Political Essays

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Essays Click-On List

Grass Roots is Great, but ....
Why bother with politics
Why Vote

The Media, the Environment, Bush and Gore
Who is to Blame for Bush's Election
How to Take Back America
Jessica Lynch She Is a Victim, Too

Grass Roots is Great...


"We" are a big part of low voter turnout statistics.
"We" almost never run for office and the few good people who do get almost no support from "us".
"We" own almost no media which influences the busy population.


"They" love our political apathy.


"They" can use "our" tax dollars to:

FUND big contracts to companies who pollute our environment, poison our children and decimate the animal kingdom.
SPONSOR and promote genetically engineered food, pesticide and herbicide intensive agriculture and cruel, polluting, unhealthy animal factory farms.
CLEAR-CUT our forests and pollute our streams, rivers and oceans.
SUPPLY destructive military and economic aid to governments who regularly torture and kill their citizens.
LIE and censor information using the public air waves.
CLUB, tear gas and jail us if we attempt a peaceful protest on any of these issues.

What we can do:

Please vote in an informed manner.
Run for office when there is no alternative.
Support real candidates who have demonstrated by their past actions they are committed to real change.
Be part of the "new" media evolution before "they" close the door.

Lindsay, 4-2000




Why bother with politics and one set of ways to go about it


Why are we spending our time and money trying to reform something as corrupt and powerful as our political system and its partner in crime the major media?

The short answer is, the quality of life will continue to get worse at an increasing rate for all life on this planet if there is not an increased direct effort to change who and how people are elected in this country.

Our current system is officially structured as a republic with few representing many, unfortunately, a more accurate statement is, few representing very few (corporations and very rich individuals).

We are far from being a democracy, but there are benefits in moving toward a real democracy.

The long answer is, our experience teaches us that the least distasteful methods of making change, like education and direct action, while important, can almost always be ignored or undone by corrupt politicians.

The politicians compound the injury by using citizen's taxes to oppose the wishes of the majority and to undue real education and efforts at direct change.

There are very few environmentalists, human rights activists and even fewer animal protection people working on the electoral system compared to the numbers devoted to education and direct action. The opposition spends a much higher ratio of resources on elections, media influence and lobbying than education.

Collectively environmentalists, human rights activists and animal protection people spend enormous amounts of time and money on protests, education, to some extent lobbying, and next to nothing on elections; and we see little positive change.

Even though polling shows a low opinion of the media by most Americans, they are still reliant on it for their candidate selection information.

Most Americans are too busy to seek out more reliable sources of information so they are gradually influenced by how the major media views the politicians running for office.

Media owners make sure that their outlets generally benefit the politicians and issues, which will aid their monetary goals. A typical example, all the evening news programs will feature a news event showing a politician (who might have an under 50% League of Conservation Score on legislation) at a tree planting or park dedication ceremony (photo-op).

The same news story will mention nothing about the politician's legislative record on the environment or the fact that major campaign contributors to his or her campaign are large polluters.

Only a small percent of the public knows the real legislative record of their elected officials so that non-substantive photo-op ceremonies gradually build a positive impression in the public's mind.

In our lifetime many beautiful and interesting animals, birds and plants have completely disappeared from the regions where we live. This natural beauty was free and accessible to us as we was growing; now, however, undisturbed areas of natural beauty are almost completely gone or accessible only occasionally to people who have the time and money to travel to the few places left that are not devastated.

The changes we are experiencing due to the corrupt institutions are critical to someone in their 20's and 30's or someone who has children. In addition to the sense of mental well being that can come from growing up in an interesting, beautiful and easily accessible natural environment, there is the even more important element of a relatively pollution-free environment.

The pollution and lack of open space that robs plants and animals of their lives eventually robs people of enjoying a healthy life. The steadily increasing cancer rates are just one indicator of the devastation. The increasingly chaotic long-term climate pattern is another.

We acknowledge that there have been some positive changes. Hollywood movies and some sitcoms are showing positive changes of the heart towards animal and environmental suffering.

Unfortunately, we can demonstrate through polling studies and election results that these positive changes in values do not change whom the American people put in office and other powerful positions.

