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July 03, 2006

Fourth of July

Americans have been celebrating Independence Day, the Fourth of July, for well over 200 years.

But if you're conservative, it probably bothers you, at least a little, to celebrate a revolution, an event that is about as antithetical to conservative thinking as possible. You'd much rather celebrate a stabilizing event, like the ratification of the Constitution (which actually has its own, barely recognized, holiday on September 17). I've thought about this conundrum roughly once a year, around this time, for the past couple of decades, and I confess I'm still slightly uncomfortable celebrating our revolution, even though I know how it turned out. It was still, after all, a revolution.

Probably the best response to discomfort like mine was given in a 1973 essay by Irving Kristol called "The American Revolution as a Successful Revolution," which distinguished the American Revolution from other, more typical, revolutions. Kristol's basic point has been summarized in a few sentences:

Unlike other modern revolutions (the French and Russian, especially), [Kristol] noted, the American Revolution did not devour its own children; it did not aim to end poverty or establish an earthly utopia, and thus did not end with the inevitable bitter recriminations about "the revolution betrayed." Instead, it established a republic based on the rule of law and limited constitutional government; even more astonishing, the leaders that created this new political order went on to serve in its highest offices and die peacefully in their own beds (Alexander Hamilton excepted). In a certain sense, Kristol claimed, the Revolution was too successful for our own good, because we are now ignorant of just how difficult, even improbable, the Founders' accomplishment was, and of how much the perpetuation of their creation still depends upon our efforts.
* * * * *
If my conservative doubts about July 4 are matter, then I've found the anti-matter in a column in the Ithaca Journal called "Mourn, don't celebrate, this Independence Day."

The columnist is a woman named Cynthia Banas, who argues: "Our freedom is based not only upon the Declaration of Independence, but also our Constitution, the bedrock of our democracy. Our Constitution is being attacked and ignored by the very leaders who are sworn to uphold it."

I know what you're thinking: This just another attack on the Bush Administration. But it's not just another attack; it's a completely insane attack. Banas writes:

According to Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, international laws and treaties to which we are signatory are the highest laws of our land. Among these are the United Nations Charter, Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Principles. Bush has broken all these highest laws. Bush's war is an illegal one since it violates the United Nations Charter. Just as Hitler “preventively” attacked Poland in 1939, so Bush “preventively” attacked Iraq on March 19, 2003.
Equating Bush with Hitler is deranged, but is it completely insane? I'd certainly be willing to entertain the proposition, but surely equating the two twice in the same short column is.
Before the rise of Hitler, there was a breakdown of the German language. By misuse and reinterpretation of language, all the crimes committed in Germany during Hitler's time were made legal; none of the atrocities committed in Nazi Germany were illegal according to the remade German laws. In our country members of the judicial branch have corrupted our language, thereby making illegal actions “legal.” For example, calling people held at Guantánamo “enemy combatants” makes it okay to torture them since “enemy combatants” do not come under the rules of the international accords we have signed. These changes were made by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez [sic] and attorney Samuel Alito, who now holds a seat on the Supreme Court, and their staff of lawyers in our Justice Department.
(Earth to Cynthia Banas: Samuel Alito hasn't been an attorney in the Justice Department since 1987 and never worked with Attorney General Gonzales.)

So if Hitler is really in charge, how do we as Americans respond? Apparently, by being stupid --without, I might add, incurring the slightest risk of punishment by our own Hitler's government.
So, let us have our Fourth of July parades. But let us carry our flags upside down as we march. It is perfectly patriotic and legal (even without misrepresenting any truths or corrupting any language) to hold our flag upside down. Carrying or flying the flag upside down is a signal of distress, and certainly the fracture and violation of our Constitution are great signs of distress. Carrying our flags upside down signals that some of our greatest freedoms have already been destroyed or are in the process of being destroyed, not by some foreign enemy but by the very people whom we have elected.

As we walk, let us also wear a black armband in memory of the thousands of Americans and Iraqis who have been the victims of this illegal war.

And as we walk, let us reflect. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we are sending our youngsters to Iraq to kill and be killed so that we can be free here on our streets. The purpose of our being in Iraq is to control it and its resources. Why else are we constructing the largest U.S. embassy in the world in Iraq, a nation of some 24 million people? And why are we building five huge U.S. military bases in Iraq?

As Lincoln said, “you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
"Now, who is Cynthia Banas?" you may ask, aside from someone who "lives in Vernon, N.Y." I think I have the answer. If you look at the February 15, 2006, issue of Counterpunch, you'll see an article entitled "A 34 Day Fast Against the Iraq War," which begins:
A 34 day, liquids-only fast to end the war against and occupation of Iraq will begin in Washington, D.C. on February 15. Fast participants will consume only water or juice, and will maintain a daily vigil at the U.S. Capitol, lobby members of Congress and conduct sit-ins at key Congressional offices. The start and end dates of the fast commemorate the third anniversary of worldwide protests against the invasion of Iraq, and the date of the U.S. invasion. The activities are part of growing grassroots opposition to economic and military warfare against Iraq.
Five fasters are identified in the article, including one "Cynthia Banas," about whom the article provides this bio:
Cynthia Banas, retired librarian and longtime UNICEF volunteer, lived in Iraq for a total of 11 months between 2001 and 2003. A member of the Iraq Peace Team whose goal was to prevent the invasion of Iraq and report back to colleagues the situation on the ground, Banas lived in Baghdad before, during and after the three-week Shock and Awe terror bombing. She witnessed first hand the efforts of peace people who came to Baghdad from countries world-wide to attempt to prevent the USA attack upon Iraq. She witnessed first hand the invasion, the looting and the ongoing cruel occupation and the suffering of the Iraqi people and the beginning of the resistance during the autumn of 2003.
The Iraq Peace team, according to its own website, went to Iraq in September 2002, about six months before American and allied forces did, with these goals:
  • We will live among the Iraqi people during any aggression directed at them, including continued economic sanctions.
  • We will use our presence and non-violent actions to witness, understand and expose the situation of both the civilian population of Iraq and highlight the importance of facilities such as water purification plants that are critical to daily life.
  • We will report on our experiences in Iraq through this website, our support teams, and all who will listen.
  • I don't know how people with these goals differ from the human shields, but the IPT site takes pains to differentiate themselves: "Iraq Peace Team is not affiliated with Human Shield projects." (bold in original) If you're wondering what this means, read on: "Though we hope to remain in Iraq in the event of an attack, we don't consider ourselves 'human shields.'" Why not? "Voices in the Wilderness refuses to incorporate military language or ideas to describe the peace witness of IPT members."

    So at the end of the day, here we are: A woman who went to Saddam's Iraq to try to keep him in power now lectures us that we should acknowledge and protest our own evils by holding the American flag upside-down on July 4.

    I personally will protest this idiocy by holding my flag right-side up, even if it means celebrating a revolution.

    Related: Dinesh D'Souza writes about what's so great about America. The 1775 New York Times discloses classified lantern signals of American colonists -- one if by land, two if by sea.

    (links via Fark)

    UPDATE (7/4): With anti-war protestors fasting on July 4, Cindy Sheehan gets on the bandwagon.