NEW YORK, April 15 (UPI) -- Let's dispense with the official loyalty oath, OK?
Haven't been catechized yet? OK, let's take it line by line. The loyalty oath breaks down like this:
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion."
Why do people say this? Why do people say things that 100 percent of the population already agrees on? Probably because they don't think it's such a good idea to have all those opinions out there. Or is it just a way of saying "Even ideas as idiotic as your own have a legal protection"? Or maybe it's some kind of secret code to say, "Hey, get a load of THIS guy's opinion!"
If so, the opening line of the loyalty oath should be changed to, "Your opinion sucks." It has the advantage of being simple, direct, unambiguous and honest.
When someone tells you that you're entitled to your own opinion, say, "No! I'm entitled to YOUR opinion!" At any rate, let's continue with the oath.
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion. Those who disagree with our government have the privilege of making their views known."
Once again, we're in the realm of "Why is my Civics 101 class being read back to me?" In this case I think the key word is "privilege." What you call your right, young man, is in fact a PRIVILEGE, and don't you ever forget it.
Both of the first two lines of the loyalty oath have the purpose of establishing the administrator of the oath as a fair and broad-minded patriot. Continuing:
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion. Those who disagree with our government have the privilege of making their views known. But even if you are opposed to the war, do you support our troops?"
This is the first moment in the oath at which a yea or nay is required. The correct answer is "Hell yes!" Anything less goes on your record.
This is a new concept in patriotic litmus testing, and I'm not sure who invented it. I think the premise of it is that there's a difference between "military action" and "troops" -- the process of creating actual death and mayhem, contrasted with the people ordered to create said death and mayhem. They're saying, OK, you don't believe the army should be fighting, but DO YOU
WANT THE ARMY TO DIE?
I've written before about the paranoid strain in American culture that's going on right now, but this one is Exhibit A. There are people so confused, or alarmed, or SOMETHING, that they think there's a citizens' cabal that is actively cheering every time a U.S. corporal gets blown up.
You might add, at this point in your response, "I am
violently opposed to the blowing up, wounding, mangling,
capturing or otherwise incapacitating of any individual troop" -- just to make sure your name is not put on the al-Qaida IRS audit list.
But there's a second question in the loyalty oath: "Have you forgotten Sept. 11?"
The correct answer here is "Hell no!" Anything less might indicate that you identify with the suicide pilots. Of course, this would be the place to interject that Sept. 11 and Iraq have a cause-and-effect gap between them that's about as wide as the distance from Mecca to Baghdad. But in the realm of loyalty testing, it seems to be part of the formula that you remove your
hat, stifle a tear, and utter a grim-lipped "Never again" -- just so everyone will know that, no, you're not in favor of flying 747s into buildings.
Most commonly the loyalty oath is used in relation to celebrities. Natalie Maines had to take it; she failed the first time but got a makeup test. Tim Robbins apparently flunked his entirely. He and his wife Susan Sarandon were supposed to appear at the Baseball Hall of Fame this week to celebrate the 15th anniversary of "Bull Durham," but Hall of Fame President Dale
Petroskey decided Robbins was unpatriotic and, furthermore, his comments were undermining the troops.
Petroskey informed Robbins and Sarandon of the cancellation in a letter that read: "In a free country such as ours, every American has the right to his or her own opinions, and to express them. Public figures, such as you, have platforms much larger than the average American's, which provides you an extraordinary
opportunity to have your views heard -- and an equally large obligation to act and speak responsibly. (Note: This is a variation on the "privilege" clause.) We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important -- and sensitive -- time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger. As an institution, we stand behind our President and our troops in this conflict." (Note the double use of "troops.")
Robbins' response was interesting: "I didn't realize
baseball was a Republican sport. I am sorry that you have chosen to use baseball and your position at the Hall of Fame to make a political statement. I know there are many baseball fans that disagree with you, and even more that will react with disgust to realize baseball is being politicized.
"To suggest that my criticism of the president put the troops in danger is absurd ... I wish you had, in your letter, saved me the rhetoric and talked honestly about your ties to the Bush and Reagan administrations. Long live democracy, free speech and the '69 Mets -- all improbably glorious miracles that I have always believed in."
All right, class, compare and contrast. Petroskey was formerly the assistant White House press secretary under Ronald Reagan -- in other words, a guy who writes press releases and makes public statements for a living. Robbins is an actor. Isn't this sort of like a guy from single-A ball hitting a grand slam against the Yankees?
At any rate, you have to admire Robbins for NOT saying: "I support our troops!" As soon as you actually answer the "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question, you've lost entirely.
That's what Bill Maher did, with his famous "I love my country" speech, after he was hammered for calling the suicide bombers courageous. And he never quite recovered his moral authority after that.
The real question behind the loyalty oath is "Do you hate America?" You see this quite a bit in flag-waving editorial pieces. "There are those among us who hate America," they solemnly intone.
Listen up: there's not some conspiracy out there that hates America. If people actually hated America, they would use their very flexible American passports and LEAVE America. They hate certain policies of America. They may even hate certain Americans. But calling them America-haters is a way to dismiss
them as people who, uh, aren't entitled to their opinions?
At any rate, many of the people who opposed this war are the same people who supported ground troops in Kosovo and Rwanda -- ground troops that never materialized. In a case where the enemy was going house to house, executing civilians, we chose ... air
strikes against Belgrade in the one case, and NOTHING AT ALL in the other. So they're not pacifists, and they're not people who don't want to get involved, and they ARE people who believe in SENDING IN THE TROOPS. When they lost the Kosovo debate, they didn't require a loyalty oath of all the doves who said: "We can't be the world's policeman."
Of course, that was all before the nation became full of little Robespierres, checking the daily lists, searching for sedition, administering the oath.
Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at email@example.com or through his Web site at joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.