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To wit, in Socrates' day, there were no official government prosecutors (commonly referred to in modern America as "District Attorneys"); in effect, any citizen could bring an indictment against any other citizen, and call for a trial. And that's basically what happened to Socrates.
Here in America, in 2006, notwithstanding what Vice President Cheney said, President George W. Bush stated, "I will never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me." Bush was responding to a reporter's question on August 21; Bush was asked if he believed, according to http://mediamatters.org, that the "Democrats advocating for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq 'embolden Al Qaeda types' as...Cheney similarly stated. Bush's answer was, "I will never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me... [although] leaving [Iraq] before the job would be done would be to send a signal to our troops that the sacrifices they made were not worth it...this has nothing to do with patriotism. It has everything to do with understanding the world in which we live."
Later that day, on his nationally syndicated radio program, Rush Limbaugh played the role of unofficial prosecutor. Much like the prosecutors in Socrates' day, high-powered media stars can attack individuals and in effect, become not only prosecutors, but judges and juries as well, just like the citizens who heard Socrates' defense during his trial. Here in 2006, it doesn't matter whether the media person is liberal (like Al Franken) or conservative (like Limbaugh); anyone with a microphone and an audience can play prosecutor.
In the case of Bush's rebuttal to Cheney's assertions, it gave Limbaugh the opportunity to attack some Democrats who disagreed with Bush, and with Limbaugh as well. Limbaugh, as reported on http://mediamatters.org, stated that he wished to "respectfully disagree with the president...I am going to challenge the patriotism of people who disagree with [Bush] because the people that disagree with him want to lose." Limbaugh went on: "How come we can't question the patriotism of people who are actively engaged in sabotaging victory over this enemy?" The right wing radio commentator added, "We most certainly should. Dam straight, we should. I'm tired of *****footing around...The far left fringe in this country is actively seeking our defeat...Jimmy Carter...Bill Clinton...John Kerry...Al Gore..." And although this paper is not putting Carter, Clinton, Kerry and Gore up on the moral and intellectual mountain with a philosopher giant like Socrates, there are links between self-appointed prosecutors like those who brought indictment against Socrates, and self-appointed media "prosecutors" like Rush Limbaugh, who can basically charge leaders who don't share his views with treasonous acts.
And in any event, patriotism is always controversial, and is used to advance whatever position the person in question has chosen to take; patriotism means something different to each thinking individual. And when it comes to patriotism and American foreign policy, and the freedom that all Americans have with regard to expressing their opinions, Thomas Jefferson said it well (http://en.wikiquote.org):"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
And Mark Twain also had relevant and germane things to say about patriotism (http://en.wikiquote.org):"Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it"; and, "The citizen who sees his society's democratic clothes being worn out and does not cry out is not a patriot but a traitor."
SOCRATES' TRIAL: "The trial itself was an adversary proceeding...the accuser was 'the pursuer' and the accused 'the fleer'" (Allen, 25). Also, the rules of evidence "...were laxly enforced," author Allen explains, and "...requirements of relevance were loose...you could say pretty much what you pleased..."
FINDING SOMEONE to BLAME - PUTTING PEOPLE on "TRIAL": In America, in 2006, the country is at war - the "war on terror," the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, a threatened possible war started by North Korea (which has successfully tested atomic weapons), the verbal and political battle at home over policy - and so there is a lot of tension, and the American citizens deeply divided on many issues. Things are said that are seemingly unfair during a time of great social division, and America is in the midst of one of those periods right now. And this links to what was happening in Socrates' day; there was a lot of tension too, war was a recent reality, democracy was under attack, and enemies (real or imagined) were sought. What the Athenian leaders planned to do in order to make their nation-state safe from those accused of "refusing to acknowledge the gods acknowledge by the City" (Allen, 3), was to find scapegoats - someone to blame.