One of the main reasons for this lack of correspondence in a change of values to a voting pattern is that the average voter gets the information for whom they are going to vote mainly from distorted information supplied by commercials, the news media and bulk mailings.

In a top-down structure, those in power can almost always ignore the wishes of the citizens because through lack of real, honest information, voters will unknowingly continue to vote for the people who stab them in the back! This is one of the reasons we feel we will continue to be in a mode of slow decline unless we change the news media and who and how people are elected.

It is difficult for us to feel contented and happy when we see the next generation being robbed of their future. We are attempting to use our resources to make a difference on issues we care about.

The main value money has to us is that it is one of many instruments that can help change the sad plight of many of the innocents (the environment, animals and children). We hope to use our resources and time in clever and efficient ways so we can make permanent, discernible changes for the better.

We would be satisfied with a steady two-steps-forward-and-one-step-backward within our lifetime. The world that we see appears to be taking one step forward and a few backward constantly.

We try not to be too cynical since that attitude interferes with making change.

Two general goals that we have are:

1. To elect candidates who are sincerely good on election and government reform, environmental and animal protection and media reform issues.

Both environmental and animal protection issues have very little positive (protective) activity occurring in terms of local, state or federal enforcement and to some extent legislation. This is especially unjust given that polling shows that a majority of Americans are concerned with these issues.

Elements of this goal include helping candidates who are not just the lesser of two evils on these issues but also being realistic about resources and time in each chosen race.

One consideration during our selection process is evaluating whether or not we feel we can make a measurable difference on the campaign outcome. The focus is to work in areas which the candidate is neglecting utilizing techniques and connections to which the candidate may not have access.

Another focus is to get good people to file and run in the primary election cycle when there is a low risk of inadvertently helping the greater of two evils get elected, which can be a real risk in some general election cycles.

In California, because of the recent open primary law changes, even voters with a conscience who are fearful of 3rd party or less-well-known major party candidates can take a chance and vote their consciences; at a minimum it will send a strong message to the major parties and media.

2. To aid in laying a foundation for changing the nature of the current news media (newspapers, radio, TV):

We believe that most of the current news or news-like media largely supports the worst elements of the status quo. Terms like conservative or liberal do not always apply to this problem.

The current news media provides almost no real information or only superficial sensational information with a dishonest slant.

The media, along with its sponsors, is largely responsible for the fact that there is no real campaign or election reform. This lack of reform makes implementing any benevolent goals, such as stated in goal one, very difficult.

The intention is to eventually rival and erode the market of the status-quo media, such as newspapers, so that the content of our proposed alternative media source will have many elements that newspapers now possess.

Also, as the technology becomes faster, TV-like news elements will enter the content.

In addition to standard state-of-the-art web site delivery, an important element for increased success of any "Real News" information source is to be able to deliver content to the emerging devices that large newspaper and bookseller consortiums have slated to replace their paper printed matter with so called the electronic books.

We will acquire the ability to distribute and customize electronic book technology devices.

It will be possible to download and store a newspaper or book on the electronic book with no computer knowledge. These devices are approximately the size of a book, look like a book and are almost as easy to read as a book or newspaper; they have no keyboard but use a touch screen and are completely portable after a few minutes of download time.

Marketing studies indicate that electronic books will probably replace about 40% of the print media within five years.

We might as well be part of the new media evolution while there is still a little window of opportunity to convey real honest information.

Lindsay, 1999





In a time of unprecedented apathy and cynicism, many potential voters have chosen to completely give up on the entire political process. Feelings of being overwhelmed and powerless abound. We live in highly complicated times, and don't think that the powers that be aren't very content things are this way! Yet the best method we as Citizens of the United States have for eliciting change is actively working to reform the very political structure that has become such an entrenched frustration to so many. We must take control of this political system, or you can be absolutely certain that it will continue to control us, sometimes in the most insidious ways.

Many people believe they are doing all that is humanly possible just to get by from day to day. They do care about the rampant destruction that is wasting our precious natural environment. There are also those who recognize that a just and equitable society must not be dependent upon the daily ruthless sacrifice of millions of innocent animals to support a seemingly unbounded human greed. People everywhere are finally realizing that what happens to the animals and to the environment can very well happen to us. We are not apart from them, we are a part of them! However, the too great knowledge of the crimes of humanity can lead to a numbing despair. We cannot bear it, so perhaps we just turn away. Yet what does that solve?

