(taken without permission fom AP / NY Times)

Dissenting Voices Less Welcome Now

September 26, 2001
Filed at 2:57 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Uneasy with America's flag-waving fervor? Button up or risk being ostracized.

Expressions of patriotism are so fervent since the terrorist attacks that citizens who do or say anything against the tide risk suffering a public backlash.

After getting an earful from angry residents, school superintendent Louis Ripatrazone in Roxbury, N.J., rescinded his order to remove ``God Bless America'' from school signs. He thought a religious reference might be offensive at school.

University of Texas professor Robert Jensen received unfriendly e-mails and calls after writing an editorial suggesting that the attacks were ``no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism'' committed by the United States.

University president Larry Faulkner dismissed suggestions that Jensen be fired, but called his views a ``fountain of undiluted foolishness.''

Peace activists in Buffalo, N.Y., say they were labeled ``un-American'' and ``crazy communists'' by hecklers.

Since thousands died in the Sept. 11 suicide crashes in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, some Americans have been pondering what it means to be patriotic.

Is it unpatriotic to sell stocks? Is it wrong to flip the channel when ``God Bless America,'' not ``Take Me Out to the Ballgame,'' is sung in the seventh-inning stretch? Is it un-American to criticize President Bush?

When it comes to being patriotic, ``a lot of people are willing to talk the talk,'' says sociology professor Charles Moskos of Northwestern University. ``But if you really want to walk the walk, then donate blood or enlist in the military.''

On the other hand, Moskos says it's not unpatriotic to openly disagree with the president, refrain from flying the flag or sell stocks in a down market. ``If I sold the stocks and sent the money out of the country, that would be unpatriotic,'' he adds.

And switching TV channels? ``What's patriotic about watching flag-waving while `God Bless America' is being sung?'' Moskos asks. ``A lot of this is make-believe patriotism -- patriotism on the cheap.''

To some people, patriotism is unquestioning loyalty of the my-country-right-or-wrong variety, says John Bodnar, chairman of Indiana University's history department. To others, patriotism celebrates the rights guaranteed by American democracy, including the right to dissent.

``People have carried the flag for many reasons,'' Bodnar said.

Since the attacks, some Americans, in the eyes of others, are failing the patriotism test:

--In Fort Myers, Fla., the head librarian at Florida Gulf Coast University apologized for ordering employees to remove ``Proud to be an American'' stickers to avoid offending foreign students. An outcry brought university president William Merwin quickly back from an out-of-town meeting to rescind the order and exclaim: ``Patriotism on campus is welcomed.''

--In Boca Raton, Fla., the National Council of Compensation Insurance Holdings Inc., reminded employees that to avoid divisiveness, the company banned flags at work. After flags were taken from cubicles, the company Web site was flooded with angry e-mails. The company apologized and handed out paper flags and patriotic lapel pins.

--Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., posted a police guard outside his congressional district office in Lowell, Mass., after receiving threatening phone calls. A newspaper had quoted Meehan as saying he didn't believe Air Force One was targeted by terrorists, the reason the White House gave for delaying President Bush's return to Washington the day of the attacks. Meehan said his views were misrepresented, and that he believed Bush has done ``an excellent job.''

--When Bill Maher, the host of ABC TV's ``Politically Incorrect,'' called past U.S. military practices ``cowardly,'' viewers complained. ABC stuck by him, but FedEx and Sears pulled their ads. Sears spokesman Lee Antonio said the retailer decided not to advertise on the show after ``customers voiced a concern for bashing our leaders, our military and the country.'' Maher said he only meant that the government has been scared to let the military do its job.

--In Berkeley, Calif., firefighters were ordered not to fly large U.S. flags from their trucks because officials feared the rigs would be targeted by anti-war protesters. After the city received a blistering response from around the nation, fire officials apologized and issued smaller flags to fly on the trucks.

Tired of the flag flap, Mayor Shirley Dean said: ``Put the flags on the trucks and get on with it.''