My father, a World War II veteran, taught my brother and me love of country, pride in the American flag, and respect for anyone in an American military uniform. I knew how to fold the flag before I knew how to make my bed. My father made sure that I knew that thousands of American soldiers gave their lives to protect our freedom. Freedom was an abstract term to a young boy, something that we had but other countries did not. I attended parochial school, where our role in the world was literally called a "mission."
Yes, America is a great country and rightfully the envy of much of the world. But as I grew older, I learned the darker side to America's greatness. I came to know my country much like I came to know my father; the love stayed with me, but I often did not like what I saw. Over our short history, men have often abused the power bestowed on them. My indoctrination had been so pervasive that my new learning curve was slow. Before long, the truth was apparent. I soon found myself starved for the truth. Thankfully, there were men like Daniel Ellsberg who had the courage to tell the truth in the face of government policies built on secrets and lies.
It is not an accident that stories about Ellsberg often emphasize the office in which the White House "plumbers" searched for information to smear his good name and taint him in perpetuity. The historical facts—that he was a former U.S. Marine company commander, a man with a history of anti-communism, a staunch supporter of American foreign policy, a Pentagon insider before he was antiwar—are often obscured. Ellsberg risked spending his life in jail to make the Pentagon Papers available to the American people and the world. In doing so, he did more to end the Vietnam War and encourage political truth-telling than any politician, except possibly Eugene McCarthy. He is one man who made a difference.
It says a lot about our country that J. Edgar Hoover and Ronald Reagan have buildings named in their honor in our nation's capital, but Daniel Ellsberg does not and probably never will. I find it interesting that Hoover, a man who spied on American citizens, and Reagan, a man who let thousands of Americans die with the AIDS virus without taking action to save them, both wore their patriotism on their sleeves. Since winners write history and erect statues, it is clear that the same interests that waged and lost the Vietnam War never really lost power.
Martin Sheen, the progressive actor who plays an American president on television, has referred to Ellsberg's actions as "true patriotism." It is an apt description. Juxtapose Ellsberg's patriotism with the so-called patriotism displayed at Fordham University recently during the taping of Chris Matthews' MSNBC show, Hardball. Fordham is a Jesuit university located in the Bronx. Matthews' guest, John McCain, was promoting himself and the Bush line on Iraq. Matthews asked supporters of a war against Iraq to indicate that support by a show of applause. More than half of the crowd in the auditorium, mostly students, went into a wild frenzy. Matthews then asked the supporters to stand up if they were personally willing to go to Iraq to fight that war. One lone man stood up. A few others followed after more than a pregnant pause, undoubtedly realizing they were not actually being recruited. Matthews told McCain, a man who spent five years in a POW camp, that this was a war whose supporters wanted someone else to do the fighting for them. I have never seen McCain so uncomfortable. The foundation on which Bush will go to war is the support of a fraternity of chickenhawks of which he is a charter member. McCain and John Kerry do themselves a disservice by lending their good names, and prior military records, to Bush's cause.
Bush is the political equivalent of Don King, promoting a one-sided massacre that is in the interest of him and his cronies. At least the "Thriller in Manila" was a fair fight. The "Attack in Iraq" will be a slaughter in which innocent Iraqis burn to death, as did our citizens in the World Trade Center. Do Americans really wish that fate on innocents? What does that have to do with patriotism? I believe Daniel Ellsberg remembers the lessons of Vietnam. I am afraid that McCain and Kerry are trying to forget.
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