The sign hanging outside Branford goes straight to the point: “Support, not sniveling. Courage, not cowardice. God bless America and her armed forces.”
Whoever put it up seems convinced that Yale is a haven for anti-American beliefs, a breeding ground for apologists and ideological peaceniks.
Honestly, this blatantly one-sided rhetoric that confuses the anti-war crowd with the terrorists is becoming tiresome. Not only are such exclusive claims to the moral high ground simple-minded, but they also clearly threaten American values.
The crudest attacks single out campus leftists and idealists as vectors of “un-American ideas.” Their opposition to the war automatically identifies them as selfish and unpatriotic individuals. But who said pacifism and patriotism are mutually exclusive? Should we all shut up and wave the flag like automatons? Clearly, the answer is no. No one can monopolize the values that define America.
Those who object to the relentless bombing of one of the poorest nations on Earth have a right to voice their opinions. They are not “un-American” or even cowards. Above all, they do not — as some have said on these very pages — disdain their own country. They are simply concerned, and they show it.
Most disturbing of all, well-known professors are also being attacked for their skeptical attitudes toward U.S. intervention. Paul Kennedy especially has been targeted for arguing that the roots of Islamic fundamentalism lay in American foreign policy. Donald Kagan answered that this was tantamount to blaming the victims rather than the criminals guilty of committing the atrocity.
Sadly, this argument smacks of intellectual dishonesty. It is one thing to point out America’s partial responsibility in creating the foundations for Islamic fundamentalism. It is another altogether to condone the attacks.
Kennedy and others like him are not out to justify bin Laden’s actions. They are simply appealing for a more rational analysis of the causes that led to the present situation. Rather than being mesmerized by short-term goals, they are already thinking ahead. They have pondered the long-term effects of current policies and are understandably concerned. I am not saying that they are right, but only hypocrites should question their patriotism.
The founding fathers were also men distinguished by their forward thinking and their prescience. The constitution they created has withstood the test of time for over two centuries. We are all indebted to their level-headedness, and it would be foolish to deplore the long-term thinking they adopted.
In the same way, we should not criticize those who take on different viewpoints from ours. Solutions to the current crisis will only emerge if we welcome all sorts of contrasting perspectives.
This is why the wave of self-styled patriotism that is sweeping Yale and across the country alarms me so much. Such uncritical flag-waving patriotism rejects dissenting opinions. The minority of Americans who disagree with the war are increasingly being stereotyped as “leftists”, “cowards” and “anti-Americans” even though their opposition may be based on perfectly rational motives. In reality, patriotism is not unique to the conservatives among us; it belongs to all those who wish good for their country.
Undoubtedly, some will immediately dismiss me as just another left-leaning idealist. But in fact, I am part of the great moderate majority in this country. And, despite certain misgivings, I actually support the war. That should demonstrate how important the issue of free speech and dissent is to average people like me.
As the war in Afghanistan reaches its second and third installments, it will be up to the moderates among us to quell the mounting extremist pressures in American society. Let us not allow the ghosts of the McCarthy era to haunt us again.
Fabrice Lesaffre is a sophomore in Branford College.