You get to say what you please Freedom: Americans should rejoice that they live in a country where speaking one's mind in public is not a one-way ticket to jail.

December 21, 1997|By HANS KNIGHT

Tis the season to be jolly, all right. A time for goodwill and rejoicing.

And so, I say with all my heart: Down with the government of the United States. Evict the First Couple from the White House. Round up all senators and representatives, and put them on the Potomac in a leaky boat. Add the Supreme Court justices for extra ballast.

America is the worst place on Earth, so let us abolish it. At least, get it strong, decisive leadership. Where is Mussolini when we need him?

So, why am I bursting with good cheer and humble gratitude?

Well, I can say all this and more - and if I happen to say it in a bar, I might get a bloody nose or perhaps some applause, depending on the neighborhood.

In a restaurant, I might become the target of an odd turkey leg, or the waiter might politely ask me to get the hell out of there.

On a busy street corner, the passers-by likely would ignore me or hand me a dollar. Some might even urge me to start a cult.

At worst, I might wind up on "Larry King Live" or the Charlie Rose show.

However, I would not be arrested by strapping troopers in shiny boots. I would not be hauled before a kangaroo court, en route to a gulag or a re-education camp. Certainly, I would not be shot, hanged or gassed.

The reason I would not suffer such misfortunes is simple. I live in the United States. If you are born here, calling this country home is no big deal. It is no more than a quirk of fate.

But some have a different perspective. They are the old who lived in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany, and they are the young who survived the terrors of Bosnia and Tiananmen Square.

If we're wondering on a bad hair day just what we should be grateful for, we might do worse than to listen to them. Or briefly switch channels from the football games and catch a glimpse of anguished mothers in Africa watching as their starving children waste away, or of people in the Middle East blowing each other away in the name of God or Allah or whomever. Then we can say with some relief, if not smugness, "That's not us."

To say America has its own problems is understating it. The legendary "melting pot" is a sentimental mirage. The racial chasms remain deep. We continue to defile our beautiful landscapes in the name of industrial progress. Many of our schools flunk the grade. It is said with some justice that our young lack faith and purpose, and that Americans at large are bereft of inspiring, unifying causes. Too many of our streets in too many towns are war zones.

No reason for thanksgiving there.

And yet. Most of our wounds are self-inflicted. No tyrant bids us to hate our neighbors. No church or synagogue or mosque is burned down by government fiat. We are free to believe in any deity we fancy, and if we choose not to believe in any, we might invite funny looks at PTA meetings, but no inquisitor will break down the door.

Some fervent guardians of our morals will try to banish certain books from the libraries, prohibit the showing of certain movies, the hearing of certain songs. Sometimes these crusaders have a point. There is a fine line between art and pornography. But this is open to continuing debate. There are no spiritual heirs to Herr Goebbels and Tovarich Beria in the United States, last time I looked. McCarthyism, so ominously powerful in the 1950s, is today a dirty word. Rightly so.

What of our leaders? Bill Clinton is no paragon, but he is not Generalissimo Franco, let alone Marshal Stalin, and Secretary of State Albright bears no resemblance to the late Ribbentrop. How lucky can a country be?

Around the globe, millions are scrambling for a crust to eat, while millions of Americans struggle to eat less to stay thin. Countless more people are trying to get into the United States than are trying to escape it. Not a bad litmus test, come to think of it.

So, I say it again: Down with America.

The newspaper that spreads such ranting might get some angry letters or - who can tell with free Americans? - some approving ones.

But the sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar. I mean, this is still America.

Hans Knight, a former reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin and editorial writer for the Harrisburg Patriot News, was a translator at the Nuremberg trials for the U.S. War Department. His free-lance writing is widely printed in the the New York Times, The Sun and other publications.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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