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In denial 

Can we even stand to think about America this July 4?

"We will stay. We will fight. We will prevail." It could have been George III addressing his troops in 1776. But it was George W. Bush, addressing his troops at Fort Bragg Tuesday, the Fourth of July, 2006. How delusional is this man? Not content with the quagmire he's created in Iraq, he essentially declared war on the whole Middle East if it won't get with his definition of "liberty," which is that we're in charge over there until further notice. Iran's next, he all but said.

"The enemy," Bush thundered, without a stitch of irony, "has territorial ambitions." Oh? And wants "weapons of mass destruction." Like what we've got?

All this Bush said to, and in front of, a military tableau worthy of a Caesar, a Napoleon, a ... no, I'll stop the list there, short of the 20th century, and just ask if we've completely forgotten the idea--bequeathed to us by George Washington--that politics and the military are a dangerous mix.

Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish militias are in a death struggle in Iraq, and we are stuck in the middle, fighting--terrorists? Which ones are the terrorists? The ones trying to blow up the regime we installed? Or the ones trying to blow them up? Apparently it's the former. Notice how Bush now says that, as the Iraqi prime minister we're currently backing "stands up for freedom," we will "stand with him."

He used to say that we'd "stand down."

This July 4, the United States is in a state of perpetual war, and the enemy is anyone George Bush says it is--including his political opponents, if they suggest that it's time to get out of Iraq.

But we Americans, we're in a state of denial. The president orders electronic eavesdropping without judicial warrants, in clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. Congress shrugs. We shrug. He orders bank records scoured, again without warrants. More shrugs. And some attacks on the press for reporting about it.

Does anyone even remember why warrants, in the quaint term of the Constitution, "shall issue?" It's not to let the guilty go free. It's to keep the government from framing its enemies with planted evidence. It's to keep King George from "searching" your house or your bank accounts and--what's this?--"finding" that you've broken some law or other.

Before the American government could do that--the republican government given to us by Madison, Franklin and Washington, who'd surrendered his military commission so he could serve--it was supposed to at a minimum demonstrate to a neutral third party that it had evidence ("probable cause") of your crime.

But if we're at war, the rules necessarily change. There's no time for warrants. No time for the legal niceties. No time, even, for bringing "enemy combatants" to trial--whatever that term means.

And if we're at war perpetually? Then our liberties are in limbo. Perpetually.

Stephanie Erickson's stand

"'The Star-Spangled Banner' does not fill me with pride: it fills me with shame. ... A symbol that used to represent hope to so many around the world now fills so many with disgust." --Cindy Sheehan

As I write, I'm looking out the window at the neighborhood kids and their parents lining up for our annual Cameron Park Fourth of July parade. Most of the parents around here are Democrats. What are they telling their children about the president, the country and war?

It depresses me to think that, for children growing up today in America, the message is that 35 percent of the country approves of George Bush's performance in office. Worse, even among the 65 percent who disapprove, there is almost no urgency to their opposition--our opposition.

There's no crisis that the kids need to know about. There's only red, white and blue.

That's not the case at Stephanie Erickson's house near Crabtree Valley in Raleigh, however. Monday night, for the second time in as many years, Erickson started to fast. When she told me about it, I felt a twinge of hope. It isn't that she's out to be a martyr, or even to convince the world of anything. But she has three children, two in high school and a third in middle school, and she's determined to convince them that she does care about this country.

Erickson's a member of the peace group Code Pink, whose members began fasting this Independence Day as a way of saying they want our troops brought home fast. For some of them, the fast lasted the one day. Others planned to go longer. Erickson herself fasted for 32 days last year, in sympathy with anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan. She lost 30 pounds, she said. This year, she hopes to go 57 days, one for each North Carolinian killed, so far, in Iraq.

You'll be relieved to know that her fast isn't absolute. She eats one protein bar a day, and she drinks lots of water. "I have to work," she explains. "I have to live."

Erickson's reasons for fasting go beyond the war even, or perhaps it's better to say that they go right to the heart of why we're at war, which is to say oil, and our profligate use of it, and our absolute disdain for the environmental stewardship of the planet.

This is a woman for whom yesterday was her last day as an employee of a multinational corporation whose job was helping to manage network operations for some of the planet's biggest polluters--General Motors, for example.

She's going back to teaching middle-school science, she told me. Again, the reason is her children and her fear that they might otherwise learn from her the lesson that money is the important thing, and not how you live your life.

She's convinced, for one thing, that global warming isn't just occurring at a steady pace, it's picking up speed geometrically in places like the Himalayas--"high-altitude, mid-latitude locations"--that are vital water sources for billions of people.

So she doesn't use any air conditioning at home, only fans. The temperature indoors was 85 when I called her Monday. In the winter, she leaves it at 55. And she and her kids ride bikes wherever possible--and they leave the car at home.

She's convinced as well that "extraordinary renditions" aren't just the anomalous behavior of a good nation, but evidence that our national core is rotting away. So she was one of the 14 folks arrested recently for protesting outside the rendition airport in Johnston County. She's writing an article about it for The Nation.

How do the kids feel about all of this? They go to the protests with her. All of them.

Speaking of irony, though, Erickson worked on Tuesday, July 4, at her corporate job to earn the holiday pay, which she needs to sustain her--and her kids--through the month of unpaid teacher training she must complete before she can take her new job in August.

"It just kills me," she said, that she couldn't join the Code Pink protests in Washington and at Bragg yesterday.

Did I say I felt a little hope listening to her? I felt a little envy, too, I must admit. I didn't go to Bragg, either. Like all but about 30 of us, I stayed at home with the AC on--and it was set at 78.

The truth is, I don't like to think of America the way Cindy Sheehan does. It's too uncomfortable. So most days, I don't. I go about my business. But good god, this is our fourth Fourth of July as a military occupying power in Iraq, and not only is the end not in sight, it's an idea that seems to have faded from our consciousness--and our politics.

One thing about fasting, Erickson says. "There's a kind of freedom you get when you no longer have to think about food. It frees you up to think about more important things."

On this July 4, she's thinking about the war, and how truly abominable it is. So am I.

Write Citizen at rjgeary@mac.com.

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