Monday, July 4, 2011

Born on the Fourth of July

Born on the Fourth of July
last seen online via YouTube

I was little more than a toddler when the Vietnam War ended, so I have no first-hand memories of it. While there are more than a few comparisons that can be made with the recent, undeclared Iraq war, the truth, I think, based of all the things I've read and learned, is that Vietnam was unique in American history because of its impact on the American psyche. We were no longer invincible. We were no longer sure we held the moral high ground. It was a feeling we were completely unaccustomed to, and I don't think we've ever fully recovered from it. Perhaps the worst part, however, and it's something that came to mind as I watched Born on the Fourth of July last night, is how little we've learned since Vietnam. Waging war has become as much a business as Apple or Microsoft, and just as profitable.

For a brief moment, I thought 9/11 would be different, and I probably wasn't alone in that. The problem, however, was that fighting terrorists was not the same as fighting an aggressor nation, like Germany in World War 2. Still, we had a major opportunity to take all the goodwill and sympathy generated by the world and put it to good use and we blew it. We let ourselves be ruled by fear. We let ourselves be lied to by a leader who was completely inadequate for the job, we went after an enemy with no known connection to the events of 9/11 and called it justice, we vilified anyone who tried to protest, and most importantly, we expended thousands of lives in the process. Not too different from Vietnam after all.

"Love it or leave it" - that was Ron Kovic's attitude about America even after he came back from Vietnam and the hospital a paraplegic, haunted by guilt over the things he had seen and done. But he eventually realizes - and it's an important point to remember, on today of all days - that love of one's country does not and should not mean blind loyalty. The Founding Fathers knew this - and the reason we have a holiday today is because they realized the right to dissent is a basic human right that cannot and must not be taken for granted (and no, dissent does not mean smear campaigns and vitriolic rants, as we've seen from both sides of the political aisle in recent years). It's the recognition of this and other fundamental rights that makes America unique... but only if we remember them.

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