So some people decide to take direct action: to go to protests and gatherings of like-minded folks, to even participate in acts of civil disobedience. All quite worthy and valuable efforts, and they deserve much appreciation for their resolution. Nevertheless, if they do nothing to fundamentally change our governmental leadership then they may never be allowed to realize the goals they are working so valiantly to achieve.

The two-party system that is presently holding the reins of power is not going to readily release them. To maintain their status quo these "Republocrats" have devised a web of systems and rules that inundates the average person trying to fathom it. This deep resistance to share the power of the leadership is strengthened by the heated divisions that have developed between the many factions of citizens. "A house divided against itself cannot stand" is as relevant now as it ever was! We spend so much effort confronting each other over our relatively small differences that we seldom turn around and consider all the vital areas of our collective interests. By now, humanity has certainly demonstrated that with enough effort, determination, persistence and financial backing, we can accomplish nearly everything we set out to do. We just have to agree to find our unity and make change happen for the common good of all!

This effort has to start somewhere, and our individual voices can be most effectively heard right where we live. Working with our families, friends, neighbors and communities we can more quickly see the results of our labors, often in a direct and concrete form. Local government is more responsive by design. If it should happen to be under the control of rigid, self-serving officials then it is not impossible to band together and replace these individuals with people who genuinely care about the future of their districts. Start with small steps like writing letters; circulating petitions; attending meetings; gathering supporters; maybe running for an office or actively working for someone who you believe can represent you. Then let those works evolve and grow into an ever expanding network of far-sighted voters!

It is easy to forget that we truly are privileged to have the right to go to the ballot box and elect our representatives. If the choices of candidates that we have been given leave us feeling despondent then we are not without recourse, nor perhaps a certain amount of responsibility. It may take time and patience, but democracy can represent our will only if we make our will known. So let your voice be heard in full power, and let yourself speak for those who are given no voice in our system - the animals, plants, water, sky, earth and all the generations to come. Vote with your intellect, vote with your conscience, vote with your dollars, vote with your ballots!

An informed voter makes educated choices and knows the power politicians have in determining the future of our communities. If you want to make significant changes in the way things are run in your hometown and surrounding county learn more about the workings of your county and local governments.

Anita Duvall, 1999



The Media, Environment, Bush and Gore

Two major environmental facts have recently emerged in the mainstream media. The most interesting and startling is that the polar ice cap at the North Pole has melted more than in the last 50 million years. The other is that the hole in the ozone layer is now larger than the north American continent and growing larger at an exponential rate.

The ramifications of these facts should be really stirring up the public, and yet, Brittany Spears is receiving more coverage. The environment is not even near the top of the list in terms of importance in the Presidential debates. The clearly environmentally concerned candidate, Ralph Nader, is being treated as a buffoonish non-entity...

The environment, as a political issue, has earned little but lip service, vaguely worded and extremely general. The specific facts about what George W. Bush and Al Gore have already accomplished environmentally are much more sinister. Let's look at the Republican first.

Bush, with his close ties to the oil industry, believes, in the uniquely American notion, that the science describing and measuring the greenhouse effect, agreed on by 85% of the world's scientists, is flawed. He opposes the Kyoto Protocol; an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Bush's environmental history as the governor of Texas is deeply frightening to say the least. One of the first things he did as governor was to replace the three leaders of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC dubbed "trainwreck" by Texas environmentalists) with three of his own men.

First was John Baker, from the Texas Farm Bureau, a large insurance company with major holdings of stock in agricultural chemicals. According to Molly Ivins's book, Shrub, The Texas Farm Bureau has opposed all efforts to regulate pesticides in Texas.

The second Bush appointment was Ralph Marquez, a 30 year veteran from Monsanto and then a lobbyist for the Texas Chemical Council. And the third Bush appointment to TNRCC was Barry Mcbee, an evangelical Christian who also has a soft spot for polluters.

