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Turned back an appropriate sign of protest

March 4, 2003

Staff editorial

An article in Thursday's Lariat told the story of Toni Smith, a senior guard at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., who this season has been turning her back to the American flag during the playing of the national anthem.

Her quiet act of defiance has created waves of controversy across the country. Smith's act is fueled by her disagreement with the United States' impending war with Iraq. 'The war America will soon be entering has reinforced my beliefs, while further angering me,' Smith said. 'Being patriotic cannot simply be an empty slogan.'

Many critics of Smith's action feel that her action is disrespectful to the flag, the ideals it stands for and, more importantly, the men and women who have died to protect and defend that flag and those ideals. For these protesters, Smith's turned back is not a political statement, but a rejection of the American way of life.

Jerry Kiley, a Vietnam veteran and protester at one of Smith's games, said recently, 'She didn't earn the right to disrespect the flag. I fought for this country.' To many, this argument is a strong one -- how dare Smith act so disrespectfully in light of the sacrifices so many have made?

Unfortunately, protesters like Kiley have a confused perception of the American 'ideal.' America is not formed around tolerating dissent. America is dissent -- be it on a street corner, the Capitol building or a local basketball court. The very foundations of our civilization, our way of life, stem from dissent.

Furthermore, it is ludicrous to assume one must physically fight for an ideal to earn the right to enjoy it. Those who fight for American freedoms are, in essence, fighting for Smith's right to turn her back on the flag. In this light, Smith's act is not only appropriate, it is a powerful affirmation to America's shared heritage.