Wednesday, July 04, 2007


"Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it." - George Bernard Shaw

Rethinking Patriotism
by Lucinda Marshall

Several months ago when I wrote an essay questioning the appropriateness of military air shows as a form of community-sponsored family entertainment, I received a number of responses. The gist of most of the letters was that the military defends our freedom and without it, I could not write these words. Indeed, I was told that to criticize militarism is unpatriotic and how dare I impugn the honor and integrity of those who serve in the armed forces defending the American way of life.

But what precisely is this American way of life that our military purportedly defends? We live in the richest country in the world, yet unlike other developed countries that have universal health care, tens of millions of people in this country do not have health insurance and our medical care system comes in dead last behind comparable countries. Millions of children go to bed hungry every night and our educational system is leaving far too many children behind. The standard of living of all but the rich has fallen and people are losing their homes. Our energy use and wastefulness is a toxic disgrace.

In the name of all this, we squander trillions of dollars to send our troops to fight a war that was justified by lies. In Iraq we have killed an uncountable number of innocent people and so destroyed the infrastructure of the country that millions of children are starving to death and one in eight children will die before their fifth birthday. Going to school or feeding one’s family is all but impossible and millions have now become refugees living in unspeakable conditions. The result of all this is that violence continues to escalate, more and more people hate our country and the world is a far more dangerous place. And when all is said and done, we bring our wounded warriors home to the squalid conditions of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

To defend a government that claims these actions in the name of “democracy” is hardly patriotic. At best, it might be construed as nationalism. As George Orwell once put it, “The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

Indeed in the aftermath of the atrocities that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, in a scene that seemed scripted by Orwell himself, American flags started to appear everywhere–on cars, lapels and babies’ bottoms. That defecating on the flag to which we pledge allegiance could be construed as patriotism should surely have given us pause to wonder if perhaps the true meaning of patriotism has been hijacked.

Clearly what was conveniently forgotten in this unquestioning, reflexive flag-waving is that dissent in the face of tyranny is the ultimate act of patriotism, it is in fact how this country was founded. We Americans are long overdue for a very serious discussion of just what it is that we are defending, which by any definition is a far cry from democracy or freedom.

There is no excuse for putting the interests of our way of life over that of any other country or people and in doing so we only harm ourselves. To continue to misconstrue militarism as defensible in the name of patriotism is bankrupting our country and imperiling the planet, its resources and all of its citizens. If we continue along this path, there will, in the end, be nothing left to defend.

As July 4th approaches, it may well be time to consider whether patriotism and the defense of national borders is in fact an outmoded concept. Instead of Independence Day, perhaps it is time to declare an Interdependence Day and to pledge allegiance as global citizens, to build our strength by nurturing our resources rather than plundering them, by nurturing all of the world’s citizens, especially the young. Most of all, it is time to pledge to end the wanton destruction of the planet and the politics of hatred and greed that divide us.

Have we reached the point where patriotism is just a quaint ideal? It seems to serve no useful purpose other than to herd the "sheeple". Patriotism attaches a moral justness to the nation that it doesn't deserve. Maybe patriotism isn't dead. But the way in which Republicans define it, it is. Patriotism isn't something that is measured to determine your level of commitment to the country in which you live.

I know it's probably not right but I'm usually embarrassed when I see overt signs of patriotism -- whether it be a bunch of ribbons on a car, too many flags on your house or just the way someone talks. Mostly it's because I don't feel that they really understand what patriotism is. Some are overly patriotic because they served in military and they don't want to feel that their service was in vain. Others are patriotic because they have a very low sense of self and the only way that they have any pride is through a group. Hell, I've seen both of those just in my own family.

I'm not trying to be a downer, but I'd just like to see a few people remember the real reason for the holiday -- to commemorate our actual Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain Inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness ...". It's not to celebrate the military. There are enough other holidays to do that. I get it -- "Support the troops" -- blah, blah blah. I'm sure the troops are starting to see it's a bunch of bullshit. These so-called patriotic types that keep sending them overseas for endless periods of time for pointless wars are not "supporting the troops". If we want to prove we support them, then bring them home.

I'd even be happy if people just enjoyed their families, cooking out and baseball on the 4th. To me, that's way more American than honoring a gun or tank.

"The time is fast approaching when to call a man a patriot will be the deepest insult you can offer him. Patriotism now means advocating plunder in the interest of the privileged classes of the particular State system into which we have happened to be born." - Tolstoy

"Patriotism means unqualified and unwavering love for the nation, which implies not uncritical eagerness to serve, not support for unjust claims, but frank assessment of its vices and sins, and penitence for them." - Alexander Solzhenitsyn


Laura said...

"If we want to prove we support them, then bring them home."

Or give them adequate disability benefits, ensure their families don't have to subsist on food stamps, and buy them the equipment they need to be as safe as possible in such a dangerous situation... Or maybe even show a modicum of self-sacrifice for the good of our so-called cause? Gone are the days when average folks are asked to ration their use of resources so more can be given to the troops. No - we're told - Go, drive your gas-guzzler, run your lawn mower (god forbid your LAWN isn't perfect - isn't that what we're fighting for? Our freedom to have perfect lawns??), keep buying shit you don't need on credit you don't have to keep the all-important economy going. God forbid we're asked to do anything but go about our daily business... pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...

I'm with you, I don't see how waving a flag magnet on the back of your Range Rover is supporting our troops at all.

CyberKitten said...

Some rag newspaper over here has tried to start a campaign to get government buildings to fly the Union flag, which is something I happen to agree with...

Yet their reasoning is that we should be doing this to rub our solidarity in the faces of any future terrorists....

So far Scotland Yard (the HQ of London's Metroploitan police has refused to do so... probably for all the right reasons.

I believe that government buildings should be flying the national flag because they are part of the State apparatus - not for some silly idea of patriotism.

dbackdad said...

"... show a modicum of self-sacrifice ..." - Exactly. I really wonder what the original support of the war might have been if the level of sacrifice (in consumption and in personal involvement) was comparable to World War II. But no, this president goes out of his way to stress that everything should be business as usual. Gotta keep those engines of commerce going. Heaven forbid that we would do anything for the common good.

CK -- I have no problem with government buildings (or even businesses) flying the flag. Individuals certainly have the right also. It's just the conspicuous overdoing of it and the jingoism that rubs me the wrong way. I know there are plenty of people that fly it for the right reasons. But I also know there are plenty that fly it for the wrong reasons, as a sort-of "fuck you Mexicans and Arabs, this is America. This big flag is a substitute for my small brain and penis". And don't get me started on the morons over here that feel compelled to fly the confederate flag. Their stupidity knows no bounds.

dbackdad said...

Just saw this great essay on patriotism and the flag by Howard Zinn:

Put Away the Flag