Tuesday, September 12, 2006
A view from 9/12: Who are we?
But maybe I have something to say, even if the odds are long against a great many eyeballs stopping by to wonder. Or to pause long enough, for I know this ain’t gonna be quick, and probably won’t track very well. But people are voting – or not – on the day after the Grand Reflection on How We’ve All Changed and there is this giant hairball I’ve got to purge and I’m sorry if it soils the comfort carpet in your Patriot Room.
I’ve had this refrain in my head for a while now, and I just can’t get rid of it – kinda like when no matter how diligent you are with your car radio, some idiot radio jock slips in “Rockin’ Robin” and it’s stuck in your brain even though you got to the buttons within five seconds. All day yesterday it kept looping. Watching the people in the hole in Manhattan, the field in Pennsylvania and other graveyards. Watching oh so many lips moving on the boob tube, droning on and on and on about vigilance, why-I’m-right, sorrow. Blah, blah blah, blah blah blah.
Son of a bitch I’m tired. Of the lies. Of the manipulation. Of the arrogance. Of the selfishness.
I hear it again; here it is:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I remember when I first learned that. It was a little room with little chairs and spitballs on the ceiling and a picture of a Republican guy who knew how to kill hanging on the wall. Each day we’d recite those words, even if we couldn’t spell them and some of us couldn’t even speak them properly. And on some days, those words would be followed later in the day by a clanging bell. We’d all get up and march out into the hallway with everyone else, crouch on the floor with our knees pulled to our chest and our hands clasped behind our necks with our backs pressed against the cold cement block walls. Then, when it became clear that the Communists had not incinerated our city and it was safe to return to our ABCs with another flawless drill in the books, we did.
And when we once again came to order and the lessons resumed, they moved us one day closer to a fuller understanding of the meaning of the words republic, indivisible, liberty and justice. We already knew about God, which was why we did not need to be taught why those other things needed to apply “for all.”
I can recall those days quite clearly, but I simply cannot dredge up any notion of fear. I remember the great pride that came with that pledge, and the same emotions I feel when I hear America the Beautiful: “God shed his grace on thee. And crowned thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.” Those words still fill my soul with pride, because in them is what we are, what we believe. I still pledge allegiance – not to that flag, not to the suit on which it is pinned, but to the Republic for which it stands and the values and principles carved in the fire of rebellion against privilege and tyranny.
But that was before Everything Changed.
That was before the Republic I knew went away, when liberty and justice and indivisible resolve under God’s grace dissolved in the face of fear, replaced by vengeance, deceit, pride and the arrogance of power.
Once we cultivated new Republics with the graceful promise of a shining City on a Hill offering “liberty and justice for all.” However imperfect the results, at least the notion endured that it was our obligation to each other to strive to approximate that model.
Then Everything Changed.
Now we tout but the process of democracy, and do so at the point of a bayonet or with the bared teeth of a Doberman – or images, phrases, cues drawing on baser instincts. We have lost our faith in our words, our example, our principles, our ideals, though from time to time we still pull them out and wave them around. We do not believe that our words, our resolve, our hearts will win the day. For they hate us – they hate us for what we are, for what we have. No, some hate us for what we have discarded – things we had way before Everything Changed.
When we cobbled together this wonderful Republic of ours, we set out to establish a nation governed by the rule of laws – Just laws. Not a nation of Men, but a nation of laws, laws that protected us from harm, from fraud, from tyranny because they were just laws and we placed our faith not in the fine print, but in the indivisible commitment to justice. For all. Because only in justice can liberty thrive, or long survive.
I don’t know when it was exactly that Everything Changed. Can someone help me out with this?
When did the Republic agree to erase its signature on the Geneva Convention? When did the Republic agree that it stood for justice only for its own citizens, and would waive justice for those whose apparent – even obvious – infractions were appalling enough, or the threat they posed tangible enough? When did the Republic decide to suspend this essential leg upon which freedom stands? And where precisely was the new line drawn, and how firmly was it established for all to see?
And when did the Republic agree that the ends justify the means; when did the wisdom of Jefferson and Madison bow to the mores of Lombardi, allowing winning to become the only “thing” of consequence, even when it tramples justice and, hence, liberty? When did the Republic establish that lies, manipulations, slanders, thefts and usury were acceptable standards in the democratic process, or in any pursuit of happiness? Even in the pursuit of security?
I need to know these things as I stand with my hand on my heart ready to renew my pledge.
For very soon I will hear the bell, and the lights will flash Orange and I must scurry to a protected place, jam my back to the wall and clasp my hands to the back of my neck. And here I am sure to shiver in fear.
For in my heart I know we are defenseless, for somehow, we have lost our grasp on the only weapons we ever had that would k keep us safe.
Liberty and justice for all.