What's in a name?

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011

The Peninsula Clarion poll recently posed a question asking readers if they thought the tone and substance of American political debate had deteriorated in recent years.

Perhaps it would behoove us to consider this topic for a brief moment especially in regard to names. Names we call others. Names we call ourselves.

In 1773 British colonists, who called themselves Sons of Liberty, dressed as Indians and stole aboard three ships anchored in Boston Harbor. Their intent was to dump a tea cargo protesting a tax considered unfair to businesses and consumers.

We know this action as the Boston Tea Party. In school we learned the ships' names and dressed as Mohawks to give a report. Was this event, however, really a "party"?

What's in a name, we ask? One imagines a tea party as young girls in white dresses, teddy bears in attendance and pinky fingers thrust delicately into the air. One imagines women chatting, sharing rumors and eating small sandwiches without crust.

The 1773 value of the tea has been estimated at somewhere between nine and ten thousand pounds sterling. The current estimated value of that cargo ranges from $1-3 million with the lower number perhaps closest to the actual value.

The dictionary defines terrorism as the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

A purpose may well be also called an intention. Many times through history we see people act on good intentions only to bring about the reverse. No matter the quality of their intentions in the destruction of another's personal property, the political statement by the Sons of Liberty could very well be viewed as an instance of terrorist activity.

Of course, on the other hand one might also argue what some call a Machiavellian principle of "the ends justify the means." In other words, one might argue the actions of the Sons of Liberty were justified considering the ultimate goal. We reside now in a country dedicated to equality and freedom of speech and expression. That is an argument for another time.

At this point it might be prudent of us again to ask what's in a name. Considering this inflammatory juncture of our history is it wise to title a political party after an act that may arguably be considered an act of terrorism? What message does that send to our children, our allies or our foes?

How should we, the electorate, view those who run for office under such a banner? Should we judge intention, method, outcome, or some combination?

And so then we might finally ask, does the title of a political group mean anything of substance? Would a political organization by any other name smell as sweet?

Mike Gustkey, Kenai



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