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Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
The Patriotism Of Protest
It is ironic that the only heckler who showed up at the recent GIs United peace rally chose to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a form of personal protest, thereby implying that the rally was somehow unpatriotic and un-American.
We submit that it would not have been inappropriate for those of us attending the rally to have stood and sung with her, for many of us — particularly those in the military — believe that our active participation in the peace movement is the most American thing we could be doing.
The fact that we are protesting certain policies of our government does not mean that we advocate an overthrow of that government; that we are objecting to some of the policies and regulations of the Army does not mean that we are anti-Army. To the bumper-sticker demand that we either “love America or leave it” many of us vehemently answer: we do love our country, but we do not think it is perfect, nor do we believe our leaders are above reproach. Therefore, we are exercising the distinctly American right to offer alternatives to policies and activities which we feel are unjust or unconstitutional. There is nothing unpatriotic about that; Americans have been doing it for almost two centuries.
When this Country was a world infant, its leaders established its first government according to Articles of Confederation; at the time, they judged such a form of government to be best. The people of the new nation proved them wrong. Dissent and even violence were prevalent throughout the 13 states. And so those leaders — the same men we have almost deified historically — admitted their mistake and sat down to reason out a new approach. The result was the Constitution of the United States. Similar events have been occurring ever since, and the nationwide upheaval the country is experiencing today is merely a reassertion of historical precedent.
Many people in this country believe our leaders have made poor political decisions in recent years, and we are willing to assert that belief according to the tenets set forth in the Constitution. It must be said that those tenets do not justify violence or encroachment upon the rights of other citizens; that is why, at all costs, the dissent we are promoting must be peaceful to be meaningful.
Unfortunately some dissenters in America believe the time has come for violent revolution, and their destructive and well–publicized activities have tainted the public opinion of protest. But for every militant, there are many others of us who, while protesting, still maintain a prevailing faith in the democratic system. We do not believe individual participation in democracy ends in a polling booth We believe that each individual has a right to test his point of view — whether it concerns the Vietnam war, soldiers' rights, civil rights, or any of the other questions with which Americans should be deeply concerned — in a manner provided by law: through the courts, if necessary. No political official or military commander has the power to decide on questions of constitutional law; as yet, the divine right of rule and a belief in the infallibility of leaders do not exist in this Country. Our judiciary system was conceived to resolve such questions, and it is to this system we must ultimately turn.
Many of the dissenters in the US today might even be classed as Constitutional fundamentalists who favor a simplification of the ambiguous systems of rules and regulations, both military and civilian, which obscure basic individual rights. Those military men who fall into this category maintain that one is a citizen first, a soldier second. These two states of being are not incompatible; history has often proven that a man can serve his country in both capacities simultaneously. But when his status as a soldier infringes upon his rights as a citizen, and we believe this oftentimes to be the case, then (to use a military cliche [sic]) priorities need to be reevaluated. The Constitution sets forth our rights as citizens, and no other document, be it military regulation or command memorandum, takes precedence over that.
When we soldiers first donned our uniform, a uniform of which many of us are justly proud, we swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. That is exactly what we are trying to do.
If what we are doing is un-American, then that lauded ideal, the American Spirit, has undergone a number of degenerative changes since its inception. Have apathy, docility and intolerance been added to those patriotic qualities we have been taught to admire in our predecessors?
Being a patriot does not mean acquiesing [sic] blindly to the dictates of authority even when the wisdom of that authority is questionable. The king of England represented authority in American in 1776, and his subjects had no recourse but to obey him until a group of upstarts fired the shot heard ‘round the world. This is not to say it is time to take up arms, for as citizens of America, we do have a recourse: the active pursuit of our Constitutional rights.
Being a patriot was not easy in 1776 and it is no easier today, for it demands sacrifice and a willingness to bear abuse and reprehension. We who have spoken out declare our willingness to be patriots in the true, historical sense of the word.
That heckler previously mentioned was also heard to cry, “Traitors! Traitors!” at our assembly. We respect her right to call us that secure in the knowledge that Tory sympathizers said the same thing about those who demanded their freedom during the Revolutionary War.
Bragg Briefs, vol. 2, no. 3