The newly appointed then went to work fighting federal air quality standards. In addition to this, Texas stopped monitoring water quality. It stopped monitoring the use of pesticides. Bush worked hard to weaken regulations controlling emissions from a variety of industries. Hog waste for example.

In addition to weakening regulations, the TNRCC provides advance notice to industrial facilities about "surprise" inspections.

Bush helped out the state's oil and chemical companies by working out a way that they could regulate themselves. Needless to say, they don't.

Molly Ivins alerts us to the following interesting facts: According to records from the Environmental Defense Fund, Texas is number one in: overall toxic releases, recognized carcinogens in the air, suspected carcinogens in the air, developmental toxins in the air (affecting brain and nervous system development in children), and cancer risk.

According to Texas legislative representative, Billy Williamson of Tyler, home to a killer asbestos plant, "I think that we are all willing to have a little bit of crud in our lungs and a full stomach rather than a whole bunch of clean air and nothing to eat. And I don't want a bunch of environmentalists and communists telling me what's good for me and my family." Mr. Williamson has since died of lung cancer.

Democratic candidate Al Gore's record is considerably more shocking considering his stance as being environmentally concerned and the author of the book, Earth in the Balance.

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair bring us information in their book, Al Gore: A User's Manual, that would bring cynical environmentalists to their knees. Al Gore was one of the architects of the infamous "Option 9." This was the forest plan arrived at during the 1992 Timber Summit. The so-called plan was shoved down the gullets of environmental organizations with the threat that if they persisted in their opposition, that "sufficiency language" would be included.

"Sufficiency language" is a legal device that would allow federal agencies like the Forest Service and the BLM to violate laws like the Endangered Species Act with "impunity." The Option 9 forest plan greatly facilitated logging in what little remained of the old growth forests and further decimated critical spotted owl habitat. This is just one example out of many hypocritical actions on the part of Gore.

But how did we become so sanguine, so lethargic, so apathetic to the level of environmental threat with which we are now faced, ultimately and intimately threats to our own well being? Where is that siren call to action? There are people trying to draw our attention to these threats. These people are known as "environmentalists" who are often characterized as radical extremists and not taken very seriously.

How did that portion of the population concerned with the purity of our air and water and the health of our natural environment become so vilified, marginalized and alienated from the rest of the American population?

Why does the term "environmentalist" bring a sneer to the lips of the "true American?" Why does it not seem odd that the people who try to warn the rest of us about the toxic effects of pollution and the overharvesting of resources are condemned in the American media, rather than the polluters themselves?

Industry lobbyists and corporate spokespersons have three major tactics in making sure the American public doesn't notice the man behind the screen. First, they intimidate those who would bring scary environmental facts to the public's attention. In addition, they try to mislead the public by dispersing some very effective anti- environmental myths and finally, they try to dress up various corporations to make them look Earth Friendly when they are anything but.

Hugh Downs, a reporter for the long respected news magazine 60 Minutes, was heard to mention that the environment is the issue least explored by our media. Why? It's very simple. Those reporters brazen enough to tackle these important stories are susceptible to being fired and their respective news organizations can be sued by industry giants with enormously deep pockets.

All the polluter-corporations have to do is threaten, and the story is dropped. Peter Montague of the magazine Prevailing Winds tells us of the fate of two such reporters. In the fall of 1996, award winning reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were hired by WTVT in Tampa to produce a series on rBGH in Florida milk. After more than a year's work on the rBGH series and three days before the series was scheduled to aired, starting February 24, 1997, Fox TV executives received the first of two letters from lawyers representing Monsanto saying that Monsanto would suffer "enormous damage" if the series ran. The two reporters were fired and the series canceled.

Another example of the intimidation tactic is how the issue of "global warming" is handled. Our American media presents global warming as though the background science is debatable, but it is debatable only in the United States. There are some skeptics, from the organization, The Greening Earth Society, created by the Western Fuels Coal Association, whose opinions are weighed equally with those of thousands of scientists worldwide.

As reported by Ross Gelbspan in his article Realty Check from E Magazine, when asked about the media's failure to respond with alarm to the global warming crisis, a ranking editor at one network replied, "...we were inundated with calls from the oil lobby...Basically, our editors were intimidated by the fossil fuel lobby".

