Monday, July 07, 2008

Searching for the Spirit of Patriotism

Recently, sometime during the first weekend of July, when Americans were celebrating the holiday Independence Day, I read Bush used phony patriotism to start war, a newly released article by Father Andrew Greeley, the American priest/writer, scholar and social critic. In the article Greeley questioned the use of patriotism by George Bush to incite uninformed Americans to support his administration's invasion of Iraq. The main thrust of the article was that after the attacks of 9/11, most Americans were so incensed that they wanted revenge and could be easily manipulated. Under those circumstances, a leader who could connect dots between the hijackings of airliners and any whiff of anti-American feelings in the Middle East was bound to captivate an audience, and that was exactly what Bush did.

Greeley demonstrates convincingly what most concerned, informed and thinking individuals on earth today see as a fact: Bush wanted to punish Saddam and he wanted oil, and he believed that by connecting the dots and making war (even when Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11), he could have both of those AND he could reshape the politics of the Middle East to his and his neo-con buddies' liking. By using the patriotism card, i.e., by calling anyone who questioned him a traitor, Bush was able to conjure up all the support he needed and he got his war.

Patriotism is an important value for many people. But just how can we recognize it in the flesh? Some would have you believe that it is unquestioning support of a country's leaders and those leaders' whims. In Malaysia for many years that meant supporting Prime Minister Mahathir and his administration's views wholeheartedly. It meant turning a blind eye to any corruption in government, to any inequity in society, to any contested government policy or action and saying "If you're a patriot, you support the government. Period."

In America in the 1960s, patriotism meant supporting the Vietnam War, 100%. There was a bumper sticker that I remember from that time that read: AMERICA, RIGHT OR WRONG.

When Bush and his cronies started to try to sell an invasion of Iraq by saying that Saddam was researching a nuclear weapon that he would then surely turn over to "the terrorists," many people questioned that specific assertion and the general logic. Even Scott Ritter, a man who had been the lead UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, had questioned it. Bush, Cheney and their dearest supporters nationwide were very quick to label Ritter and anyone else who had questions as crazy, or worse, as people who were supporting the enemies.

Sadly, these accusations have not disappeared. After reading the Greeley article, I read comments that had been posted beneath it. I was shocked at the number who not only questioned Greeley's patriotism but who also said he would "burn in hell." After checking the websites of a few of these commentators I discovered an even more serious problem. Some of these guys aren't just out for Greeley's head, they want an entire religious war. For them it's not just America:Right or Wrong, it's a bigger fight, a clash of civilizations. They believe that they alone on earth are amongst the chosen few; that they alone on earth know God and know good from bad, right from wrong. They are the American Taliban.

It's for these people that I would like to propose a course in the ideas of one of America's founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson. Of course, the likelihood that members of the American Taliban would read anything by Jefferson is the same as them taking a trip to Singapore and visiting one of my classes. Zero.

For the rest of us, it might be good at this time of year to pay a visit to Jeff's former mountaintop home, Monticello, or to simply visit the White House website and read this wonderful quote: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."


Professor Philips said...

"My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right, but my country, right or wrong.”
-Senator Carl Schurz (R-MO) 1829-1906

Dee said...

Of late, patriotism is scant in Malaysia. The people are tired of the petty politicking. Winds of change, I hope.

(How odd, that your reader shares the same surname as I.)

giant said...

You know brother Peet, when it comes to war and peace, and durn near everything else, we're on the same page. I hear you. But if anything, perhaps--at least in regard to some issues--I'm even more radical. You wrote "Patriotism is an important value" but I would submit it's no value at all. It's a corruption of tribalism--which in itself has been discredited--but in the case of patriotism it goes far beyond discredited. At least it was natural for local communities--tribes--to band together and forge feelings of unity. For a country, however, it's unnatural, bereft of logic or sanity. Patriotism is utterly bankrupt. It's a feeling manufactured by politicians for their own nefarious ends, unwittingly swallowed by citizens searching for something to believe in. The best the patriots can do is tell me, 'Patriotism is love.' Sure. Yes. Right on! I say. So why use the term "patriotism"? How is patriotism different? So just let's love! Why limit love in that way? Truth is, you can't. If you aim it exclusively at your country-folk, it ain't love.

But hey, my soapbox runneth over. This is the topic that rankles me. I'm sure I'll come back from America quivering at all the rampant flag-waving. Bugger nation-states--be an Earth citizen!

Peet said...

You're 100% correct in my view when you bash patriotism, Giant. (So we do agree yet again.) I should have made it clearer in my post that, in fact, I meant that patriotism is "an important value" insofar as it's an issue that resonates with lots of people. In that way, whether someone like a politician or a writer or even a musical act (the Dixie Chicks, for instance) acts or sounds "patriotic" or "unpatriotic" can influence perceptions.

Also, as Greeley clearly shows, patriotism can be and has been used far too often in history to blind people, incite hatred and wreak havoc.

I have said many times that I consider myself as world citizen, and that if I could have a passport labeling me as such, I'd opt for it. What that means to me is that like you, I see the Earth as my home and as the place that we all should be focusing our energies on improving. However, we citizens need to initiate that effort within the communities where we live (as you did with your beach clean ups back in Akita, Japan). I guess for me hten zi see patriotism as only positive when it translates into a sort of constructive community pride--not something to gloat about, but an activist sense that we need to bond together as a people and make things better for ourselves and the place where we live. Yes, definitely, on a macro level, be an earth citizen, but on a micro level, we need to do our utmost where we might have the most impact, and for many that is for our immediate community (while seeing the big picture as well).

Does that make sense?

Guo Cheng said...

It is dangerous to over simply things. Life is complicated. Simple understandings usually don't work.