God On Our Side

by Gerard Donnelly Smith

August 16, 2004   


"We call her Old Glory. The stars and stripes forever. I fought under that flag, as did so many of you here and all across our country. That flag flew from the gun turret right behind my head. It was shot through and through and tattered, but it never ceased to wave in the wind. It draped the caskets of men I served with and friends I grew up with. For us, that flag is the most powerful symbol of who we are and what we believe in. Our strength. Our diversity. Our love of country. All that makes America both great and good."
—John Kerry, Democratic Convention Acceptance Speech, Boston, MA, July 2004.

Let us not be hasty over words,
but seek to understand their master's intention.
One must concede the ethics, the morals of the speech:

      Opportunity for all
      so that every child,
      every parent,
      every worker
      has an equal shot
      at living up
      to their God-given potential.

Perhaps, "god" may be defined symbolically,
meaning not a Judeo-Christian god,
a Muslim or Hindu god, but all of these gods, maybe.
Let us be clear as to the nature of this potential,
for when living under god, one's potential depends
upon the very nature of that god, so clarity is
essential when defining one's faith:

      I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve.
      But faith has given me values and hope to live by,
      from Vietnam to this day,
      from Sunday to Sunday.
      I don't want to claim that God is on our side.
      As Abraham Lincoln told us,
      I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side.
      And whatever our faith,
      one belief should bind us all:
      The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves
      for others and for our country.

So clear this sacrifice that citizens must make: die,
die each and everyone of you—true patriots,
from war to war, from Sabbath to Sabbath,
die with one prayer on your lips:
whatever your faith pray that you have humbly served
your nation and its government in the fight against evil,
an evil against which "god" and all good people fight?
Bind us all to that ideology, so that our children
will be safe from hunger and from terror,
you who do not wear your faith
around our neck or upon your head
wrapped in white linen, or beneath a cotton hat
for all to see; we see you in your suit and tie,
we know you by these colors and know the lengths
to which you would willingly go to defend your nation,
upon whose currency is stamped: "Under God."
Under god, founder of nations, you would have us all die,
praying that we were on "god's side,"
praying, I assume, that the children—
whose father's prayed they were on "god's side"—
that those children, and their parents,
and every worker—even socialist and atheists by god
—all over the world
had an equal shot at living,
living up to their god-given potential
not to die for god and country,
not to die for the nation: dolce et decorum est.
praying that no child would die because anyone
pledged allegiance to a god of war.
But you did not denounce crusades or crusaders,
you did not denounce war or genocide, and when you said

      Goodnight, God bless you, and God bless America,

I saw faith on your sleeve.

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Poetry on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Gerard Donnelly Smith on Swans (with bio).

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Published August 16, 2004
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