John Lindh, Patriot
July 16, 2002
I yield to nobody in my regard for patriotism,
which is why Im a bit troubled by the prosecution of John Walker
Lindh, the American-born Taliban fighter. Lindh has now plea-bargained,
accepting a 20-year prison sentence for the crime of
defending his country against invaders. Among the charges is that he was
carrying grenades and an AK-47 (broken down) when U.S. forces arrived in
Just as I consider I
have the right to defend my country from attack, I consider that Lindh had
the right to defend his adopted country. He was no terrorist, by any
stretch of that rubber word, and he had no part in the September 11
attacks on American soil.
wanted nothing less than a death sentence for Lindh. They consider him a
traitor who owed his allegiance to the United States; the press describes
him as a 21-year-old Californian, never mind that he left
California in his teens (having been born elsewhere) and considers himself
Dont we have
the right to emigrate? Is this the Soviet Union? So Lindh skipped the
tedious paperwork and inconvenience of changing his citizenship under U.S.
law. Thats a technicality that doesnt affect his moral right
to leave. So why all the moral indignation?
The angry mob insists that it was treason for Lindh to fight back
against an invasion by the government he was born under, even after he
had long since renounced it. In fact the U.S. Government considers it
criminal even for natives of other countries to resist American invasions.
Once upon a time, when
I was a Cold War conservative, I might have been among those hoping Lindh
would get the hot seat. I thought it was my patriotic duty to support
American military action, on grounds that it was somehow-or-other
defending freedom. I didnt want to know the details
of this defense; if innocent people sometimes got killed, well, that was
accidental, unavoidable, unintended. We meant all for the best. We
mustnt handcuff the brave men who were fighting
for our liberty against the evil forces in this world.
When liberals talked of
bloated military budgets, I retorted that too much defense
was better than too little, which might be fatal. In short, I was willing to
give the military a blank check. Not that this stopped me from complaining
about high taxes. I blamed those on the welfare state.
Liberals tend to do the
same thing from another point of view. They support the welfare state
without looking too closely at the details. Waste? Fraud? Excess? Small
prices to pay for compassionate government. They blame
high taxes on the military.
Both sides, liberal and
conservative, loyally support a limitless government as long as they feel
that the government has its heart in the right place and is an instrument
of the principles they believe in. The details hardly matter. And each side
grudgingly accepts the package deal of a mammoth state that does what
they disapprove of, as long as it also does things they approve of. Liberals
accept militarism as the politically necessary cost of socialism;
conservatives accept socialist programs as the politically necessary cost
of militarism. Its a very expensive symbiosis.
Today the militarists
have the upper hand. September 11 decided that. The great majority of
patriotic Americans are willing to let the government do what it thinks it
must militarily, including curtailing freedoms at home. Sometimes you
have to abridge freedom in order to preserve it, dont you?
We have heard this
argument since Lincolns presidency. And it still works. The U.S.
Government has grown incomprehensibly vast because its so much
easier to wave the flag than to read the Constitution. We have hypnotized
ourselves into a state of mind that believes that when our government is
rifling through Grannys suitcase or prosecuting an eccentric kid,
its defending our freedom.
These hypnotic slogans
recall the words of William Blake: To generalize is to be an
idiot. Who needs facts when you have such compelling
generalizations to keep the herd in line?
John Walker Lindh has
learned the perils of living outside the herd. He went his own way, even if
it was only to join a different herd in which his individuality was
His original herd still
claims his soul. It doesnt mind that he renounced Jesus Christ, his
Savior but to renounce his government! Now thats a mortal