Is it possible to be both against the war in Iraq and an American patriot? And if so, how do you register your opposition to the war, while not giving aid and comfort to the enemy?
I hadn't thought much about these issues until the other night when I saw a television news story about a couple in Colorado who decided to hang an American flag alongside an anti-war banner on their front porch. When interviewed, they said it was important for them to show that they loved their country but opposed the war.
One anti-war group, United for Peace, has apparently adopted the same tactic, raising money to put up billboards across the country with a huge flag and the slogan "Peace Is Patriotic." The first sign went up near the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
I didn't see that particular billboard when I was in San Francisco last week, but I saw lots of others. Anti-war sentiment runs high in northern California. For every American flag I saw displayed on front lawns or cars, I must have seen a 100 anti-war posters, bumper stickers or graffiti. Some were like the Colorado couple's banner -- a simple "No War in Iraq" statement that didn't necessarily indicate an anti-American bias. But many more expressed ugly, vicious sentiments.
The worst was painted on a curb at Mission and Market Streets. "Kill Bush," it said, an exhortation that, I believe, crosses the line from protected speech to clear and present danger. Unfortunately, such hatred of the president -- and the United States -- is rampant in the anti-war movement.
Anti-war protestors around the country have carried signs saying, "Bush is the Disease, Death is the Cure," "We Support Our Troops When They Shoot Their Officers," "We live in a country founded by cheats, murderers, rapists and thiefs (sic)," in addition to the ubiquitous "No Blood for Oil" slogan that was revived from the first Gulf War. (Photos of these signs appear at various Web sites, including frontpagemag.com.)
The tactics of some of the demonstrators have been no less objectionable than their words. Their aim has been to grind cities to a halt -- and they've nearly succeeded in some places. In San Francisco, police found a dozen Molotov cocktails hidden in a downtown alley, ready for use had they not been intercepted. Protestors tied up the financial section of the city for days and blocked the Bay Bridge, snarling traffic throughout the metropolitan region. Even San Francisco's notoriously liberal mayor, Willie Brown, complained that the demonstrators had turned political dissent into a riot by "anarchists and opportunists."
This type of uncivil disobedience won't do anything to end or even shorten the war. Its aim is to inconvenience -- indeed, harm -- ordinary Americans by interfering with their daily lives, disrupting their businesses and impeding their freedom. It's difficult to argue that patriotism could motivate such behavior. It's also difficult to claim, as many do, that the violent and crude actions of some shouldn't tarnish the entire anti-war movement. Guilt-by-association is appropriate when one chooses to march alongside those who promote violence and hatred.
Advocating violence against America's elected leaders, lying about the United States' motives or conduct in the war, and punishing ordinary Americans in order to send a political message aren't legitimate forms of protest for the patriotic American who objects to this war. Wrapping yourself in the American flag won't hide anti-Americanism.
There are still plenty of avenues open for genuine dissent: writing letters, engaging in public -- civil -- debate, holding candlelight vigils, praying and even peaceful marches. But when the nation is at war and American troops are in harm's way, true patriots will be hard-pressed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in demonstrations with those who hate this country and all that it represents.