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Proud to be an American?

“Proud to be American.” That is the logo on 120 shirts that are stored in my attic. I noticed them yesterday when I went upstairs to put away my turtlenecks and bring out my sandals and shorts. Right behind the trunk marked “Summer Clothes,” I found the cardboard boxes with all those t-shirts and I felt sad. I had the shirts made up shortly after September 11, when I collaborated with Helene Feider, a Riverwest graphic designer, who created a great design showing the whole American hemisphere. I meant the shirts to be a variation on the patriotic theme that had become so popular in the aftermath of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. I thought the shirts would appeal to immigrants from Latin America and intended to sell them at places like Fiesta Mexicana. I ordered them in bright colors and imagined they would go like hot cakes. But just as I was in the process of linking up with a vendor who would sell the shirts on consignment, history took a turn that bumped me off my entrepreneurial track. President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. There was something dirty about that war as far as I was concerned. Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the bombings of 9/11. Why should he be targeted for our revenge? Why should the Iraqi people suffer for the crimes of Osama Bin Laden? I was no longer feeling so proud to be American. I lost my enthusiasm for marketing the t-shirts. Now it is a year later and I wonder what I will do with all those shirts. I’m certainly not proud to be American when I learn about the abuse of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. On the contrary, I cringe to think of the way my country has lost the moral prestige we once enjoyed. We cannot talk about liberating a people whom we sodomize. Of course I recognize that Saddam Hussein committed reprehensible crimes. But Saddam was not my leader. I did not feel responsible for what he did, not in the way that I feel responsible for what my own government does. When I consider the actions of my government in Iraq — the untruths that were fabricated into justifications for the invasion, the mind-boggling expense of the military operation, the suffering inflicted on Iraqi civilians, the colossal debt that we as U.S. tax-payers have been saddled with, and now the craven, sadistic behavior of our soldiers, I do not feel proud at all. No. This is not the season for those t-shirts. They seem like historical artifacts, somehow – reminders that I used to be really proud to be an American, proud of the legacy of decency and respect for human dignity that my country stood for. I hope someday I can wear one of those shirts with Helene’s design. I hope some day I can bring those shirts down from the attic and feel, again, genuinely proud to be American.