by Laurie Manis
April 23, 2003
In gratitude to the person I admire most, Helen Thomas
After 9/11, it did indeed seem possible that good might emerge from the evil of that day; that our leaders might listen and learn rather than seek revenge; that my generation might finally be roused from its apathetic, avaricious condition and realize that we are members of the greater world community.
But the bombing began, and in the ensuing climate of fear, our voices were silent and have remained silent; despite the erosion of the basic inalienable rights guaranteed to us by our Constitution; despite the fact that an appalling number of the world's people now regard America as the single greatest threat to world peace.
When did we become so cautious, so fearful? Where is the idealism of our youth? When did we decide the good fight was no longer worth fighting?
When did we forget these words of Adlai Stevenson?
"Freedom is not an ideal, it is not even a protection, if it means nothing more than freedom to stagnate, to live without dreams, to have no greater aim than a second car and another television set."
Did it happen while we were talking on our cell phones as we drove our SUV's to the nearest Gap or Home Depot in order to buy more things we don't need?
When did we decide the words of Henry Steele Commager, whose column we read every week in Senior Scholastic, were irrelevant?
"Loyalty is the realization that America was born of revolt, flourished in dissent, became great through experimentation. Our tradition is one of protest and revolt, and it is stultifying to celebrate the rebels of the past while we silence the rebels of the present."
Was it while we waited, in our apathy and our greed, for the money of the neo-conservatives to trickle down to us?
When this President, in contempt of the U.S. Constitution and in criminal defiance of the UN Charter, commits those serving in our armed services -- our children's generation -- to fighting this war; when our elected representatives cravenly stand by and do nothing, how can we still remain silent?
If our troops, who swore to defend this country - not to engage in preemptive, unilateral strikes against a country that has done nothing to harm us since the end of the last Gulf War - are risking their very lives because they have no choice but to obey orders, how dare we use expediency as the excuse for our failure to protest?
Those of us fortunate to have been born in America need to remember that it is not enough for the citizens of a republic merely to pay taxes and obey the laws. It is our bounden duty actively to engage in its processes. Our elected representatives are our servants, paid by us and subject to our informed supervision and criticism or as Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism".
We've always been accused of being the most selfish and self-centered generation this country ever produced. Let us now act to prove our critics wrong. Certainly the possible repercussions are more frightening than they were back in The Day. The power is in the hands of far fewer people than it was then. But let us not forget that our unbridled greed, our unprecedented apathy and our vast carelessness were the causes of that too. That the risks are enormous only proves that the stakes have never been higher.
Our generation, which was so quick to denigrate our elders when we were young, needs now to turn to our parents' generation for inspiration, for they are the ones who are providing the profiles in courage today.
We ought to be burning with shame when we regard the indomitable courage of Senator Byrd; when we regard the uncompromising morality of Pope John Paul II; when we regard the unswerving journalistic integrity of Helen Thomas; when we consider that the principles of the Greatest Generation serve to make its members the people who are the most outspoken in their opposition to this war and our country's current climate of fear.
But then, they cut their teeth on Franklin Roosevelt's incomparable pronouncement, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror."
Let us, even at this late date, adopt those gallant words as our own.
In conclusion, I quote the words of Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, uttered in the year so many of us were born, 1950.
"Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism ... are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism;
The right to criticize.
The right to hold unpopular beliefs.
The right to protest.
The right of independent thought.
The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood. Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own."
This Administration, which discourages debate and brooks no dissent, is using the basest form of propaganda when it informs us that we must support our troops because they are fighting for our 'freedoms'. And for us to remain silent in the face of such shameless hypocrisy, for fear of possible repercussions, makes a mockery out of the truly noble ideals of the fine young men and women serving in the armed forces.
There is strength and safety in numbers. If we can come together now as we did in our youth, nothing can harm us and we will prevail.
Laurie Manis is the daughter of a WWII veteran, the widow of a Viet Nam veteran and the mother of a Navy Reservist. She was a plaintiff in the anti-war lawsuit against President Bush and is a member of Military Families Speak Out (www.mfso.org)