Monday, February 5, 2001

Week of 02/05/2001

Forced Patriotism?
- by David Matthews 2

So tell me.. do you love your country? You do? Great!

Now here’s the important question.. how much do you love your country? Would you die for it? Would you kill for it? Bleed for it? Give everything you have for it? Sacrifice your children for it?

What? You mean you aren’t as patriotic as I am? Well, how about if I put a gun to your head? There! Now you’re patriotic, aren’t you? Yeah, you’re all for your country now that I have a gun to your head!

As ridiculous as that sounds, there are a lot of people who want to do just that here in America.

Virginia State Senator Warren E. Barry wants your kids to be as patriotic as he is. So much so that he wants to force them to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. He feels such measures would foster a sense of patriotism.

And he’s not alone in this train of thought. All across America, legislators, politicians, and school administrators are trying desperately to enact rules that would force the young students of America to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or some patriotic passage either from that state’s constitution or from the Declaration of Independence.

And all across America, students who, for one reason or another, have decided to not stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance are being subject to punishment by teachers and school administrators. Punished, in essence, for practicing the very things America was founded upon.

America was created from dissention. It was created by a bunch of colonists who didn’t like how their government was handling things, so they rebelled against them. Our Civil War was a war of dissention. The northerners wanted to abolish slavery, and the southerners didn’t want to, so they rebelled. Even our struggles for civil rights in the 1950’s and 60’s were about dissention. You would think that a school, above all other places, would know such things.

Then again, this probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if you really knew your history. After all, the modern school system was created amidst the rise of the Industrial Society, when socialism was just starting to become popular. And the Pledge itself was created by a self-professed Christian socialist in 1892, and later introduced on Flag Day in 1924; a time during which socialist thinking was nurtured and developed.

Socialism is all about conformity, not individual freedom. Schools adhere to it, and their teachers preach it. You can find it in all of the structured rules school offers. Everything is compartmentalized into specific classes, specific students, specific tasks. Always in groups, never alone. You want to develop your own individual tastes? Fine, do it on your own time, not during school hours.

Bible-thumpers are adamant about wanting to put the Ten Commandments in the classrooms and force students to pray because they want to indoctrinate the young people into their religious beliefs. They know that schools are a way to condition and control the students, and they want to use that to their advantage. If the bible-thumpers can propose it, why not all of those people who have that "sense" of patriotism?

Well let’s get brutally honest here.. it is downright hypocritical for anyone.. politician, priest, teacher, soldier, statesman, world leader.. anyone.. to force patriotism based on a country that was founded on freedom and rebellion. It is nothing short of an insult for the men and women who fought and died for those principles to have them be part of some organized indoctrination program under the pretext of "fostering patriotism." That’s like raping a woman and then trying to convince her it was consentual.

Not everyone can take an oath or a pledge. For some people, it’s a matter of religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, cannot take a pledge. Would you force them to violate their religious beliefs just to fulfill one person’s demand for patriotic loyalty?

Another Virginia state senator put it best when she said "Insecure governments usually impose symbols of patriotism on their youth. Totalitarian governments always impose symbols of patriotism on their youth." Look at Nazi Germany. Look at the former Soviet Union. Look at China. Look at Cuba. Look at Iraq. Everywhere you go in those places, you’ll find patriotic symbols. Why are Americans, then, using those countries as models for our schools?

Real patriotism is not forced, and it’s not indoctrinated like one would learn the alphabet. It’s encouraged by a sense respect for your country. That’s not easy when your country has little or no respect for you.

Forcing someone to recite and oath or a pledge they don’t want to take makes that pledge meaningless. Instead of fostering respect for your country, you’re encouraging the people to be apathetic towards it with a bunch of empty words and meaningless gestures.

The Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken once said that "The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair." And how wisely put. I would suggest that those who consciously decide to NOT stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance are more patriotic than those who would rather impose that pledge on us all. They at least have a good reason other than "because I told you so!"

When this commentator plays Lee Greenwood’s "God Bless The USA" on his broadcasts, it is not done simply because some programming script calls for it, or because of some requirement imposed by the government. It is done to reflect the patriotism that is already there. Patriotism that comes after serious reflection and thought.

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best when he said the following: "Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let man label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country- hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of."

That is patriotism. You can learn about it, but you cannot impose it. It must come freely from each individual.

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