Who is a patriot?

I attended the United for Peace and Justice demonstration in New Orleans on Oct. 27, which called for an end to the Iraq war, opposed military aggression against Iran and supported the long overdue rebuilding of New Orleans. I felt proud to stand next to Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and other peace-promoting organizations.

What was the source of my pride? I was standing with veterans who have the courage to stand up to the right-wing authoritarian regime of President Bush. Many have contrasted the record of these people with that of our president, who dodged combat duty and according to some reports went missing from his plush assignment in the Texas National Guard.

Was it easy being at a protest in the Deep South in the middle of one of the playgrounds of the wealthy and powerful? Absolutely not! Our peaceful protest met with some right-wing resistance. Several members of the right-wing Gathering of Eagles attempted to intimidate participants. One sported a T-shirt that read “Re-defeat communism.” Of course, these puppets of the far-right merely looked like pitiful thugs. They disappeared before the rally was over. No one to my knowledge left or changed their opinion as a result of these goons.

As we marched through the French Quarter holding signs and chanting loudly to express our opposition to the war, we were witness to a display of the brutishness of the rich and powerful. Drunken boors in suits and ties booed us and made rude remarks from their expensive balconies overlooking the streets where we were marching. One veteran marching near me became upset with their epithets and yelled back, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! I served over there!” Another marcher stepped in to calm him.

There has been a lot of talk of treason these days. They usually come from Bush supporters and are aimed at anyone who dares oppose any of his policies. A candidate for public office in Houston recently told me that he was concerned about how right-wing judges were throwing the word “treason” around in the courtroom whenever an attorney opposed their heavy-handed treatment of defendants.

After the protest ended, I was waiting to go to dinner with some comrades. I spotted an old man walking in the crisp New Orleans evening. He was wearing a white shirt with patches that read “World War II” and “Purple Heart.” We struck up a conversation and he told us he grew up in the neighborhood and was back to check it out. It turns out he had two Purple Hearts which he earned fighting the Nazis. He now lives outside New Orleans and was there to try to find Purple Heart recipients who had lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina. The organization he is affiliated with is providing $5,000 grants to these veterans.

He told us stories of the horrors of war. He told us how his comrades were wounded and had huge pieces of their heads blown away in combat. He was not there for the protest and probably had not heard about it beforehand. He was 87 and had a remarkable smile. He told us that he opposes the war in Iraq and the rush to war in Iran because he knows what war does to people.

So the questions we must ponder are, “Who is a patriot?” and “Who is guilty of treason?” According to right-wing supporters of “chicken hawk” Bush and Cheney, this old veteran would be guilty of treason for his opposition to the imperialist war.

Around 75 percent of the U.S. public now opposes the war. We need to say in a loud, united voice that this Purple Heart veteran and everyone else opposed to the war are not traitors. Is it more patriotic to have fought the Nazis or to have been missing from comfy duty with the Texas National Guard? I leave it to you to decide.

Paul Hill (phill1917 @comcast.net) is a social justice activist in Texas.