Purpose of Sept. 11 Memorial Would Be Undermined Without Patriotism

Matt LeVeck is a UC Berkeley junior majoring in political science. Respond at [email protected].





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On Thursday, I received an e-mail from Chancellor Robert Berdahl that responded to allegations by the California Patriot that the campus's Sept. 11 memorial would be devoid of patriotic symbols. The e-mail was extremely disappointing. I had hoped for a response that would tell me it just wasn't so, that there were several factual errors or exaggerations in the California Patriot's story.

Instead, what I read was an angry diatribe, which wielded the memory of the victims against the California Patriot, but failed to deny a single fact from its story. Thus, with a single press release, Berdahl handed campus Republicans a completely non-partisan issue. After all, American patriotism has never been a right-wing issue.

The Daily Californian's Friday issue indicates that the university, after much embarrassment, has reversed its stance on the ribbons ("Campus Reverses Decision Not to Distribute Patriotic Ribbons on Sept. 11.," Sept. 6). Still, the original decision remains troubling.

It's not hard to piece together how the event organizers probably came to this poor decision. On a campus that is known for outspoken demonstrations, UC Berkeley administrators were probably hoping to avoid a different sort of public relations disaster-a protest of its memorial.

How then could they make the event inclusive? The answer was to make the memorial be about the victims, not the country in which they were attacked. Surely, everyone can agree that several thousand people dying is a sad thing.

The problem with this logic is that Sept. 11 was not just a day on which a lot of people died. It was not a natural disaster, nor a famine, nor even a random act of violence. Nineteen people carried out an attack against sites that symbolized what they hated about America. Everyone who died, even those from other countries, did so because they were on U.S. soil.

Thus, to express sympathy for the victims of Sept.11 is to show solidarity with America and affirm its right to exist-a fact illustrated by the wave of international sympathy immediately following the attacks.

Memorials with flowers were not set up at random locations; they were placed outside U.S. embassies. Citizens of many countries waved our flag to show support. Queen Elizabeth had the royal band play our national anthem-the first time it had ever done so. How can playing "The Star Spangled Banner" be an obvious choice across the Atlantic, yet a controversial one in Berkeley?

Does this mean that the memorial should be made only palatable to those who love everything the United States has done, and agree with its military response? No. You don't like President Bush? Good, neither do I. You're a pacifist? Fine, we aren't having a military parade.

However, if you can't pin on America's national colors, because you are only sad about the individual deaths, and not about the attack on the U.S. infrastructure, please do not attend a Sept. 11 memorial. I am sure that almost no victim would appreciate your half-hearted sympathy.

The truth is that in almost any other world locale, nobody would find it odd that a national tragedy be remembered as such, even when it has international significance.

Furthermore, encouraging people to wear U.S. colors does not exclude non-citizens. Many students have donned Palestinian flags to show sympathy for victims an ocean away, and yet are not Palestinian themselves. When they do so, they do not necessarily become advocates of everything that has been done in the name of Palestine, but they affirm the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to live in peace.

I hope the UC Berkeley community will join the rest of the country on Sept. 11 in its unabashed affirmation that the United States is a great country, which should continue to exist free from attack.

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