“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” - Edward Abbey

Friday, July 3, 2009

Patriotism: The Last Refuge of Scoundrels

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Woo-hoo! It’s the 4th of July!

As the nation prepares to celebrate its 233rd year of Independence, we must stop and remind ourselves of the great price our forefathers paid to secure the freedom we enjoy today. In most of the towns and cities across the nation, there will be flags hung out on the front porch, picnics in the back yard, parades down Main Street, concerts & speeches in the town square, and fireworks lighting-up the night sky. Most of the revelry will focus on our history. The founding fathers will be resurrected, and the talk will focus on patriotism.

That got me to thinking. What exactly is patriotism? And what role does it play in our present lives?

According to Merriam-Webster, patriotism is defined as a “love for or devotion to one's country.” Surely something we should all aspire to.

I should think most Americans would like to claim to have at least some level of patriotism, however shallow that may be. Hanging the flag from the front porch, wearing red,white & blue, and singing the National Anthem at the ball park are all swell and everything, but I don’t think that doing these things necessarily makes one patriotic. Nor is blindly supporting the actions of our government.

It seems to me that patriotism requires more than that. If one truly loves one’s country, he/she will demand that his/her country champion a higher standard, and hold it accountable when it violates that standard. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn summed it up best, stating, “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”.

If only such men were alive today.

Instead, we have a Congress composed of careerist politicians who act as agents for corporate interests, be they national or global. Acting as such, our Congress has betrayed those who voted for them – those people whom they maintain they represent. The Executive Branch of our country is no different. Here again, corporate interests reign supreme. The Oval Office has been reduced to a lobby for moneyed interests.

This betrayal of America is evidenced by the sell-out of American workers through so-called “fair trade” treaties like NAFTA, GATT, and CAFTA. It is manifested in tax-payer funded bail-outs of private industries, the tax breaks given to large corporations, the surrender of our monetary system to a private interest - the Federal Reserve System, the government-approved raping and pillaging of our land and environment for the short-term interests of industry. The list goes on…

And we still have on-going wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Wars whose primary aims are to secure access to oil, to protect oil pipelines, and to establish a more stable political environment for corporate ventures. It goes without saying that these wars are being funded by the taxpayer, and paid for with the blood of our soldiers and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians. Meanwhile, the oil industry and private corporate interests rake in the profits.

Selling-out our country and going to war are no small feats. They require a lot of support from the citizenry to allow Congress to authorize such actions. So just how did previous administrations garner the public support that made these actions possible? How is the current administration maintaining that support?

They exploit patriotism!

Government appointees and industry experts tell us that free trade is in the best interest of the American worker. It will create jobs that will keep America strong. We are warned that corporate giants are too big to fail. We all have to chip in and make sacrifices like our parents and grandparents did during the Great Depression to help get America back on her feet. We are told that America is the envy of the world, and industry fuels the engine that keeps America running. To meet our energy needs, we need to drill for oil in National Parks, we need to clear mountain tops to erect wind turbines, we need to dam our great rivers, etc, etc.

Going to war requires a more orchestrated campaign – one that turns the notion of true patriotism on its head. The American flag is dragged out, displayed prominently, and waved freely. Falconers released their trained eagles to soar over public gatherings while the band strikes-up its repertoire of Sousa marches. Emotional speeches memorializing past heroes, warnings of imminent dangers, and calls for immediate action are made against this star-spangled back-drop. Brilliant images of what America’s future could be, if and only if we stand together behind the war machine, are described for us in poetic language. It is a performance that would make Himler envious.

Anyone questioning the motives or objectives of the war is cast as unrealistic and cowardly – even a traitor. In a nutshell, the expression of true patriotism is made to seem, well - unpatriotic. Nazi Luftwaffe Commander, Hermann Goering summed the strategy up best, stating, “Naturally the common people don’t want war…But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along... All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”

So that's patriotism for you: Blind allegiance to one's country, Unquestioning support for official policy, Right or wrong - the best nation on earth.

Well, I love this country too much to follow the lemmings over the cliff. I consider myself as American as Johnny Cash and apple pie. But please, please, please, do not call me a patriot!

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