To the Editor:
Service to one’s country is not blind obedience to a fallible, human government. One of the most profound forms of service, which Harry Flaster ’05 denigrates in his piece “Are you for God, for Country, and for Yale?,” is questioning the decisions of our country. Conscious criticism is not “moral relativism”; on the contrary, it reveals a substantive moral judgment about what our democracy ought to look like. I may not agree with all visions, just as I do not agree with all the wars in which the men memorialized in the Woolsey Rotunda served. I do, however, respect their shared sense of duty to their country and adherence to their values.
Yale may not be perfect, but it has every right to display its motto, “For God, For Country, and For Yale.” As students, we attend classes that challenge the way we think about power, governance and the way human societies ought to be structured. Speakers educate us about issues that affect the moral core of our country. Yale creates an atmosphere that encourages us to develop our own visions for our country and teaches us skills to fight for those visions. It is up to us as students to take advantage of those opportunities, to think and to act.
Democracy is not static. Democracy needs its soldiers, its ever-watchful citizens to preserve the core values from which its implementers often deviate. Those who staged the “die-in” in the Rotunda were paying the utmost respect to the names inscribed on the walls around them. They were practicing Yale’s motto by continuing the fight for the preservation of their country. Unless one is an unconditional pacifist, there surely are times when it is right to die for one’s country. Those are rare and dire times that I hope never to see. In the meantime, I too regret that I have but one life to give for my country: one life of moral criticism, of struggle, of active citizenship and service.
Elizabeth Wilkins ’05
February 11, 2003