America needs to live up to its ideals

I am writing this letter at sea aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). Like all Americans, I was horrified to see the images from the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

I have also been uplifted by the heroic efforts of rescue workers, aid volunteers, and all those who have been quietly helping our nation through this painful time. Between these inspiring accounts, however, are disturbing stories of hate crimes, xenophobia, and injustice — and those accounts make me sick.

"I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life." That sentence is the beginning of the Code of Conduct, a mantra that every officer in the U.S. armed forces learns in his or her basic training.

The American way of life is one of co-existence, democracy, and freedom, so I was outraged to hear that some people back home are turning fear into hate.

I have heard of physical and verbal attacks on innocent Arab-Americans; I have heard of people assaulting schoolchildren because they are of Middle Eastern descent; and I have heard that some people have terrorized American Muslims to the point that they are afraid to outwardly show what faith they follow. I know that the vast majority of Americans join me in deploring such events. Still, I want to publicly state that these injustices and indignities have no place in the nation that I volunteered to safeguard.

The America that I defend is a great nation. Among many other things, it has afforded me freedom to practice my Jewish faith openly and without fear. I am here because I am grateful for all the opportunities that are resident in our land and for the freedoms and privileges unprecedented in the history of the world. I am here so that every American can live according to his or her own conscience in a just and peaceful nation.

I am not here so that criminals and vigilantes can spread fear and inflict damage on other people.

I know many people have organized to speak out against the hate crimes that have occurred since Sept. 11. I thank those brave Americans for standing up for what is right. It is they who keep our nation great.

Sam Zager

USS Carl Vinson

Sam Zager is the son of Albert and Robin Zager of Fair Haven