Saturday, May 7, 2011

Critics for a better America

A New York City newspaper editor wrote the president:

“Dear Sir: I do not intrude to tell you---for you must know already---that great proportion of those who triumphed in your election . . . are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursing . . . We require of you, as the first servant of the Republic, charged especially and preeminently with this duty, that you EXECUTE THE LAWS. We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss . . .”

Sound familiar? Reads like it came from a newspaper editorial page in this Year Of Our Lord 2011. The writer of the letter was Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, in August of 1862. The letter was addressed to Abraham Lincoln well into his second year as president of the United States.

No president is immune to opinions and letters like this in the 19th or 21st centuries. We forget Lincoln had his detractors and those who saw the lawyer from Illinois to be unfit for such a powerful position.

Today jingoism has replaced the serious criticisms that leaders deserve. Catchy phrases with little depth and less light are used by the likes of Letterman, Leno, and John Stewart, to point out the foibles of the politicians.

Emma Goldman, professed anarchist and feminist heaped sarcasm on American leaders responsible for the Spanish-American War. Following the war that made Cuba and the Philippines, Guam and Wake Island American colonies she spoke out: “When we sobered up from our patriotic spree --- it suddenly dawned on us that the cause of the Spanish-American War was the price of sugar. . . . that the lives, blood, and money of the American people were used to protect the interests of the American capitalists.”

Mark Twain was a famous and respected writer as the new year of 1900 began. He wrote in the New York Herald: “I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored from pirate raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pockets full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies.”

Granted, writers like Jack London, Upton Sinclair and Theodore Dreiser, whose books were read by millions, had their own agendas. But behind all their criticisms, deep in their own hearts was a love for America and a desire for wrongs to be corrected and America being all it professed to be.

In 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke from the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City:

“Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”

Where are the critics in 2011 demanding an end to the series of wars our nation has let itself become involved in? With Osama bin Laden dead, the reason for war in Afghanistan is gone. Mission accomplished. The true patriot should stand with an unfurled stars and stripes and shout: “enough with the excuses for endless war and the continued death of innocents.”

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