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I am a Patriot
by Frederick H. Winterberg III

If being a patriot means hanging an American flag from the antenna of one's car or from the flagpole in front of one's house, then I don't qualify.

If being a patriot means standing behind the president, no matter what he and his administration do, then I guess I'm out on that count too.

If being a patriot is silencing your own opinion because it goes against what the government is saying, I lose again.

If being a patriot means giving up my civil rights and liberties, then I guess I'm out of luck.

If being a patriot means supporting the use of torture in questioning suspects, holding people indefinitely without bail or legal representation, or holding military tribunals to try "war criminals" out of the sight of the public and judiciary, then I am the antithesis of a patriot.

And yet this is what our government is calling for, in the name of patriotism. Anybody who doesn't get in lockstep behind the president and embrace what I've outlined above is considered a traitor, or worse, a terrorist.

In my heart, I know I'm a patriot.

I am a patriot because I dearly love my country and what it purports to stand for. I love the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, without interference from the government. I feel blessed to have grown up in a country with guaranteed basic human rights, which is so much more than many people in the world receive. I cherish the right to speak my mind when I want, where I want, on whatever subject I want, no matter how much it may go against the beliefs of those around me. And I cherish the right of other people to do the same, even when what they say infuriates me. I am grateful for my right to privacy, to be free from intrusive searches and seizures by the government and police without a warrant and just cause. I am thankful for the beauty and splendor of this country's untouched and undeveloped areas, where the true beauty of nature can still be experienced and appreciated. And above all, I appreciate more than anything else the right to live my life as I see fit, without any government/corporation or religion telling me what I should and should not, or can and can not do or think.

For these reasons, and many others, I am a patriot.

In the wake of September 11, the government has, with predictable zeal, gone after the very things that I cherish about my country and that make it a special place to live. Our rights are flying out the window at an alarming pace. My privacy can be invaded, my home searched without reason, the environment and nature are being bulldozed in the name of profit and oil. I could possibly even be jailed for writing this piece.

Yet despite what my government says I am still a patriot.

I will not abandon my country by moving to Canada or another country because I don't like the way this one is being run. I will not stand silent as my rights are being stripped, even though to speak out against the government these days is considered treasonous. I will not "watch what I say, watch what I do", as the President's press Secretary advised us last month. No, I will stand and fight for what I believe in. I believe in the constitution of the United States, and what it stands for. I believe in all the things I spoke of above that I love and cherish about this country.

Most of all, I believe patriotism comes from within, from a place deep inside me. Not from a flag, not from my possessions, not from my $tature in society or how much power I have over others, not from getting in line behind those in power because they tell me it's the right thing to do. To me, it is to stand up and fight for what I believe is right for myself and my country in the face of adversity, which is what we are facing now.

And that, in my opinion, is the true definition of a patriot.

November 21, 2001

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