We are not yet living in a police state; not even close. But neither are we quite living in America any more. Erstwhile civil libertarians endorse national ID cards. The ominous whisper of a military draft is in the air. When in the privacy of the family homestead I ventured the opinion that the 11 September attacks were a wicked response to wrong-headed US intervention in the Middle East, a dear family member counselled, "Don't say that too loud, Bill. Someone will report you to the police." She was serious.
The American precepts of individual rights, local self-rule and avoidance of foreign wars are so deeply buried under the rubble of empire that to mouth what once was a commonplace ("let's keep our noses out of others' business") is now a virtual act of sedition.
"Our calling" has become the eradication of terror from the world, according to President Bush. We are to "rid the world of evil", vow his speechwriters: mad and hubristic guff from callow thirtyish policy geeks who don't know a gun's stock from its barrel.
As an ardent patriot I love my country because it is mine. I suppose I should be pleased by the ubiquity of the red, white and blue banner. Flags fly from pizza shops, porches, car antennae.
Those whose knowledge comes from the idiot box will believe America to be the sum of Friends and Madeleine Albright and the preppies of the Family Bush, and they will hate us – understandably. But there is an untelevised America, a land of Iowa poets and rural volunteer fire departments and villages of faith and neighbourliness and the continuity of generations. This is the America I love, one that the keyboard bombardiers of DC would destroy in a New York minute.
Patriots – by which I mean Americans who love their untelevised country – despise war, not least for its catastrophic domestic consequences. In time of war, power flows to the centre. Regional culture withers, idiosyncrasies are smothered, young men are sent across the globe to serve as armed employees of the central government. People shift their loyalties from the local and immediate to the abstract and remote; already, local charities are reporting huge shortfalls as generous souls send their donations to the bureaucracies of New York and Washington. Through it all, the belligerent eggheads of the militaristic right and world-reforming left piss their pants with glee.
I defer to no one in my desire that the homicides who orchestrated the evil acts of 11 September be given their measure of justice, thrice over. But I will not watch silently as my country disappears. Empire is not worth a single American (or Afghan) life; defending Israel is not worth sacrificing what remains of our traditional liberties; overthrowing the Taliban is not worth bleaching the colour out of regional America.
The time for dissenters to keep quiet out of respect for the dead is over. Simple patriotism demands that we take up the plaint of a peaceable statesman from the Vietnam era: Come home, America. Come home now, while there is still a recognisable America.
Bill Kauffman's books include 'America First! Its History, Culture and Politics'