17 January 2006

American Pride

My parents are currently visiting Honolulu, and last night my wife and I treated them to a luau. The tourist luaus don't really resemble the kinds of celebrations that locals throw, of course, but an "authentic" tourist luau, complete with Tahitian Hula and a Samoan Fire-knife dancer, should be a part of anyone's visit to Hawaii.

This particular luau took place at the Hale Koa hotel in Waikiki. The Hale Koa ("House of the Warrior") is the hotel at the Ft. DeRussey Armed Forces Recreation Center, and caters to the military. This means that pretty much everyone at the luau has some connection to the armed forces.

The people who set up the luau know this, of course, and they close the luau by recognizing and thanking the veterans of the various wars for their service, then by recognizing those who are currently in the service. The final song is a stirring rendition of Lee Greenwood's Proud to be an American, complete with a standing audience and candles.

Usually (we've taken family to this luau a few times now) I more or less blow off the conclusion. I mean, I stand and sing with everyone else, but it isn't exactly what I'd call a thought-provoking moment. Last night was different.

Last night, I started out by thinking about what I could do to show my pride in this country, and what I could do to defend America and American Values. I tried to join the military some years back, but was medically disqualified, so that was out, but I was still feeling a bit guilty. My wife is on active duty, and does her part, but what do I do? What could I do? Then, as I thought about the last verse of the song, it came to me:
And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.
In a sudden moment of clarity, I realized that there was something I could do, even if it wasn't much, to do my part to defend the things that this country stands for.

I went home, went online, and joined the ACLU.

That's not quite what you were expecting, was it?

I think that our country is really seriously threatened by terrorism. I think that the physical threat to Americans is very much real, and I think that we do need to use our military to protect ourselves. I disaprove of the way we went into Iraq, but I think that our action in Afghanistan was entirely appropriate - the government there was clearly sheltering and assisting groups that had killed large numbers of Americans, and which had every intention of doing so again. Doing our best to deal with that problem made sense.

The physical threat to Americans from terrorists is still out there, and still very much real. We will need to be alert to the possibility of further terrorist strikes for the forseeable future, because there are people who, for various reasons, hate America and want to kill Americans. But that's only part of the threat.

The threat to America goes far beyond the threat of physical attack. The terrorist activities are intended to - and do - create a level of fear in the public. People want to feel safe, and the threat of terrorism makes us feel unsafe. The danger is that we will do things in order to feel safe that threaten exactly those things that make America special - our civil rights.

The ACLU may be unpopular these days. They are the target of right-wing derision, and their willingness to take up unpopular causes doesn't do much to increase their popularity with most Americans. But now, more than ever, the ACLU and other similar organizations are an essential safeguard against attacks on our civil rights.

Dissent is patriotic. Standing up against the government on issues like illegal wiretapping is not only patriotic, it is a courageous stand against the terrorists. It tells them that we will not sacrifice the things that make America great just to protect ourselves against them. I am proud to be an American, and I am willing to do what I can to protect the things that make America special.

Joining the ACLU is the best way I can think of, at least right now, to do that.
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