When I was just a kid growing up outside Nashville, we had chickens. Quite a lot of chickens, most of the time. We kids only partly understood why Mama and Daddy wanted all those chickens, usually in coops and behind fencing, but occasionally finding ways to wiggle out into the yard and driveway and in general make messes and hassles. As each of us got a little older, we understood that Daddy’s income as a building contractor whose business was in a growth mode (like our chickens) wasn’t quite sufficient to feed all six of us, so we had chickens to eat, eggs to gather and messes to clean up.
And we lived in a residential neighborhood, not out in the country.
But one vivid memory stands out as one of the most valuable lessons I learned from our “chicken experience.” At any given time, we might have 50 to 75 little chicks in a rectangular coop, heated, with newspaper beneath. And the strangest phenomenon took place, over and over. We had to try to stop it as soon as we spotted it, or we’d lose all or most of those cute little chicks.
For no particular reason I can remember, a little spot of some kind would appear on the back or wing of one of the chicks. And as it hopped around, oblivious to the little mark on its exterior, another chick would spot the blemish – and peck at it. Other chicks would also spot the mark, and thinking it was a bug or something worth eating, would peck at it as well. Soon the first chick was bloody from the pecking, and many of the chicks would be attracted to the blood and crowd in like a scene from “Suddenly, Last Summer” and literally peck their little brother or sister to death!
In the process, other chicks would be spotted by flecks of blood and find themselves the new targets of the deadly pecking. A feeding frenzy ensued, and other chicks got spotted and flecked – and the orgy of mindless cannibalism would continue till almost no chicks were left alive.
What’s my point?
I feel I’m seeing this very process play out in our national life, our big American coop, today. It’s motivated not by physical hunger or primal forces of nature, but by partisan politics and deep-seated ideological differences. Activists on all sides of important questions circle and peer and look for some kind of mark, a misstep, a misstatement, a stumble, an apparent vulnerability in a leader or spokesperson of an opposite position – and they peck with a deadly intensity. And as they repeatedly hit the mark, others rush in and join the attack, quite often succeeding in demolishing, at least politically, their target.
But then the attackers (like those chicks) have picked up spots, some of the political spillover from the frenzy, and become targets themselves. And on it goes, gathering intensity, left vs. right, red vs. blue, liberal vs. conservative, pro-war vs. anti-war, pacifists vs. militants, each antagonist trying at least to destroy the credibility and integrity of those with opposing views.
And the media! Much of the fourth estate establishment feeds on the frenzy itself, eagerly searching for more blemishes to peck at, particularly in those whose ideology may not conform to the mindsets of the media movers themselves.
Today, the chief “target chicks” are the president of the United States, his vice president and administration, and any of us who still believe our leaders may actually know more than the average citizen and are diligently doing their best to protect our national interests, and indeed, all of us citizens. It’s no surprise, of course, especially in an election year, that President Bush would be attacked by political opponents; but virtually every talk show host and comedian tees off on him and our government’s policies obsessively. And TV dramatic shows work derisive comments and anti-Bush plot lines into many of their stories, while newspapers dig, dig, dig for anything that might convince the general public we’re all being duped and led into bankruptcy, disgrace and defeat.
When challenged, the attackers so often resentfully respond, “Hey, this is a free country! I can speak my mind, and criticize our president if I want. I think he’s a dumb jerk anyway, and I totally disagree with virtually everything he says and does. Hey – are you questioning my patriotism?”
And we’ve fallen into the habit of assuring the attacker we’d never do that, that we respect his right to express himself, and we’re sure he’s just as patriotic as we are.
Well, wait a minute.
Respectful disagreement is one thing. Reasoned argument, based on actual facts and not rigged half-truths, is fine. Even beneficial and stimulating. But wild-eyed, irresponsible assaults on the character and intelligence and personal motives of our commander in chief – while we’re in a war and trying to hold our allies at our side – is, to me, decidedly unpatriotic!
I’m already on record accusing certain networks of treasonous actions in publicizing the Abu Ghraib abuses worldwide, knowing that the military had already investigated and stopped those indefensible violations and instituted court martial proceedings. This was private military information, which when publicized internationally scarred America’s reputation and cost a number of lives in “retaliation.”
And recently in this space, I’ve asked why Big Media isn’t trumpeting the audio tapes and testimonies of Saddam’s generals that there were indeed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that Saddam was actively promoting terrorism in the world, and that the WMDs were smuggled into Syria.
And they may still be there, waiting to be used against us.
Could there be bias? Could there be such prejudiced ideological blindness that the truth is buried in favor of more pecking at our leadership? What do you call that – “patriotism”? I don’t think so.
One of our most valued, loyal allies is British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a recent eloquent, impassioned speech before the Foreign Policy Centre in London, he nailed the issue, the bottom line of our international struggle. In a statement worthy of his predecessor Winston Churchill, he proclaimed, “This is not a clash between civilizations. It is a clash about civilization!”
Because the evidence is so overwhelming that a legitimate defense of Western Civilization, indeed civilized society itself, is at hand, when people put their political prejudices ahead of our country’s safety – while we’re at war – they do demonstrate a failure of patriotism. Such people might as well stop saying, “Don’t question my patriotism,” as though it’s got magical power to shut the rest of us up.
You can’t wave a “peace sign” at me or still a majority of my fellow countrymen, while our bravest young men and women are in armed conflict with crazed zealots determined to wipe us off the face of the earth, and call it patriotism.
I beg to differ.
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