The Meaning of Patriotism
       by James Higdon

The following is an open letter in response to an editorial that I read in the Washington Post,
written by Dennis Pluchinsky, a senior intelligence analyst with the Diplomatic Security Service
in the US Department of State.  His editorial may be read in full by following the link  below.

Dear Mr. Pluchinsky:

In the middle of June, 2002, you wrote an editorial that was published
widely on the internet, and in many major newspapers.  You began by
accusing the media in the United States of treason.  By the end of that
article you softened your approach, and simply accused the news media and
academicians of lacking common sense.  You are qualified to tell us
this, you assert, because you are a threat analyst for the US government,
who possesses, "the imagination of Walt Disney, the patience of a
kindergarten teacher, the mind-set of a chess player, the resolve of a
Boston Red Sox fan, the mental acuity of a river boat gambler, and the
forecasting ability of a successful stock market analyst."

I am less capable of such broad self-promotion.  I am but an Internet commentator
who has an understanding of law, the Constitution of the United States, and
American history.  You have had your say.  Now, I would like to have mine.

You may be surprised to hear that I agree that the US press is irresponsible,
and often lacks common sense.  But that is the beginning and the end of our
agreement.  While you claim that the press reports too much, allowing potential
terrorists to understand our weaknesses, the failures of our infrastructure, and
our lapses in security, I argue that they fail to inform us enough.  You argue that
the press should inform the government, and not the people, whereby they may
be issued gold stars to display as patriotic American journals.  By extension you
claim that it is better for the people to simply trust their government to deal with
its own lapses and failures, leaving both the public and foreign enemies ignorant.

In an open society, terrorists are as capable, on their own, to identify lapses in
infrastructure and security as any beat reporter.  Unless you advocate the closure
of our society, as I hope you do not, because we would then resemble the
deceased Soviet Union or Red China, the problem will always exist.

You and I have both lived in this world for a long time, and I'm sure if we sat
down together to examine the many times the people's ignorance of their
government's failures cost the public dearly, we would lack the time to complete
the task, so let's just look at a recent big one.  What happened on September 11,
2001 was the result of a government failure of which the public, and you,
I might add, were ignorant.

The facts seem to indicate that when George W. Bush took office, in January of
2001, the investigation of terrorism was displaced on the government's priority list.
The American press placed terrorism on a back burner also, supplanting it with
(in the biblical sense), "Did Gary Condit know Chandra Levy, and when did he
know her?"  And the results were catastrophic.

Yet, you continue, "[c]ertainly, if a reporter or academician believes that he or she
has discovered a vulnerability or flaw in one of our sectors or systems, it is important
to let others know. It seems reasonable to me that a process should be established
where such articles are filtered through a government agency such as the proposed
Department of Homeland Security. A skeptic would call this censorship; a patriot
would call it cooperation."  Actually, Mr. Pluchinsky, an American patriot would
call this the slippery slope to a totalitarian government.

As a college professor, and as a government employee, here is something that I'm
sure you've seen before.  It is called the First Amendment to the Constitution of the
United States of America.  Collectively, with the following nine amendments, it is
from our Bill of Rights.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the
right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a
redress of grievances." (Emphasis added.)

This one amendment, in a nutshell, is the very essence of how our government works.
It shocks me that you seem to have completely ignored or forgotten Benjamin Franklin's
admonition that those who would sacrifice essential liberty for safety, deserve neither
liberty nor safety.

Now, I can see you roll your eyes.  It is the stance of many in our intelligence services,
and in our military industrial complex, that our constitution is an outline for our government,
and not a suicide pact.  You will cite instances in the Civil War and in World War II
where our government has made adjustments to these rights in order to defend this nation.
But there is a difference in both of these two wars with terrorism.  Both of these wars
threatened more than just our people. Foreign enemies threatened the existence of the
constitutional government itself.  Osama bin Ladin has not the power to threaten more
than the lives of our people.  Yes, it is true, that he can wreck great havoc within our
borders, but he cannot take over our government.  The constitution will survive whatever
damage he may inflict.  The greatest threat to our constitution currently comes from our
own government through subversive documents like the USA Patriot Act, that has attacked,
not just the First Amendment, but the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth.

In this melting pot society, what is it that binds us together?  What is it that makes us a
united people?  It is not religion, because we are a secular society.  So, what is it that
binds the atheist with the Christian, Jew, Muslim, or member of the countless other
religions that are practiced within our borders?  It is not race, because we are of every
race.  It is not our culture, because we celebrate nearly every culture on this planet.

What binds us together is the simple concept handed down to us by our founding fathers,
that it is the natural state of every human to live and breath free.  It is not a concept that is
reserved for American citizens, but it is a "proposition that all men are created equal."
It is a principle that is guaranteed to all who walk within our borders by the Bill of Rights.
It conveys a promise to all who live in oppression.  It gives courage to the young student
who stands against a column of armored tanks in Tienamen Square.  We, who call
ourselves "Americans," bare the responsibility to be the defenders of that faith.  Personal
safety is not an excuse for American citizens to abandon that responsibility.  It is not
enough to claim that terrorists use our freedoms against us.

Among our soldiers who serve in our military's special forces, there is a code of conduct
that no brother who falls in battle will be left behind, living or dead.  That code solidifies
unity and team work.  Enemy soldiers know of this code and use it, from time to time,
to draw surviving members of a unit back into the line of fire.  Yet these brave men never
abandon the code of honor that commits each man to every other.  If We the People do
not have that same commitment to the Bill of Rights, which represents our code of honor,
then Osama bin Ladin is right when he accuses America of being a paper tiger.  We may
as well spit on every grave in Arlington Cemetery, and let the American flag burn.

True patriots will stand and confront the threat to freedom in whatever shape it comes.
Whether it is in the shape of a fanatic who seeks to spread terror, or from the weak wills
of those within our government who seek to spread rumors of terror in order extract
liberty from a frightened public.

"If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.
As a nation of free men we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
- Abraham Lincoln

James Higdon

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