Michael T. McPhearson, March 2003
Lately I have been called a traitor and unpatriotic. Not to my face, but as I have walked in peace rallies and while marching with Veterans For Peace in the NYC Veteran’s Day parade. I usually shake my head at people who call me such names. I never get angry. Well that’s not true. Before the Veteran’s Day parade a city official threatened to disqualify us from the march. He said we had to promise not to make any political statements. We asked him to explain by giving us an example. He had no answer. Only repeated, “No political statements.” We pressed our question, so he finally responded with, “no U.S. flags upside down.”
For some reason I exploded. “We‘re not going to do that. Why would we do that? Have you ever served sir? Have you ever served?”
I was highly pissed. Why? Because I was thinking about myself, and the high regard I have for our flag, my flag. I hope and sometimes pray I never have a reason to fly Ole Glory upside down. At this time for me to do so would only prove that I live in a country where I have the right to fly the nation’s flag upside down. But then I was never called a baby killer, nor am I homeless, or a forgotten Vietnam Vet.
Cooler heads explained to the official that we would not allow such a display in our ranks, and we marched on.
As I said before, I usually shake my head because my disloyalty to the idea that is America is ridiculous. My mother’s side of the family, the Holdens, have a long history of military service and fighting in our nation’s wars. My grandfather, James Holden, fought in World War I. My twin uncles; Dannatis and Danna Holden, both fought in World War II. Dannatis retired from the army. Dana separated from the Navy and was later killed while serving his community as a police officer in Columbus Ohio. I recently found out I also had a cousin, Bryant Bishop, who served in WW II. My uncle, Vetterio Holden retired from the army as a First Sergeant. My mother would have joined the service in 1951 but my grandparents would not sign a consent form to allow her to join as a minor. Life took her down a different path. My uncles, cousin and mother, serving and wishing to serve during a time when to be Black in America meant to be hung, castrated and denied the basic rights of citizenship certainly proved their loyalty to this nation.
This loyalty has been instilled in me. While I cannot speak for the men of my family who came before me, I knew exactly what I was doing when I took the vow to defend the constitution. I did not go into the army to make money or pay for my education. I went in to serve my country.
Serving my country and following the dictates of our elected officials is not always compatible. As a citizen of this great nation, I have the right to determine what I believe to be the best course for my country and to act to further those beliefs. I am not going to quote the constitution. You can read it for yourself. But our political founding fathers and mothers saw fit to create a system where the minority or dissenting opinion could be heard. This sets forth an environment for debate and consensus building. If done in good faith, with the greater good in mind, such debate brings our country closer together and makes us stronger.
Unfortunately there are those who claim that to criticize our current U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, is unpatriotic. In fact, ones’ patriotism is most tested when to question is unpopular. To keep quiet and not speak out against what I see as the wrong direction for my country is an act of treason. To knowingly lead my country down the wrong path would be the act of a traitor. I choose to stand up so that my voice is heard.
I respect those who differ from my view and believe the current administration‘s policies are good for the country. I may question their judgment but not their patriotism. All citizens have the right to differ with each other. Let us debate in good faith to find the best path for our nation, the path of democracy.
I question the patriotism of those who wish to smother and curtail debate when it is most needed. I wonder under what circumstances they believe it acceptable to exercise ones inalienable rights. It is important to understand that autocratic regimes do not allow debate. Democracies are built on it.
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