The recent news coverage in The Seattle Times [“In blue Seattle, a B-52 used in Vietnam is dedicated as new memorial park opens,” May 26, NWSunday] does a great disservice to the public’s discussions about freedom and war. No, I don’t mean the story’s point about the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park at the Museum of Flight; the people who fight in our wars deserve our gratitude.
The disservice of the article is twofold. It perpetuates the misconception that those who serve can’t also be “progressives” and the mythology that only military might can defend our freedom.
Reporter Erik Lacitis (whose journalism I generally admire) writes that the gathering of veterans “was mostly not the Seattle often portrayed as blue and progressive.” I’m willing to bet the crowd included many people who hold progressive values. My parents, both World War II veterans, instilled in me the values of social responsibility, justice and equity. In my decades of work in the peace and justice movements, I have met many who fought in America’s wars and shared those values with me. Having fought in war and being a political progressive are not mutually exclusive. John Kerry, a Democrat, and John McCain, a Republican, fought in the same war, Vietnam.
Indeed, some of the most thoughtful and active progressives I know of are those who have learned the fundamental limitations of military force.
Which brings me to the mythology. One man who was interviewed said, “Progressives, they wouldn’t be able to be as active as they are if it wasn’t for the military.” Yes, in extreme circumstances, war may be necessary to defend our political freedoms, but more often than not our political leaders send our youth into battle for oil or ego.
What I think is far more important in “defending freedom” are the brave people and courageous organizations who, day in and day out, every month of every year, fight for freedom by challenging unjust laws and creeping tyranny in the halls of legislatures and the halls of justice.
These fighters are the ones who have called out the ideals of freedom and opportunity expressed by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and how we must change as a country if we are to live up to those ideals. Fighters like Frederick Douglass and Fannie Lou Hamer, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and in Seattle’s own backyard Bernie Whitebear and Dr. Maxine Hayes. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. And for their commitment and courage, they often pay with their lives. Think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Robert Kennedy.
If we are to progress as a country, we must have a fuller understanding of what it takes to build and defend the institutions of freedom, institutions that are more often threatened by tyrannical and oppressive forces from within than enemies abroad.