In January, 2006, after the New York Times reported that the Bush Administration had been spying on Americans' phone calls - without a court warrant, which federal law requires - since 2002, the president briefly justified the program by saying it was "limited" and "designed to prevent [terrorist] attacks" on the U.S. (www.msnbc.com).
But Bush went to great lengths in the following few days to blame the messenger - the New York Times - and hence he found a culprit, a scapegoat for the problem, just like the prosecutors in Athens needed Socrates as a scapegoat. The message in 2006 was, Bush had been wiretapping without warrants - required under a 1978 law passed by Congress - since 2002. That fact indicated to the New York Times and other media that Bush distorted the truth during a campaign appearance in 2004 when he said, "Any time you hear the U.S. government talking about a wiretap, a wiretap requires a court order." Moreover, the message was that the executive branch was of the opinion that they could do anything they felt necessary to thwart terrorist, whether it ignored federal law or not, just like the judicial process in Athens believed anything was justified if it thwarted the so-called corruption of youth.
And as mentioned, Bush deflected any criticism of his administration's actions by blaming the messenger: "The fact that somebody leaked this program causes great harm to the United States."
SOCRATES IS ALLEGEDLY an ATHIEST, SOCRATES DENIES THERE ARE GODS: In "The Apology," Socrates (according to Plato's account) is accused of not believing in gods. So Socrates challenged one of his accusers, Meletus, to accept that he, Socrates, did indeed believe in "divinities," and through his gift of debate and logic, Socrates made the point: "...you are saying that I do not believe in gods, and again that I do believe in gods because I believe in divinities."
IN 2006, CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANS ACCUSE SCIENTISTS of NOT BELIEVING in GOD: One of the things that currently divides Americans is the issue of evolution. Scientists have been documenting (through carbon dating and other empirical research techniques) for many years that the living things on the planet - including humans - have in fact been evolving. Meanwhile, the Christian conservative movement insists that evolution is not provable, and that schools should be teaching "creationism" - or a modified version of the creation story called "intelligent design."
The far right Christians have gone to the extreme of demanding that to prove they are made of the right moral stuff, politicians, teachers, and others must publicly choose between Charles Darwin (who wrote Origin of the Species) and Jesus Christ (a notion that is absurd). Some school boards in conservative Christian communities have gone so far as to throw out textbooks that teach evolution. This whole movement to make evolution a part of the "God" issue (you are not really a Christian, and you can't be a believer in God, if you accept evolution) is similar to the charges brought against Socrates in ancient Athens. We'll have to put Socrates to death because he doesn't see deities and divinities exactly the way we do. He questions our faith, and therefore he must not believe in God, was the prosecutors' rhetoric. Meantime, here in 2006, "Creationism, in all its forms...has been recognized as a religious doctrine by the U.S. federal courts," according to the American Sociological Association (ASA). "By contrast, biological evolution is a scientifically developed and well-established principle supported by accumulated scientific knowledge in many fields," the ASA continued.
Allen, R.E. (1980). Socrates and Legal Obligation. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis
American Sociological Association. (2006). "Statement...on Creationism and Related Religious
Doctrines in U.S. Science Education." Retrieved 18 Oct. 2006 at http://www.asanet.org.
Brickhouse, Thomas C, & Smith, Nicholas D. (1989). Socrates on Trial. Princeton: Princeton
Educational Broadcast Corporation. (2003). McCarthyism. Retrieved 18 Oct. 2006 at http://www.pbs.org/americanmasters.
MediaMatters for America. (2006). Limbaugh "respectfully" disagreed with Bush's pledge
To not question opponents' patriotism: "We most certainly can. We most certainly should." Retrieved 17 Oct. 2006 at http://mediamatters.org/items/printable/200608220006.
MSNBC.com. (2006). Bush says spying leak causes great harm. The Associated Press. Retrieved 19 Oct. 2006, at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10673060/.
Schrecker, Ellen. (1994). The Age of McCarthyism. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Marvin's
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