Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?

Your gesture caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect it from you. It’s not that you are the first person to give me the finger while I stood vigil against the Iraq war and occupation. You aren’t even the first woman to do so. It’s just that you looked so young, so innocent that your gesture seemed out of place. Even the look on your face–not hostile, just blank–suggested a casualness, a lack of intensity that belied the message of your upraised finger.

But the gesture was anything but ambiguous. It was clearly hostile and leads me to ask why. Sure, you may disagree with me. And you may demonstrate your disagreement with words and gestures (I think legally the limit is where those words and gestures imply physical threat and intimidation but I'm relying on memory of a Constitutional law class I took in the mid-60's so I'm a bit fuzzy on the specifics). What I don't understand is why you feel the need to display hostility to a group of peaceful fellow citizens exercising their rights of free speech, petitioning Congress to end a catastrophically disastrous foreign intervention.

You look too young to be an Iraq veteran but maybe you are and think that I dishonor your service. Perhaps you are related to an Iraq veteran or service member currently at risk in Iraq and think the same. You may still be suffering from losing a loved one in the war and think I do not honor that sacrifice. If so, you are terribly wrong. Serving in Iraq is not the issue. The issue is the order that sent you or your loved one into harm's way. I believe that the commander-in-chief has dishonored that service by squandering it on a lie. And, believe me, I know what it feels like to sacrifice for a lie. It leaves a wound that doesn't heal. That's why I’ve been standing on corners since I returned from Vietnam.

Maybe you have no direct connection to the war and those who fight it. Instead you are a patriotic American who believes that we should all stand behind the commander-in-chief when the nation is at war. I respectfully disagree. In fact, for me that is exactly the time that we should ask "why" and use critical thinking to ensure that when the nation goes to war, that action is taken as a last resort in response to a dire threat to our national interests. War under any other circumstances is a profound disservice to those we send to kill in our name. I come to that way of thinking through experience. You may have reason to think otherwise.

Even if we disagree, I am distressed that you consider me such a threat that you must respond to my actions with hostility. Your one finger salute certainly displays a lack of tolerance for differing opinions. Many others who think like you simply give me a "thumbs down" as they pass. In doing so, they display their disagreement but don't imply the same threat that I see in your upraised digit. With them I see at least a modicum of respect for a differing opinion. Not so in your case.

Please don't think I'm singling you out. I don't think I've been on the street without catching a few birds from passersby. What I don't understand is the hostility. I don’t flip off Republicans or war supporters when I see them. I believe in treating people as I would have them treat me; if I make any gesture, I turn my thumb down or hold my nose.

It could be that I am being too intellectual about the whole thing. But it seems so much better to engage in dialog rather than hostile gestures and shouting matches. It’s the only way citizens can reconcile differing opinions on a matter of grave national importance.

[Disclosure: This post is pretty much plagiarized from an earlier one. It's a perennial issue and hardly unique to any one part of the nation.]