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An old English teacher of mine use to trash everything I wrote. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do anything right in her eyes. I could write out the alphabet and turn it in, then when I got it back it would look like a chicken had danced on it in red ink. One day I read a 500 word essay that I was particularly proud of before the class, and the class seemed to love it. They were all smiling and applauding, and I stood there feeling self-satisfied and vindicated, soaking up my 15 seconds fame. Then the class went silent, awaiting her remarks. She looked at the floor, gathering her thoughts, then back up at me and said, “Eric”, and sort of chuckled, “ you say absolutely nothing more eloquently than any student that I’ve ever had.” Again, there was silence until her message soaked in, then the class fell out laughing as I stood there totally deflated. Since I was the only Black male in the class, I was convinced that her motive was racist-that she was purposely trying to humiliate me by attacking my intellect—and through extension, the intellect of Black males in general. I hated her for it, but I needed her class to graduate.
Then one morning as I was taking a shortcut through the faculty parking lot, she called me over and introduced me to a very impressive looking gentleman who she introduced as her husband. He shook my hand and said that he had heard a lot about me, and mentioned how much he enjoyed one of the papers that I’d written. He was Black. After that, everything fell into place, and I began to see the big picture. Now, every time I pickup a pen, I think about that lady-(“When you make a statement, start backing it up in the next sentence, or no later than the next paragraph;” “Don’t tell ‘em what you mean, show ‘em”). What I took as an insult, was Ms. Emmel’s willingness to take the time to tell me what I needed to hear, rather than what I wanted to hear.
Sometimes you have to say things that are painful in order to get the best out of an individual (“Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”). The same is true of a nation, that’s why I can’t understand the “love it or leave it mentality” of America’s so-called patriots. They don’t seem to understand the true nature of patriotism. A true patriot is not one who says “My country, right or wrong”—people who say that are confusing a patriot with a sports fan, and a nation with their favorite football team. That attitude may be appropriate for a sporting event, but it’s both unhealthy and infantile, when it involves the life or death of a nation and its people. True patriotism is the courage to fight for the principles upon which a nation is founded, even when those principles are neither popular nor convenient at a given time.
Thus, those people who are so passionately supporting the war in Iraq in the name of patriotism, are proving to be anything but patriotic. They’re demonstrating that they are more loyal to an individual, Coach George Bush, than they are to the principles upon which this nation was founded-freedom, justice, and the rule of law. They’re more outraged over their quarterback, General Petraeus, being referred to as ‘General Betrayus’, than they are George Bush denying prisoners of war their human rights. That’s sort of odd, considering how much they claim to love America. After all, disparaging General Petraeus may indeed be discourteous, but violating a prisoner’s human rights is un-American. One would think a true patriot would be much more up in arms at Bush for attacking our way of life, than they’d be at Gen. Petraeus’ critics for a lapse in social graces.
Of course, it could be that these true patriots love America so much that they just can’t stomach the disparagement of a veteran who’s put his life on the line for this country. But wait a minute—wasn’t it these very same people, who are so outraged over the disparagement of Gen. Petraeus, that had absolutely no problem at all in dragging Senator John Kerry’s military service through the mud—even though he earned three purple hearts, a bronze and a silver star during the Vietnam War. So again, these “patriots” have proven to be somewhat confused. It seems that in reality, they don’t love veterans per se-they’re simply willing to exploit a veteran, if he’s willing to promote their political agenda.
So the room has fallen silent, America, and in the tradition of a great educator, I’m about to tell you need to hear, instead of what you want to hear. It may sound un-American but get over it, because only the truth will set you free:
The fact is, America, your president and vice president are demagogues. They have absolutely no respect for America, couldn’t care less about your troops, and have been playing your emotions like a fiddle ever since 9/11. Consider this: Where was their patriotism and concern for America during the Vietnam War, when it was their turn to serve this country? And if they’ve grown into patriotism over the years, why aren’t they insisting that their families join in on the war against terrorism? They say they love our troops, yet, they’re forcing our young people to make four times the sacrifice of any other troops in modern history, as their loved ones cheer them on from the sidelines.
Due to a lack of personnel, our troops are being forced to place themselves in harm’s way longer than any other servicemen and women. The traditional 12-month tour of duty in a war zone has been extended to 15 months, and the traditional one tour of war zone duty has been replaced with our troops having to return to Iraq three and four times. Then beyond that, when it’s time for them to get out of the military, they’re being forced to remain. That doesn’t sound like love to me—it sounds like the worse kind of involuntary servitude.
And while our kids are dying, Bush and his cronies are lying. At first they said we were in Iraq to go after the weapons of mass destruction. No weapons were found, yet we stayed. Then they said that we had to capture Saddam Hussein. He was captured and killed, yet we stayed. Then they said we had to rid the country of al-Qeada, an impossible task, yet we stay. And now they say we must stabilize the Iraq, also impossible, yet, we stay. Cheney says “The insurgency is in its final throes,” as Bush is hard at work building the largest fortress in the history of mankind—larger than Vatican City.
You’re being lied to America. General Motors, U.S. Steel, Uniroyal, and the other corporations that once made up America’s corporate base and have been replaced by the military-industrial complex. America is, literally, in the war business. We’ve gone from making rubber and steel, to making war. Without war, there is no money to be made, and your children are being ground up in this war machine as the raw material.
That’s right, America. You’re being had. Your children are dying, while old men are lying, and you dance around the flag. What a waste.
Thank you, Ms. Emmel. Eric L. Wattree
Eric L. Wattree, Sr. n can be reached at