While those who peer too closely at industry are punished, simultaneously the media receives and displays industry propaganda that we watch and absorb from our TV sets and magazines. This ranges from ads from oil companies that claim to care about the environment,("Do people care? Yes, People care!") in one such notorious commercial, while showing cavorting seals to deceptive media coverage of those few environmental news stories that are too massive to totally neglect.

The timber summit, previously mentioned, is a good example. Clinton commiserating with timber families was shown with a tiny girl begging Clinton to help "save her daddy's job". This not only reinforced the notion that the issue was jobs versus the environment but set up a "we versus them" scenario. Who could not help but sympathize with the tiny American begging for her father's job? Those "environmentalist hippies" care more about trees than the lives of other people.

The timber families are the "salt of the earth", hardworking, god fearing, real Americans like ourselves. Strangely, the environmentalists were not given equal screen time. The facts underlying the matter at the time were:

1. Daddy is going to lose his job anyway because there is hardly any timber left: 96% of it is gone.

2. Daddy and his friends are lucky to be alive at all because safety protocols have been eliminated in favor of faster work because of the need to liquidate timber resources quickly. (See Judi Bari's Timber Wars).

3. The public, good old American me and you, are losing a substantial amount of money because we are paying for the roads etc. to make it easier for the timber industry to liquidate our timber resources so they can sell them to Japan and other markets.

When the forests of our public lands are hauled out as timber on the backs of logging trucks, only the timber barons profit and they are determined to shave our wilderness areas clean.

4. The salmon industry, and those who financially depend on it, is also being decimated. Debris from logging operations chokes streams to the point where they are no longer viable habitat for salmon. Soil, too, is washed into streams when no longer held in place by the trees.

So eager are certain members of the Forest Service to comply with the timber industry agenda, that genuine forest management falls to the wayside in favor in facilitating the harvest.

For an example of anti-environmental myths, an Oct 3, 2000 article in the San Francisco Chronicle demonstrates one of the most popularly used myths. This article is about residential neighborhoods located near heavy industry in California's Contra Costa County. A representative from Dow Chemical seeks to derail criticism with the observation that "poor health care or pollution from cars and trucks could be to blame for the high rate of reported health complaints" (parts of Contra Costa County are infamous for higher cancer rates).

This despite the obvious fact that dioxins are in greater concentration the closer you get to the oil refineries. In response to the possibility of stiffer pollution regulations, the representative points out that regulations could hinder the business's ability to compete. "This is a global economy we're competing in now. It would place them in an economic disadvantage."

The idea that environmental protection and economic progress are diametrically opposed is an American myth. The paper industry gives us an example. In the early 80's, scientists in Europe and Wisconsin, USA began to document the link between particularly high levels of dioxin in the flesh of fish and emissions from paper mills upstream. In America, the EPA rushed to loosen restrictions and did everything it could to help the pulp and paper industry escape water pollution standards.

In Europe, paper producers rose to the occasion and created chlorine free paper, which the public supported by demanding more of the same. Now, American paper producers are at a disadvantage in several ways. Old ways of producing paper are much more expensive and inefficient and the world market prefers the new, chlorine free paper. (Rachels index 349)

American industry is competing with those of more environmentally responsible nations. The challenge created by our rapidly changing planet inspires progress and creativity in nations that accept the responsibility charged them by those people they represent.

In Contrast, in the United States, our major political parties clearly represent, rather than the American public, corporations who exist primarily to streamline the money making process. Our American leaders fought the world community who were trying to implement changes in our own greenhouse gas output at the Environmental Summit (Rio de Janeiro) and again at the Kyoto Climate Conference. By doing so, our American leaders have demonstrated their lack of concern for that growing hole in the ozone. The simple fact is that we need an ozone layer to protect life from the sun's rays.

With our major political candidates already sponsored by huge corporations, shouldn't the American people have someone who represents their interests?

