An Appeal to Our Better Selves 

A response to Harry Welty's April 17 column

by  Eileen Zeitz Hudelson

Like many other Americans, I have opposed the current war against Iraq.  Like others, I have never been convinced that it was necessary. At the same time, I understand that many of my friends and neighbors see things differently.  This disagreement is painful, made more painful by the seriousness of the issue.  Something this serious touches deep and powerful feelings in all of us.  Despite the emotional nature of the issue that divides us, indeed because of it, I think it is important that we try to maintain respect and civility in our dealings with one another.   Freedom and democracy depend upon it.

In recent weeks I have been alarmed and saddened by some of the things that have been said in the letters to the newspapers.  It is simply not true that opposition to the war means lack of support for our troops. Those of us who oppose this war did not drop from outer space.  We grew up in this country.  Many of us have sons or daughters, grandsons or granddaughters, brothers or sisters, friends and neighbors who are in the armed services.  We love them.  We donate blood, send care packages, write letters and always carry their presence in our minds and hearts.  We want them to come home whole and well.  Our opposition is not to them, but to the policy that we think unnecessarily risks
their lives.

It is understandable that in this difficult time people sometimes say unfair and ugly things.   Truth is one of the first victims of war. Emotions cloud our better judgment, and unfounded rumors pass like wildfire.  Real people are painted over with unreal caricatures. In such times it is especially important that public officials and civic leaders speak and act with care and restraint.  Wartime anger based on
unfounded rumor has brought some of the most grievous trespasses against freedom and democracy in our nation's history, and thus wartime leaders bear a special responsibility.  Demagogic appeals to our baser natures threaten our traditions.  Appeals to truth and reason work to preserve them.

For reasons such as these, I was particularly alarmed at some things said by current and former public officials in recent weeks, and I wrote a letter that appeared in a local newspaper, in which I called to task a former public official for intemperate remarks.  Simultaneously, in a column clearly written before he knew of my letter, I found myself the target of an attack by a current member of the School Board in the April 17th Reader.  The attack is a classic example of demagoguery.  It deploys the standard techniques of sophistry and propaganda in order to take advantage of people's feelings.  It is an example of the kind of thing I would hope public officials would avoid.

Harry Welty's column in the April 17 Reader  is entitled "Spitting on Bill."  The title refers to abuses experienced by some Vietnam veterans upon returning from Vietnam.  The article goes on to mention
 "idealists" willing to appease Hitler.  Then it commends our armed forces for defending our freedom and democracy.  Then, in the last paragraph, Welty suddenly turns to an attack on me.  He suggests that I am somehow one of those people who abused returning Vietnam veterans, appeased Hitler, and might view with "disgust" the flag-draped coffin of a Duluth casualty of the current war.  This is outrageous and a complete travesty!  It is an example of a politician willing to stop at nothing to smear anyone he views as his political opponent.

I should not have to reply to such sleaze, but for the record here goes.  First, I did not appease Hitler, nor would I have had I been alive then.  In fact, my father served four years in the Pacific.  My father is dead now, but I love and respect him deeply, in particular for having served in that war.  Second, I did not abuse Vietnam war vets.  In fact, I was not one of those "idealists" opposed to that war. Further, my brother served in the armed forces during that war, and it is obscene to suggest that I would dishonor the brother I so admire, or anyone else for that matter.  I do not need Mr. Welty to remind me what we owe people like my father and my brother who served in the armed forces of our country.  I treasure freedom and democracy.  Unlike those who see our rights as fragile things that must be put on the shelf during these difficult times, I understand that rights are meant to be used.

Finally, the attempt to suggest that I might harbor "disgust" toward any American war dead is so grotesque I cannot find words adequate to reply.  I can only say that I am profoundly saddened and appalled that anyone, let alone a public official, could stoop so low.

Mr. Welty's column is a pastiche of propaganda techniques, ranging from appeals to emotion (flag-draped coffin) to guilt by association (appeasement and abuse of Vietnam vets).  He couches his attack with words such as "I've wondered if", so as to create plausible deniability of his intent to libel.  His one direct statement concerning something he claims I did, namely, his assertion that I walked out of a School Board meeting during the presentation of the flag by students, is pure fabrication.  None of these accusations have anything to do with my actions, yet he tries to use these cheap tricks to slander me and others who have opposed this war.  Again, I can only say that I would hope public officials could do better than this.

It is true that I have been opposed to this war.  I am also uncomfortable with shirtsleeve patriotism and the ubiquitous use of the flag by demagogues and salesmen.  To me these things smack of idolatry and disrespect for what really matters.  Real service to one's community and country, and the honor and honesty with which one conducts him or herself, is what constitutes true patriotism.

And my reply in the same Reader

Alas, The video tape of the meeting in question is no more. The School
District only keeps video copies of Board meetings for two years at which
time the old tapes are reused to tape current meetings. Thus Eileen and I
have only our quite different recollections of the meeting in question. This
is not the first time I have written about Eileen's absenting herself from
the May 1998 NJROTC flag presentation. I mentioned it on my website the
following year. Subsequently, several Board members privately discussed
contacting my web provider to have my website removed from the World Wide
Web. Until today no one has ever disputed my assertion about Eileen's

Harry Welty