On the eve of Independence Day 2005, the Philadelphia Inquirer published this op-ed piece, exposing the so-called "patriotism" of those Americans who think loving their country means doing everything they can (including subverting their country's fundamental ideals) to protect the security of every American, at whatever cost to the world and the others who inhabit it.  --  Chris Satullo, the editorial page editor of the Inquirer, writes: "But I would rather have terrorists blow me to bits in an airplane or gun me down on an escalator at King of Prussia Mall than let a single person be tortured in the name of my safety." ...

Editorials and Commentary

Center Square

By Chris Satullo

Philadelphia Inquirer
July 3, 2005


Some men, flawed but rising to their moment, signed a document 229 years ago in Philadelphia. It ended with these words: "We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

No idle vow, that. They were rebels, and an army of imperial power lurked nearby. Before that July was done, they might all be captured and hanged from trees.

Their rebellion had arisen from tangled reasons, some less admirable than others. But the men in Philadelphia arrived at a fresh, ennobling idea for a new nation: that men were meant to be free and that free men could govern themselves to uphold justice and the common good. It was a breathtaking vision.

They were willing to die for it.

Are you willing to die for the idea called the United States of America? Are most Americans ready to die for their country?

On this patriotic weekend, most of us would blurt in reply, "Of course."

We are lying. At best, kidding ourselves.

That is the sad message of the days that have passed since the awful one we call 9/11.

Die for the idea called America? Many of us aren't willing even to conserve a little gasoline. Or pay our fair share of taxes. Or spend less than we earn.

Nor, it seems, will we accept the slightest personal risk to defend the ideals the founders sketched in the Declaration, then spelled out in the Bill of Rights.

Sept. 11, the instant cliché proclaimed, changed everything.

Yet few Americans, least of all our leaders, seem to grasp what really changed on that day of fire and fear.

To defend the American idea in the face of this novel threat, every last American must be willing to risk death rather than let our ideals be trampled in a rush for "security." For most of us, the risk is infinitesimal, less than we accept when we merge onto the Schuylkill or board an airliner. But it's there. Bravery isn't just for soldiers anymore.

Yet too many of us cower and cry to our profoundly inadequate leaders, "Do whatever you want; just protect us!" The propagandists call it patriotism; they call it toughness. It is cowardice.

If we all had the guts to die for the idea we call America, the halls of Congress would be jammed, the White House encircled, by citizens demanding an end to the sinful violations of our ideals: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and "extraordinary rendition."

They would proclaim they'd rather die at a terrorist's hand than watch America move from "rule of law" to "arrogant outlaw."

Instead, near silence. Alibis. Self-absorbed complicity.

America must never torture. But we have.

America must never contract out its torturing to some of the world's most brutal regimes. But we have.

America must not imprison indefinitely without evidence or fair trial. But we have.

A beacon for the rule of law must never claim unilateral power to thrust prisoners into a Kafkaesque world where they are neither criminal suspect nor prisoner of war, lacking the legal protections of either. But America does.

These are not the raving allegations of some Left Bank leftist. These are cold facts to which honorable people in our military, law enforcement agencies and courts have attested beyond reasonable doubt. The offenses go beyond the photos from Abu Ghraib, or Korans in toilets. They are even darker and more violent.

We are not excused because some of the prisoners harmed are brutes who mean us harm. We should be ashamed that, at Abu Ghraib, some were innocents swept up by the chaos of a war we started.

What matters most is that we are America. We are called to be better than that. How can we hide behind the apologists who mewl, "We're not as bad as Saddam, or Stalin, or Hitler"?

Those men in Philadelphia did not call us to be better than the very worst. They called us to exemplify the best.

Yes, we were attacked. That was supposed to summon the honor, the principles, the bravery inside us, to show what a nation inspired by the idea of liberty and justice can do. We have failed our founding fathers.

Americans are privileged to live inside a rare space in history -- where the ideals of the Declaration have often (not always) preserved us from the ancient habits of tyranny and savagery.

This privilege demands from us nothing less than our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.

I love my country, and the idea it stands for. I am willing to stand for it. I am willing to die for it.

We have a right to defend and protect ourselves. I'll defend the Afghanistan mission against its critics. I'll stand in any airport line as long as need be or flash an ID as often as asked to enable prudent precautions.

But I would rather have terrorists blow me to bits in an airplane or gun me down on an escalator at King of Prussia Mall than let a single person be tortured in the name of my safety.

I'd rather take my chances with terror than ask brave young Americans to protect me by serving as sitting ducks for suicide bombers halfway around the globe. Closer to home, I'll accept the remote risk of disaster rather than see Independence Hall be encircled with Jersey barriers like a prison camp.

I'd rather risk death than see the idea of America embodied in our Constitution be mocked and soiled the way George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld have done in the last four years.

I think of the men who pledged their sacred honor so many years ago in my city, and this is the very least I can pledge in return.

--Chris Satullo (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 215-854-4243) is editorial page editor. <