Friday, February 18, 2005 | This freedom business is a lot more difficult than the President made it sound when he accepted the nomination last September. Bush proclaimed “freedom is on the march.” High flown rhetoric with no substance doesn’t move me much any more. I’m not getting that tingle I used to get when they play the National Anthem.

Nor, I’d guess does the San Diego based sailor, Pablo Paredes. Paredes became convinced the war against Iraq was wrong, so recently when his ship, U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard, slipped her moorings and headed out Paredes stayed behind on the dock wearing a T-shirt proclaiming “LIKE A CABINET MEMBER, I RESIGN.”

The “Bonnie Dick,” as the crewmembers call her, is an amphibious assault ship which supports Marine Corps operations. Paredes didn’t want to help send men to their deaths.

Last week I attended a talk by the young man at a Green Party meeting. It wasn’t easy for me, a retired Navy officer, to sit there and listen to a man tell how he was turning his back on his obligation to obey the commander-in-chief and all in the chain of command.

It also wasn’t easy watching an idealistic young man jeopardize so much. Even if the Navy decides not to risk the publicity of giving Paredes a court martial, it will not give him an honorable discharge, the ticket to respectability in a nation that goes to war every few years. If, as is likely, his application for conscience objector status is turned down, the Navy will likely throw the book at him.

Still, those feelings of sympathy were countered by emotions engendered by my 23 years of saluting, shoe shines, and “yes sirs.” Had Paredes asked my advice, I’d have told him to report for duty. Still for all that, Paredes made his decision and will take the consequences. I give him grudging admiration for that. That’s more than I give those who, above all, had a solemn duty to their nation, but who opted out in favor of party loyalty.

Take Colin Powell, a cabinet member who would have had no problem resigning, but who chose to continue with the “yes sirs!” Powell had to know that the “evidence” he presented to the U.N. about those aluminum tubes, mobile labs to manufacture chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction and other hysterical claims were false. Still this man who, on the wings of patriotism, rose to the highest military position in the nation chose to spout the party line. We are now mired down in a war based largely on his testimony, testimony which showed loyalty to the president but left the country in a terrible fix.

Christine Whitman was once governor of New Jersey and, more recently, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. As governor she had shown little concern for the environment, but when she was appointed to her post at EPA she actually tried to carry out her duties. She was, of course, thwarted at every important juncture. Instead of resigning and reminding the electorate of the outrages against nature, she wrote a book about it – after the election. The guy who is ultimately responsible has another four years to continue the outrages, partly because Whitman’s party loyalty trumped her duty to her country.

John McCain is a man who suffered terribly and bravely for his country in Vietnam. He continued to suffer when he ran for president in 2000. The former prisoner of war was savaged more despicably than any candidate in recent history. He could have reminded the electorate of the character of his erstwhile opponent, but there he was at the last Republican National Convention singing the party line.

We deserve leaders who will put their country ahead of loyalty to any person or any party. Those who don’t ought to take a look at Pablo Paredes. That young man, with so much more to lose than they, had the guts to stand up for what he believes.

Will some nabob in a high place give me a reason once again to feel that tingle when the band strikes up I hear “Oh say can you see. . . ?”

Keith Taylor is a freelance writer living in Chula Vista.

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