Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Shooting up some patriotism on the Fourth of July
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   07/06/2001)

I was leaving the fireworks store, loaded down with bottle rockets, when I saw my old friend--a fair-weather patriot, even he'll agree--standing on the sidewalk. He lit up a cigarette as he gave me the once over, then said snidely:

Shooting up some patriotism, are we?

You could put it that way.

So what's to celebrate?

July Fourth, our nation's birthday?

As I say, what's to celebrate?

Maybe you never heard of a little thing called freedom? Or America, beacon to the world?

Sure, we used to be something like that, like a beacon, but what have we done for the world lately?

Well, we stared down communism, for one thing.

Ancient history.

We fought back Slobodan Milosevic, put an end to his war crimes.

Small potatoes compared to our own crimes against humanity.

What are you talking about?

Let me put it this way. It doesn't matter how many wars we win, how many seeds of democracy we sow, how many wonders and miracles we work if, in the end, we destroy the whole world.

Whew boy, there you go again. Blame America first. You worry too much; here, have a firecracker. We'll solve any problem that comes along, just like we've solved all the others.

Sure, just as soon as we finish studying the problem, eh? Rome is burning, pal, and, like Nero, we're fiddling, led by chief fiddler George Dubya.

Nero did not fiddle while Rome burned. That never happened.

So what, it's still a great metaphor. If our Founding Fathers had known the forces they were unleashing they might've thought twice.

You can't be serious....

Of course I am. Look, these were rational men, and they were nature lovers. Thomas Jefferson alone discovered and named scads of new species. He would be appalled to see what we're doing to the earth. Rain forests are being clear-cut; species are vanishing faster than we can catalog them; skin cancer rates are going up; the polar ice caps are melting. Coral reefs are dying. Meanwhile, we drive around in gas-guzzling SUV's and drink our water from bottles, which doubles the size of landfills. Worse yet, we install a president and vice-president who never met a fossil fuel they didn't love. They dismiss global warming with a wave of the hand, and brag about squandering billions on new missile systems. Tell me these are not crimes against humanity.

Get real. They're not even close. Crimes against humanity require malice aforethought, and while Bush may be short-sighted, he's on the record for cutting our nuclear arsenals. I believe he's a good man at heart.

Oh, puh-lease. Good at heart? He'll have to do more than talk like Chief Seattle and get his picture taken at Yellowstone to prove he's good at heart. You want to know what's in Dubya's heart? Listen to Rush Limbaugh one afternoon. That sarcasm, that bile, that anti-nature bias. It's the air they breath over there on the right.

Save it, I have a cookout to go to.

Or listen to Donald Rumsfeld. He tells the world we're going to deploy anti-ballistic missiles in violation of the ABM Treaty--get this--even if they don't work.

He said that?

Read the papers my friend. Believe me, missile defense makes us less secure, not more.

So what would you have President Bush do?

I'd have him spend that $60 billion a year buying good will around the earth, and bribing and cajoling North Korea into getting rid of its nukes. I'd have him buy up all the nukes he can from so-called rogue states, and put our adversaries at ease by de-emphasizing our appetite for conflict. I'd have him rally the world around common enemies--like pollution and habitat loss. And I'd forget about missile defense. It only makes things worse by extending the arms race into outer space, while ignoring real threats here on earth.

Such as?

Well, think of a little sailboat or motorboat cozying up to New York harbor with a hold full of nukes. Or take a suitcase full of biological weapons opened discreetly at Kennedy Airport. Missile defense can't stop that.

Meanwhile, it makes such attacks more likely by creating a climate of hostility everywhere. China has threatened to deploy more nukes if we deploy a missile defense system. And if China deploys more nukes, India will build more. So India's enemy, Pakistan, will build more. Pretty soon you've got a regional arms race in full gear. And little ole Taiwan--whom we're sworn to defend--is sitting there like a tinderbox just waiting to blow. You want fireworks? I'll give you fireworks.