Grit

In my endless quest of scanning through headlines to find something important to write about, I happened upon a piece over at Crooks and Liars written by guest blogger, Nonny Mouse. The American citizen living in the UK and moving to New Zealand, relates her journey, a 26 hour nonstop flight with a layover in Los Angeles, and puts to rest the question of why American tourism is lagging.

But not so deeply embedded in her story is a much more important moral that is not to be taken lightly.

We finally were allowed, once we’d all been ‘processed’, to sit down and have a cup of tea or coffee in the transit lounge… for about fifteen minutes before they reloaded the plane. Judy looked angry and close to tears. ‘I’ve never been treated like this before,’ she said. ‘It’s all one thing when you read about it, but having to actually submit to being fingerprinted? I feel… violated. Like I’m some sort of criminal.’

Would she ever consider returning to the States, as a tourist?

Absolutely not. And the next time she flew from London to Auckland, she’d make damned sure the flight did not stop to refuel in America.

Judy was a school teacher in her sixties, being processed as though she were quite possibly sneaking in a bomb to blow up the airport.

All of this instantly brought to mind a curious thing in my own daily life. I work at a military base, my wife works for an insurance company. Care to take any guesses as to who has to go through more security hassles whilst heading into work?

It would be wrong and possibly illegal for me to divulge the security processes in getting on the base, but this in no way dminishes how ludicrous the security measures at my wife’s work (which will remain unnamed) are. Armed guards man a security desk in the lobby, and perform regular patrols. All doors, not just the main entrance, are tightly controlled by passcard entry and subverting those controlls in any way constitute a security violation.

This includes holding open a door for someone who is clearly wearing their badge on their shirt. Doing so is easily discovered by security as they have cameras everywhere.

So I not too long ago had the distinct pleasure of watching the absurdity of someone swiping a card for a door that was already opened.

This same security persists for the daycare which is part of the complex and where we take our older daughter on a daily basis. Needless to say I’ve already been brought up on a security violation just to visit my daughter (what? the door was open, how was I supposed to know I still needed to swipe my badge?).

I’ve also been stopped in the garage walking to my car because I was wearing the wrong shoes. I think it’s significant at this time to inform you that here I am, harrassed by the security measures of an insurance company, and I have a confidential security clearance with the United States Government.

I’m clearly a very dangerous threat.

What this all points to is something that is increasingly irritating me about my country, and I’ve written on this before, but bear with me. At what point did we become so cowardly?

Really, I want to know because this bothers me highly. I’ve not always been as patriotic as I am now. In fact I remember that back in High School I was rather Anti-American, and to be blatantly honest with you, enlisting in the military didn’t immediately change this (to be clear, going through boot camp was a very patriotic experience, but I soon reverted back to my antagonistic attitude towards the US following graduation). It’s taken time and age for me to grow into who I am today and how I view my country.

And part of that view is molded by the lack of wisdom of my youth. I was not patriotic then, but I was not persecuted for that. I was free to express myself and entertain my own ideas, and while I now look back at myself and chuckle at how silly I was, I also realize that one of the reasons I love this country now was because I was free to be that stupid.

It is common for people, particularly people of a free nation, to feel and believe that their nation is the greatest on the planet, and you can list me as one of them. But this patriotism isn’t blind. I’ve studied the actions and the words of our founding fathers and reveled in their wisdom. I read the constitution and am awed by not just its wisdom in governance, but also it’s power as a symbol of the contract between government and the governed. It is a solemn vow that the United States will always be a nation of laws, led with the consent of We The People.

And in the construct of all of this history and wisdom, there is a bravery, a kind of nearly reckless temerity that I think has fueled this nation and made it what it is today. It was the Bostonians tossing tea in the harbor out of protest, but also the citizens during World War II who either went away to fight, or stayed home and worked themselves to the bone to support our troops (not, mind you, supporting our troops merely by putting a magnet on their car).

Through all the words and bloviating and eloquent history, there is a single idea that serves as the foundation for this country, “Do what you will; kill me, torture me, stand against me. You can not take away the fact that I am an American, no matter what you do.” That is the idea that allowed one of the youngest nations on the world stage to grow so quickly into first one of the few remaining superpowers in the world, and eventually, the only one. “Give me liberty, or give me death.” I would rather die than forego those ideals, rights, and liberties that make me an American.

In my latter years, this has become a single guiding principle in how I define my patriotism. It is partly why I am so vehemently opposed to torture, because such disgusting practices are not becoming of my country. It is partly why I oppose the death penalty, because the death penalty is ultimately a barabaric practice that is counterintuitive to the idea of justice, a key part of the American ideal. It is why I favor diplomacy before war, education reform that actually works and still provides quality education to all of our citizens, and any number of other issues. Because we are America; we shouldn’t be running to catch up to the world in being just and good and equal, we should be leading it… leading it through peace and example.

And ultimately, it is this concept of patriotism that has instilled in me a great ire at the multitude of anti-terrorism programs and precautions. Because these programs, at the cost of making us more safe, put at risk rights and liberties of the American ideal that I have come to value more than my own life. I’m going to die eventually… if I don’t kick this nicotine addiction probably sooner than later, but the ideal of America has a great potential to last long after I’m gone, and my children are gone and their children and generations beyond that.

This is, I believe, the core underyling principle to Patrick Henry’s famous quote delivered to the Virginia House of Burgesses. We are all mortal, but this grandiose state that we are making isn’t. It’s mortality is only limited by our will to defend it.

Some, like Bill O’Reilly whom I’ve taken to task already a couple times today, like to emit the empty platitude that “Freedom isn’t free,” and that sometimes you have to pay for our liberties with blood, but do they really understand what that means? In the context that Iraq war supporters use it, it becomes a blanket excuse for any war ever, but they miss the mark.

If we put down the empty rhetoric, and put down this sheepish tendancy to forgo our liberties for some slightly increased modicum of safety, then we can clearly see one thing. Osama bin Laden can’t destroy America. Saddam Husseing wouldn’t be a threat to America even if HE DID have weapons of mass destruction. No one could so long as the integrity of the ideal of America stood tall and unmarred, and there were people willing to give their blood to defend it.

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