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Love it or leave it

Column by Kirk Caraway

There’s a new sign in on the main road through Incline Village. It’s not fancy, and advertises no business, but it’s striking nonetheless.

Somewhat crudely spray painted on a sheet of plywood are the words, “America, Love It or Leave It.”

In its simplicity, its meaning is open to some interpretation. Certainly, those who don’t love America perhaps should find another place to call home.

But when I’ve seen these words before, they have been aimed at those who protest against the government, for whatever reason. Those who adopt this meaning believe that anyone who disagrees with the government and has the gall to publicly express those views, somehow hates America.

And when it comes to some protestors, they are right. There are some malcontents who really don’t like America, who would probably leave if they knew where they could enjoy the same standard of living.

But many protestors truly love America. Through protest, they are hoping to make this country a better place.

The seeds of this conflict between protestors and those who wish to silence them were sown during the Vietnam War, a period of our history that nearly tore this country apart. There were excesses on all sides, from the atrocities of war, the lies government fed to its citizens, and the disrespect shown to our men in uniform who loyally followed the orders of their government.

That war has really never ended for many Americans, and now with our troops in Iraq, it rages again.

Have people lost sight of just how this country they profess to love came about? Have they forgotten about the most famous protest of all, the Boston Tea Party? Do they not remember the inflamatory rhetoric of patriots like Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine?

Protest and dissent have been a part of America before there was a country to love, before the flag or the Constitution. Without protests and dissent, we would still be singing “God Save the Queen.”

And the right to protest doesn’t go away when the country is at war. Then former-president Teddy Roosevelt, during the midst of World War I, chastised President Woodrow Wilson for cracking down on dissenters.

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public,” Roosevelt said.

Teddy was no peacenik. His battlefield exploits on San Juan Hill are well known, and he strongly pushed for Wilson to get involved in the war in Europe years before Americans were sent to fight in the trenches.

But even though Roosevelt supported the war, he saw that curbing dissent was wrong. It was one of the fundemental rights he risked his own life to protect.

It would be a shame if the pro-war faction, by questioning the patriotism of those they don’t agree with, force Americans to give up the rights so many have died to protect. A society that stifles dissent is just one step away from dictatorship.

On the other side, it would be tragic if protestors start blaming troops for the actions of the Bush administration. It is possible to disagree with the war but still support the troops.

Democracy isn’t easy. It’s messy, unwieldly and at times infuriating. It’s very difficult to hear people criticize the actions of the country you love. But this is how the Founding Fathers designed this wonderful system of government, a system that feeds off dissent, which allows it to grow and change along with the times. That’s a big reason why our country is still going strong after more than two centuries.

As such, all sides need to respect the rights of all to express their views, and with that respect, we just might find the enlightenment and common ground that allows us to make a better, stronger country.

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

If you can’t love democracy, and all the baggage that comes with it, then I don’t see how you can love America.

Kirk Caraway is editor of the Bonanza.