Wednesday, May 4, 2011

being a Patriot

I had a brief email exchange with Bill, who reads my blog, about Osama bin Laden. In my response to his email and the blog from, of all places, The Wall Street Journal, that he suggested (and was helpful) I commented that I am a Patriot but not a compliant 'citizen'.

Here's why I am a Patriot: every morning I wake up, I am grateful I wake up in the US.

I love this land--literally, 'this land', every place I put my foot, the ground beneath me and the privilege to walk on it as a free person.

I love my house, my family, my neighborhood.

And that love keeps me from being a pacifist.

I would engage and try to kill anyone who sought to take any of that away from me.

In the summer of 1969, I went on a bus from Welch, WV with 23 other young men to have a physical to see if I was eligible to serve in the armed forces of the United States. I took lots of medical records that showed that my eye-sight, my allergies, my asthma would disqualify me from being a soldier.

The Army doctor told me, "they told us we need bodies, even bodies like yours" and ignored my medical files.

That fall, on my second day at Harvard Divinity School, I received my draft notice. It did, really, begin with 'Greetings'. I called the Chaplain at WVU, Snork Roberts, to ask him what to do. He told me he'd call the Bishop of West Virginia. Snork called me back and gave me The Rt. Rev. Wilburn Camrock Campbell's phone number. I called him--all this from the hall phone in Divinity Hall (no cell phones back then).

Bishop Campbell asked me about my father--my father served in the WWII. He was in the Engineer Corps. He built bridges for Patten's tanks and after the tanks crossed the bridges, my father blew them up. "We weren't coming back that way," he once told me. About the only thing he ever told me about 'the war'. Most people, I've come to know, who were 'really' in a war don't say much about it.

Bishop Campbell asked me what I was going to do.

I wasn't sure. But I told him I was a lot closer to Canada than I was to West Virginia.

"Are you a conscientious objector?" he asked.

I told him I wasn't, that I wouldn't bat an eye about killing someone coming up my street to do harm to me or those I loved or the ground beneath my feet. Then I told him I hated and abhored the war in Viet Nam. I didn't believe it was just or right or defending my street and my family and the ground beneath my feet. So I wouldn't go.

"What would your father think if you went to Canada?" he asked me.

"It would break his heart," I told the bishop, who had confirmed me at Trinity Church in Morgantown, WV, but who I really didn't know beyond his hands on my head.

"I'll call you back," the bishop told me.

A half-an-hour later, he did. And he told me my draft order had been 'rescinded' and I was a 'Postulate for Holy Orders'. I didn't know what that meant, but it was good enough for me. I didn't have to go to Canada and I wasn't going to break my father's heart.

I was, what?, 21 or 22 when all this happened.

I would have enlisted in WWII, but I didn't believe in Viet Nam. Seemed simple to me.

I am not happy with our wars--the longest in our history--in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wish we'd never started them. I wish we had sought out the 9/11 monsters in covert ways and not killed so many people (our own, enemies and the innocent). I would have gone to Canada rather than gone to those wars.

And, I am a patriot--red, white and blue through and through.

I love this land, this dirt, this remarkably naive experiment in democracy, with all it's flaws and madness and craziness.

But I am not a compliant 'citizen'. I object to much that my government (which I support and would die for) does.

And I am proud that it is 'my government', my nation, my neighborhood, my house, the dirt beneath my feet.

That much is truer than true.

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.