America has been attacked, and now, America is at war. At a time of collective horror and ongoing danger, there is a a need for Americans to come together in support for their government, their way of life, and one another.
Calls for resolve and public spirit are timely. Unfortunately, there are some who fail to see the difference between unity and uniformity of opinion, and think that support for America precludes dissent. To them, failure to wear the Stars and Stripes on one’s sleeve is tantamount to moral treason.
Last Thursday two such people expressed similar opinions on this page, accusing those who do not loudly support American policy or embrace patriotic symbolism as un-American, hurling insults at them, and threatening them with violence.
The writers are entitled to their opinions. And I sympathize with their irritation toward a particular brand of simple-minded and sanctimonious anti-Americanism that, while hardly common to all critics of the government’s military policy, is present on campus.
But the very nature of these writers’ beliefs causes them to force their views on others. They demand not just respect, but compliance, not just hearing, but silence.
In a democratic society, such a stance is dangerous and repulsive.
It is difficult to argue with such people, since they do not seek to convince. Rather, they assert, they insult, and they demand that others conform to their model of “Americanism,” which they assume to be the only valid model. For them patriotism seems to mean automatic assent to government policy.
They are all in favor of honoring America’s fallen war dead, but they view opposition to sending young American men to face death as a sign of contempt for the army and the country. Patriotism means militarism, being American means waving the Stars and Stripes around but not worrying about the Bill of Rights; American ideals are to be fought for, but not thought about or upheld at home.
But what is really un-American? Is questioning and protesting, seeking justice and understanding, un-American? Does being American mean being intolerant, self-righteous and violently angry? Does Americanism demand unanimity and conformity? As someone who dearly loves this country, I hope not.
To be part of a university is to be dedicated to the search for truth, and without debate and an atmosphere of tolerance for disagreement, such a search cannot succeed or even truly exist. To be American is not to wave a flag mindlessly, but to believe in and practice the liberty to disagree and criticize anything.
I am acutely and continuously aware that were it not for this great country, my family and I would not be alive. I am deeply grateful; I think I am deeply loyal. I venerate the principles and ideals represented by our Constitution and struggled for by Americans over two centuries.
It is precisely because I venerate these ideals that I am aware of our failure to live up to them in the past and fearful that we will betray them today or tomorrow.
How dare anyone accuse me or anyone else of being un-American (an ugly phrase with an uglier history)? How dare anyone invoke my country — my heritage — to justify intolerance and encourage violent intimidation? As an American, I am appalled and enraged to see my country’s name defamed by the small-minded chest-thumping of its avowed champions.
To me America is represented by those people — right, left and center — who have the courage to speak their minds and stand up for their convictions without seeking to impose those convictions on everyone else. America to me stands above all for freedom, and Americanism is characterized by plurality, not uniformity.
Other people define America differently. That is their right. I ask that they not seek to deny that right to others or advocate depriving them of it.
Joshua Cherniss is a senior in Saybrook College.