Jessica Friedlander, 10-2000

Who is to Blame for Bush's Election
Many Democrats are blaming Nader and the Green Party for Bush's election. The Green Party took only 3% of the total popular vote, with half of that coming from people who normally do not vote. Most intelligent decision makers rank facts when making complex decisions and drawing conclusions. If one goes through open minded analysis of the pre-election situation, then the Green Party and Nader are very low on the list of blame. The top four reasons are as follows:

In ranked order of fault:
1) The major news media in America.
It is controlled by less than 8 corporations whose officers and directors are largely Republicans. The vast majority of busy working families rely on this very consolidated and biased media for information. Part of this consolidation occurred under Clinton-Gore.

2) Gore and his campaign advisers being so inept that even during the free air time of the debates he seldom-to-never used the opportunities to point out Bush's real liabilities.

3) Clinton-Gore for courting with political favors almost all the same corrupt money sources as the Republicans. Yet these major polluters and corporate thieves still gave to Bush in a ratio of more than two to one. This fact caused Nader to run.

4) The five Republican members of the Supreme Court for being total hypocrites in their ruling preventing a fair count in Florida.

Is it realistic to think that more than 40% of voting Americans have become so self-destructive that they would elect a politician to the most powerful position in the world who is illiterate by choice; is governor of a state which ranks at the bottom of most indicators of quality of life; is tightly aligned with the most intolerant end of the religious right; is heavily backed by all the wrong money - big tobacco, oil, agribusiness, chemical industry, NRA?

Bush used cocaine in college and was an alcoholic womanizer into his thirties; who avoided the draft during the Vietnam era by having his father's powerful position get him into the Air National Guard then went AWOL without suffering any of the repercussions normal citizens would suffer. He never really worked until into his forties and then was a failure at all his business dealings but walked away with money from people who were essentially buying influence with his powerfully positioned father. Bush is heavily backed by the Republican Senators (Lott & McConnell) who killed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill through filibuster, and he opposes most elements of campaign reform.

Normally these liabilities are politically fatal in the vast suburbs of America where the majority of voters live, except the "real" news about Bush went unreported or underreported.

Put the blame where it belongs. If the real news about Bush had been reported and the third party candidates would have been allowed in the television debates or even been given fair coverage, the popular vote may have gone something approximating this: Gore 45%, Bush 40%, Nader 10% other third parties 5%.

Lindsay, 1-2001



Jessica Lynch. She Is a Victim, Too
By Gar Smith

Army Private Jessica Lynch has gone from being America's Sweetheart in Khaki to the right wing's latest Bleeding Heart Target.

Following Lynch's candid admission that she felt used by Pentagon handlers who filmed and propagandized her "rescue" from an Iraqi hospital bed, callers to conservative radio talk shows responded like jilted suitors. Some berated Lynch as a disgrace to her uniform while other male callers expressed the desire to "knock her teeth out."

On Veteran's Day, the Sunday supplements of many US newspapers featured an essay by Lynch that seemed intended to draw attention to her new book, I Am a Soldier, Too.

Doubtless many readers were "deeply stirred" by the Lynch article, a heart-felt attempt to come to terms with what it means to "Be an American."

But if one strips away the verbal bunting, the ceremonial cliches and the emotional confetti that such patriotic ramblings inevitably call forth, it was possible to discern a somewhat different and profoundly disturbing reality lurking behind the drumrolls.

If we are to believe this young American woman who nearly lost her life because of a wrong turn in someone else's country, "Being an American" is primarily defined by confusion, pain and loss.

With so many lives at stake in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Lynch's essay deserves a closer - and more critical -- second read.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America," Lynch begins. "It was one of the first things we learned. I didn't know what it meant, really. It was just something we said, like the ABCs or our multiplication tables. We memorized that pledge just like everything else that our teachers wanted us to know. We were little kids. We wanted to play and eat cookies."

So What Does It Mean to Be an American?
For Lynch it meant being indoctrinated at a very early age by schoolteachers paid to encourage unthinking obedience to the prevailing political order.

"I mean, we all knew who George Washington was and stuff like that, but if you had asked us what it meant to be an American or what the flag stood for, we'd have just said we didn't now or said we loved our country -- although we didn't know what that meant either. It was just what you said because it was what you were supposed to say."

