight the war on terror by going to war with Iraq, George W. Bush has inspired new terrorist threats to the United States--according to the official testimony of his own CIA--where none existed. At the same time, he purposely starves those localities and institutions on which the complex and expensive task of terrorist protection ultimately falls.
The Economist compares New York City to Atlas, bearing the weight of the world on its shoulders. Already reeling from a massive deficit, declining income and the economic aftershocks of 9/11, the city must pay an estimated $1 billion a year for emergency and counterterrorism costs. Bush could care less. After attempting to stiff New York entirely, Congress has finally agreed to kick in about $200 million, far more than Bush proposed. My shaken city can ill afford to make up the difference. It already has 4,000 fewer cops than it did two years ago but must assign more than a thousand of those remaining to the terrorist beat. It may shutter forty fire companies. Massive layoffs, tax hikes and cutbacks in every kind of social service are in the offing. And Gotham is hardly alone. Enhanced security measures cost the nation's cities an estimated $2.6 billion in the fifteen months after 9/11. (Eric Alterman, “Bush Goes AWOL,” The Nation, April 17, 2003)
Remember, no matter how hard they try to blow this bogeyman up into something bigger than Nazi Germany, this is all (the Homeland Security dept., the Patriot Act [#1 and the coming sequel], the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq) in response to 19 men with box cutters???
Even a skeptic like me has to admit that some courage still flourishes. In small towns across America a nascent backlash is being nurtured.
Towns like Carrboro, NC are passing ordinances directing their police forces to refuse to enforce those portions of the Patriot Act that go against our historical understanding of our protections under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But these towns cannot really help those who are most horribly affected by this administrations trampling of our freedoms. Most of the victims of the Bush administrations xenophobia live in the large urban areas. And the FBI takes no direction from any town council.
But don't let a story about a Carrboro assuage your conscience. I believe we're getting real close on the ticking morality clock to a time when finally speaking out about all this to your friends, neighbors and elected officials will be coming too late to assuage the guilt that our country's actions are going to lay on us all.
When I see the 12 year-old Iraqi named Ali, who is now armless as a result of our attack on Iraq, and then think of the thousands of dead and wounded who never captured the sympathy of media editors sitting in a NYC skyscraper, I hear the clock tick a little faster. When I hear of the death of more of our civil rights, and "off the record" talks of what nation we want to launch our next Pearl Harbor onto, the ticking begins to blend into a buzz. And when we stand by while hospitals in a war zone we created are looted and left as warehouse shells, I swear I hear an alarm trying to be heard.
Is that judgmental? You bet it is!!
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was no secret that America was preparing to enter the war. We already had the Lend-Lease program, by which we supplied the Allies with war weapons and materials. We were actively helping our friends, and Japan wanted to strike us to delay our entrance and help protect herself. Each year, on December 7, we hear again of how that Japanese attack was a "day that will live in infamy!" Think of that for a moment. Japan knew we had the "weapons of mass destruction" of it's time. We were Lending and Leasing battleships, cruisers, tanks and artillery pieces to Japan's enemies and we were on the brink of joining the attack on her. Yet, today we condemn her for attacking us. Did she attack us in a weak spot? No! She attacked one of our most potent military areas, where an entire fleet along with air support stood. Did Japan go after our "regime?" Did she attack the White House? No! Did she look to attack other homes of our President and his family? No! Did she blow up civilian neighborhhods in an attempt to kill the President and his family at dinner? No!
We said that someday Iraq might hurt us. That was in dispute. But, we say we had a right to attack her. We launched a First Strike on Iraq.
Japan knew we were getting ready to hurt her. That's a fact that's not in dispute. Japan launched a First Strike on the US. Japan was a monster we say.
"Hmm?", I say! And I hope I'm not alone.
Jack Ballinger is a Vietnam Veteran, with a Bronze Star, 2 Air Medals, a Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB) and a bunch of other pretty military ribbons. “I was Honorably Discharged in 1971. Both of my grandfathers fought in WWI, and both my father and my father-in-law were Marines in WWII.” He can be contacted at: NYCHASpotlight@netscape.net