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Death Of A Patriot

by Joel Hack

His father told him, "I wish you were dead"

After months of Presidential campaign politics -- already far too long, with five months to go -- the shakeout looks to be between those voters who support the Iraq war and those who don't. This will happen even if Senator Kerry doesn't take a position against the war. Of course this presumes U.S. troops are still there in November.

Since I am one of those who thought this war of choice to be a bad decision, I would much prefer to see a knock-down drag-'em-out fight with clear choices between war and no war. But I also remember the hate and still-to-be-resolved feelings during the war- against- the- war- in- Vietnam. Those who considered themselves patriots questioned the patriotism, the sincerity and the honor of those who opposed the war. Was it aid and comfort to the enemy to oppose the war in Vietnam? Did our GI's die because of the mobilization against that war?

Those accusations were easy to hurl, and the ones throwing them clearly considered themselves patriots. They supported their President, their Commander-in-Chief and their sons and daughters serving in the SE Asian jungles. Anything that wasn't acceptance of Presidential directive was obviously treasonous.

Yet, in that war and in this one, to question authority and to question the direction and intent of American foreign policy can and should be considered patriotic. During the war- against- the- war- in- Vietnam it was an act of bravery to stand up to the flag wavers. But families were turned inside out, neighbors and friends became enemies. Patriots condemned flag burners and the acts of government defiance may also have been over the top.

I was reminded of all this and how now is similar by the death of Dave Dellinger. His recent obituary mentioned his role in the Chicago riots of 1968 and those prosecuted by the government. As an aside, it was the Chicago police that rioted and bloodied many, far too many, war- against- the- war protesters. Ultimately, just months later, Army troops fired on and killed students protesting the war at Kent State University.

His obituary did mention that Dellinger protested the U.S. involvement in World War II. Since it was a long time ago, I forgive the obituary writer for simplifying an incident that seared its way into my heart. Dellinger was among the very first of a new class of protester in 1940. As in the war- against- the- war- in- Vietnam and today's protestors against the Iraq invasion, the nation was unprepared to deal with those who opposed war.

In 1940s America, those who refused to go to war were spit on, reviled, beaten, bloodied and shut out of the America of the greatest generation. There were a range of reasons to object. Those who objected became known as conscientious objectors or C.O.'s. From religious prohibitions against killing to objections to war in general C.O.'s were also called cowards.

Shortly after the September 11 tragedy, PBS broadcast a well-researched documentary called The Good War and Those Who Refused To Fight It. They payed a very high price.

Since the nation was unprepared for C.O.'s many were sent to prison for refusing the draft. Many others were sent to work camps. Some were sent to prison camp where they were used for medical experiments. One of the experiments was to repeatedly submerse a C.O. in ice water -- until they died. Another injected C.O.'s with live hepatitis serum -- more died. The PBS production included film clips of these and another experiment where C.O.'s were starved.

That was stunning to me; I can only assume you are also stunned. It also marked a first, political prisoners were subjected to lethal medical experiments. And you thought only those other guys did such things.

C.O.'s also were sent to mental hospitals to replace able-bodied men sent to war.

It is charitable to now call them mental hospitals. At the time, they were holding cages, without beneficial treatment and brutal, inhumane conditions. C.O.'s, Dave Dellinger among them, were appalled at the cage-like conditions. Ordinary prisoners were treated better.

As a group of individuals with consciences, C.O.'s raised a ruckus. From letters to editors to congressional lobbying, the C.O.'s raised the level of awareness of that heinous, hidden problem. At the end of the War, a wave of reform swept the nation, acknowledged then as starting with the C.O.s objections. The nation was well-served by those who refused to fight in the Good War.

Back to Dellinger. At the beginnings of the war, Dellinger was part of a group popularly named by the media the Union Eight. They were students at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. They went on trial for refusing to accept induction.

Dellinger's father, after he heard that his son was arrested for refusing induction called him on the telephone. He told his son, "I wish you were dead."

Mighty strong condemnation to be handing to a son.

Dellinger endured. Activism was his entire life. For some time he was an assistant to Martin Luther King, Jr. His participation in the war- against- the- war- in- Vietnam was also prominent.

As in the Vietnam War, our Commander-in-Chief lied to the nation to promote the war and to idealize its prosecution. We know the number who died in Vietnam, 58,000. Did they all die believing the war was just?

Today, the nation is divided again. The lines seem to be drawn between those for and against the Iraqi choice. It is also apparent that those in favor of the war are perfectly willing to condemn protestors as unpatriotic and therefore -- like Cortez when he met the Aztecs -- no better than snails to be crushed.

I am depressed the picture is soooo black and white. As a nation, we should know better. Painting those opposed to the Iraq war as treasonous is an unnecessary division.

Though out of living memory, this nation has already fought a civil war. What good does it serve us to plant the seeds of another?

Many of those condemned as cowards, treasonous and hurting the morale of our troops have honored themselves and the nation with their patriotic contributions. Obviously not the same sacrifice as one who lays their life down, but who are we to judge the quality of sacrifice?

Joel Hack is editor of the Bodega Bay Navigator and is the recipient of the 2003 Blue Ribbon award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspapers Contest for Environmental Resource Reporting

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Albion Monitor June 11, 2004 (

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