What does it mean to be patriotic during a time when
one's country is at war? I believe it means, first and
foremost, to support those who are actually fighting. To
be patriotic also requires all citizens to pay attention
to the war effort and keep up on the news. In the really
big wars, a patriot who is not involved in the actual
fighting will contribute to the effort in other ways,
such as aiding in manufacturing or helping a medical
facility. In the smaller wars, where fewer citizens are
needed to contribute to the war effort, a patriot will
be extra careful to demonstrate the best qualities of a
citizen of his or her nation, such as courage, honesty,
reliability, and dedication while continuing to live
life as normally as possible.
One of the other aspects of being patriotic during a
war, while being extremely important, is often
misunderstood: Supporting the President or Congress.
I have seen it over and over again on television, in
the Frederick News-Post, and even in discussions with my
peers. The topic of discussion will be the war in Iraq.
There will be a few minutes of Bush-bashing, and then
someone in the group will suddenly burst out, "You
shouldn't talk like that about our President! This is a
time of war, and we have to follow him."
The basic belief is that the President usually does
not want to go to war, and only does so when it is
absolutely justified. There's also a nagging belief
among some people, stemming all the way back from
monarchies and empires, that to speak negatively against
the ruler of one's country is treasonous. During a war,
this belief is magnified because the country is under
more stress and people worry about rebellion against the
The United States has not been very helpful in
dispelling some of these beliefs throughout its history.
The Alien and Sedition Act, passed by John Adams in the
last years of the 18th century, and for purely political
reasons, allowed the U.S. government to deport
foreigners and to put newspaper editors in jail for
writing anything negative about the government.
During World War I, the government passed the
Espionage Act and the Sedition Act. The latter made it
illegal to talk negatively about the government, the
flag, the military, or the Constitution, and the former
made it illegal to try to convince someone to dodge the
military draft. The Acts were vague enough to be used
against just about anyone who presented an unpopular
idea. These were all obvious breaches of freedom of
speech, but they were passed anyway (although clearly
overturned later on).
What were the governments of these times so afraid
of? Was it that dissenters would demoralize the troops
as a number of Bush supporters have insisted recently?
Was it because the government was simply reaching for
more power as non-Bush supporters have said?
It's more likely that it is a combination of both,
and they still trace back to the old idea of treason
against one's king. In monarchies and dictatorships, the
people of the nation are expected to fully trust their
ruler and every decision he makes.
In our modern democracy, we know that our leaders are
not always right. That's why the true power is
ultimately granted to the citizens.
And if there's one thing we never want our country to
mess up, it is a war.
It is the duty of American citizens to openly
challenge a president who wants to take us into a war.
This doesn't mean that we have to disagree with him over
the necessity for the war, just that we have to question
it. If our President has a solid case for going to war
and he feels that it is very important to get it
started, it is his responsibility to present the same
information he based his opinion on to the American
people so that they can tell him if they believe it is
worth the lives of their loved ones to fight.
If there truly is a need for the war, the people will
see it and approve action willingly. However, if a
President cannot convince the citizens that a war is
needed, he should reevaluate his own feelings.
It was fairly easy to get America into World War II
after Pearl Harbor because the Japanese did a better job
of convincing Americans that a war was needed than the
American government had been able to do while fighting
was breaking out in Europe. Before then, Americans
simply didn't see why they should get involved in a war
on the other side of the world that would cost the lives
of their soldiers.
Iraq is a radically different situation. It is a war
that was never provoked. President Bush convinced the
American people that we needed to go in there anyway by
saying that there was solid evidence that Iraq had
biological and chemical "weapons of mass destruction"
and was actively pursuing the acquisition of nuclear
materials. The people bought it. The Congress bought it.
And we ended up in Iraq a within a few months.
But a couple weeks into the fighting, people became
frustrated. No weapons of mass destruction had been
found, and none have been found since. But American
troops were still dying a few per day, and people back
home were wondering why.
As time passed, the dissenting voices grew louder
until now, when the nation seems more divided than it
has been since Vietnam, or perhaps even the Civil War.
That's when this idea of "Support the President"
started coming out more and more frequently.
To those who hold this opinion, think about what
those who are arguing against the war are actually
trying to do. They see soldiers being killed every day
in a country that, as new investigation reports have
revealed, we should not be in in the first place. It is
right for them to be concerned because one of the most
important parts of being patriotic during a time of war
is to support the troops.
So many of the people who have been accused of
politicking or treason because they criticize the
President for keeping troops in Iraq, are actually some
of the best patriots still inside the country.
Those of you who have said in the past that we must
trust and follow the President during times of war, I
hope you see by now that the choice of which wars are
worth fighting are decided by the citizens of this
country, and not a king.
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