Basic Instincts: America, Love It or Leave It — or Change It

By Michael Willard

I hear the refrain of love America or leave it, which seems to limit options. Rarely do I hear a chant to change it, which has been a viable alternative for nearly 250 years. Men and women have died for this.

Often I have told my children that there are always options, and that most issues are relative as to time, place, circumstance and, above all, civility. Without that final descriptor, life is a jungle.

There is always the danger of being branded unpatriotic or worse, perhaps Un-American by simply bringing up on Facebook or elsewhere such topics and offering, God forbid, rational and moral equivocality.

After all, I never fought in a war. Being on Coke’s side in the soda pop engagement with Pepsi hardly counts. I was permissibly absent during Vietnam. Married with a child, the draft board said.

I still could have enlisted, though by that time I was very much against the Vietnam War, as most thinking people eventually decided over time. I pursued a life time of other causes that mattered.

But I do support our men and women in uniform. Always will.

I also honor firefighters, police, EMT personnel, nurses, and the tired, tried and true workhorses of commerce who handle the unpleasant chores of society, whether they wear a uniform or dirty overalls.

The fact is not all heroes wear a uniform. I don’t recall Dr. Martin Luther King suiting up. The celebrated Mr. Rogers was declared 4-F and physically unfit for military service. He was, by all accounts, a pacifist.

Also, some in uniform are anything but points of light and knights exemplar for our children and grandchildren. Lt. William Calley of My Lai infamy comes readily to mind. He was both ignorant and evil.

Still, people at the time cheered him.

Calley oversaw the massacre of 109 Vietnamese unarmed innocents in 1968. But, I also wouldn’t want my grandkids looking up to “lock her up” Gen. Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor.

I confess it sickened me when I saw Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher invited to wine and dine with President Trump at his plush Mar-a-Lago estate. The President had recently pardoned him for war crimes.

Listen to what a fellow soldier said about him: “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving.” Gallagher also posed for a snapshot with a corpse and stabbed a captive prisoner in the neck.

Gallagher’s own men described him as the personification of evil. Yet, here he was with the little lady in tow, munching on dainty hors d’oeuvres and chatting up society’s chosen ones at the President’s Florida abode.

This brings up my own theory of relativity when it comes to international terrorism and what is right, what is wrong, and what is a judgement call. In my view, a pardoned Gallagher was a licensed terrorist.

Of course, there are always shades of gray. Was former two-time Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin a terrorist?

He extended a hand to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat — both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting — and thus was born the Middle East Peace Accords. It didn’t bring lasting peace, but a momentary lull.

But my gosh, Begin was a leader of the Zionist group Irgun which blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing 92 people. Sadat was pursued by the British as a terrorist.

Ironically but fittingly, Begin and Sadat shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. One man’s terrorist, it is often said, is another’s “freedom fighter”. This is a debatable point, one supposes.

Enter into this picture the man Trump called the №1 terrorist in the world, Iran’s Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Ordered by the Commander-in-Chief, an American drone took out the fellow.

As one can see from politicians on both sides, a preamble has to be offered when describing the murder of the №2 leader in Iran. Soleimani was a bad guy, and the world is better off without him.

That, though, is a designation that surely can be broadly applied.

I believe there has to be a red line, and it has to do with a country’s historic values, though with the stains of slavery and the Trail of Tears in America’s past, we have to judge on the curve or be patriotic hypocrites.

My view — and I say this without hesitation and against the backdrop of two Ukraine revolutions I witnessed close-up — the №1 terrorist impacting the world order sits in the Kremlin, and his name is Vladimir.

Putin seems to think nothing of targeted assassinations on the sovereign territory of others. His attack on America’s electoral system is not a bloodless offense as future decisions tend to impact and cost lives.

But, we would not dare lob a missile in the direction of Trump’s friend, and we shouldn’t. At the same time, don’t put it past the Iranians to target high-ranking Americans while avoiding tell-tale fingerprints.

Revenge, as the saying goes, is a dessert best served cold. And the leaders from ancient Persia are patient people.

The red line has been breached. We need wise leaders to take a step back to civility.

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I am a novelist, painter, songwriter and essayist but my day job is elevating the profile of authors, entertainers and business executives.

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