What Does It Mean to Be an American?
For Lynch it meant being exposed to an educational system that fails to educate; that fails to instill an active, searching skepticism; that fails to teach critical thinking.

"Indivisible? Justice? Liberty? Even after I got older and learned the meaning of the words, after I studied them in school and knew American history, I didn't really know what they stood for."

What Does It Mean to Be an American?
For young Jessica Lynch it meant growing into adulthood with no clear understanding of the core values of a free society. To have no real or deep personal appreciation of the importance of the social and civil freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

"Then, a few weeks ago, the Ohio Veterans of Foreign Wars had a ceremony and made me a lifetime member.... When the old guys say that pledge, they know all about that stuff -- about liberty and justice for all…. They said I belonged with them because I had been in a war too. I finally know what the pledge is about. It's not just about flags and presidents."

What Does It Mean to Be an American?
To combat veteran Jessica Lynch it means being part of the ever growing "respected underclass" of US combat veterans.

"They went off to fight for it ["liberty and justice for all"]…. I also know that the price tag for all of it ["liberty and justice for all"] is high -- so high. I'd heard soldiers tell about it [war and combat], about what they saw, but it never sank in. It seemed like a movie, not something that could happen to you."

What Does It Mean to Be an American?
Being an American means being divorced from the realities of conflict. To be willing to join the Armed Forces based on the concepts of bravery and heroism promoted in megabuck Hollywood movies produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

"I now know that there was nothing anybody could say to really explain what serving your country meant or what being an American means to you if you go off to a place like Iraq. It's … I guess it's complicated."

What Does It Mean to Be an American?
It means to take comfort in ambiguities. Lynch survived a close call with death in Iraq yet returned to the US still confused about what it means to be an American. Lost in uncertainties, she discovers that understanding comes not from personal experience but from hearing the words of an older generation of combat veterans. But even then, she confesses, no one's words can explain "it."

"Serving your country isn't just putting on a uniform. It's putting on a uniform and putting your life at risk."

What Does It Mean to Be an American?
It doesn't mean working in the fields to create the food that feeds the nation. It doesn't mean working in the inner cities to combat hunger and social injustice. It doesn't mean organizing politically to demand economic justice in a poverty ridden town like Palestine, West Virginia where the only ticket out of town is held by an Army recruiter who promises educational benefits and a guaranteed assignment to Hawaii. The lesson that Lynch was taught throughout her life is less complex: You can only become an American by risking your life in combat.

"It's being scared, so scared. It's being hurt, hurt so bad you think you're gonna die. It's trying to hang onto hope when common sense tells you that there isn't any reason to hope."

What Does It Mean to Be an American?
Being an American means being exposed to exactly the same range of physical and emotional pain that any other human being would experience.

"It's remembering, even when you can't fight or hide or run away, that you are still a soldier."

What Does It Mean to Be an American?
It means that even when logic and adrenaline dictate that you "hide or run away," you dare not surrender to the instinct for self-preservation because "you are a soldier."

"If someone asks me now what it means to be an American, I can't just say stuff like pride in my country or pride in my flag or pride in the Army. It's not just words. All my life, when I think about what it means to be an American, I'll think about Lori [Piestewa, Lynch's friend who died in the attack, leaving behind two young children] and about what was lost -- to be an American soldier.

"But being an American also means that the circle will close around you when you are hurt or threatened.

"So now I know why we said that pledge -- and why people wrap themselves up in the flag in times of trouble and why they wrapped me up in it.

"But the pledge will never just be words again, because now I know that none of it ["liberty and justice for all"] comes for free."

What Does It Mean to Be an American?
Jessica Lynch's conclusion is that freedom is not free. The Bill of Rights is no longer our birthright as Americans. Instead, we must be willing to suffer death and painful loss in exchange for enjoying any political freedoms.

These are all parts of what it means to be an American Lynch concludes, "But mostly, it's loss. It's losing someone you love."

So, Finally, What Does It Mean to Be an American?
Mostly, it's about loss. Losing someone you love.

If this has come to be the definition of being an American, how sad it is for our country.

Gar Smith is the Editor of The-Edge, an online magazine of investigative reporting and environmental journalism.
http:// www.the-edge.org