Viewpoint: Will freedom survive after Iraq?

“There was never a good war or a bad peace.”—Ben Franklin

Another July 4th has passed, another birthday for America. We have grown older, but have we become any wiser? For a good many, Independence Day is simply an occasion to eat and drink too much; watch fireworks and perhaps, indulge in a ballgame or some other outdoor recreation.

A majority understands that the holiday has something to do with the origins of the U.S.A., the Founding Fathers and freedom. We celebrate freedom, but are we as free as some of us think?

In Massachusetts, three artists have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury because an art project they prepared uses simple laboratory equipment that can be found in any high school chemistry lab. The Joint Terrorism Task Force is accusing the artists of operating a biological weapons lab.

All three artists are members of the Critical Art Ensemble, an artists’ collective that turns out artwork aimed at educating the public about the politics of biotechnology.

Beatriz da Costa, an art professor at the University of California-Irvine, is one of those receiving a subpoena. “I have no idea why they are continuing [to investigate],” da Costa said. “It was shocking that this investigation was ever launched. That it is continuing is positively frightening, and shows how vulnerable the Patriot Act has made freedom of speech in this country.”

Attorney General John Ashcroft wants to make that law even more draconian. He says that law enforcement needs more power, and he promises that if another attack occurs in this country, he will take away what freedom we have left. Machinery for a police state is being put into place.

Still, we are more free than most nations of this world. We still have grounds to celebrate what the founders of this nation gave us—a democratic republic that creates abundant opportunities when its principles are followed.

In past years, we celebrated peace in most of the world numerous times, which made the observance more relished. This year, however, there is a dark cloud that dampened the festivities. There is a tension and a worry about America’s future that is growing among the citizenry. The dark cloud is Iraq.

The following question is being asked more frequently by more people: “Are we safer now than we were four years ago?”

The administration tells us it is making great progress in Iraq, and they purport they are confident that democracy will bloom there. But there is little support abroad for the U.S. or its leadership. Iraq hardly looks like a towering success.

Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former senior commander who worked on Mideast planning, observed: “The invasion of Iraq together with no action on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has only served to inflame the Muslim population and given rise to disputation in other countries. It’s more unstable today, and I think we’re in more danger today than we were before the invasion.”

Recent polls show that most Americans now share that view. They believe terrorism is on the rise, and the war in Iraq has not been worth the cost in blood and treasure.

But despite that, George W. Bush intends to press on. He told the NATO summit in Turkey that: “I believe that freedom is the future of the Middle East because I believe that freedom is the future of all humanity. This transformation is one of the great and difficult tasks of history. And by our own patience and hard effort, and with confidence in the peoples of the Middle East, we will finish the work that history has given us.”

Analyst Michael Ignatieff disagrees with that view. “The signal illusion from which America has to awake in Iraq and everywhere else is that it serves God’s providence,” he said. “In Iraq, America is not the maker of history but its plaything. In the region at large, America is not the hegemon but the hesitant shaper of forces it barely understands.”

This year, the question is not only what America is, but what it should be. While the Iraq debacle continues, and a presidential election looms, the nation is the most divided it has been since the Civil War. Not even Vietnam spawned as much acrimony and vicious assaults on countrymen as this climate today.

As The New York Times opined: “Nothing in our history has annulled the revolutionary principles of the Declaration of Independence. Neither our history nor our principles are self-determining, self-fulfilling. They depend entirely upon the choices we make.”

If this were 1776, who would be the Tories, the monarchists defending the rule of King George, and who would stand at Lexington and Concord ready to sacrifice honor, property and life itself for democracy and government of the people, by the people and for the people?

Where will you stand this November?

Sources: Buzzflash, The New York Times,, Sydney Morning Herald, Terrell Arnold

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