Monday, October 22, 2001

Week of 10/22/2001

American Patriotism – Real and Faux
- by David Matthews 2

"Group extremely important as an element giving satisfaction to the members of the group and particularly to those who have few other reasons to feel proud and worthwhile." - Erich Fromm

I know this is going to come as a shock to some people, but there are quite a few Americans who are not as patriotic as they think they are.

No, I’m not talking about the members of the US House who scurried away like scared little mice while members of the Senate stuck through an Anthrax sweep. That kind of overriding self-preservation has a long history. Even Thomas Jefferson – the third President of the United States, and author of the Declaration of Independence – didn’t stick around to defend his own home in the face of the advancing British troops. What members of the House did may not be acceptable, but it was understandable.

And no, I’m not talking about all of those peaceful protesters out there who think somehow that we should do nothing while terrorist groups continue to prey on Americans and cause chaos at every turn. You know which ones I’m talking about… the ones who think that pig bastards like Osama bin Laden should be sued, not shot. The ones who sit in academia pontificating with leaps of rational faith that would make even Robert Ripley choke about how WE are responsible for the deaths of 6000 innocent Americans and the destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon. The ones who, for perhaps personal or religious beliefs, are opposed to any sort of violence, even in response to violence inflicted upon us. Though we may strongly object to such views, they are no more a threat to American patriotism than they are a nuisance.

No, my friends, the biggest threat to American patriotism comes not from those who would rather flee than fight, nor those who would protest the people who would stand and fight. Rather, from those who would consider themselves to be patriots and yet not know what they are patriotic about.

You can’t really call these people "false" or "fake" patriots, because what they feel is as genuine as anyone else is. They are passionate about what they feel… but it isn’t for the same vision of America some of us would hold.

I would call it "faux" patriotism. It looks genuine, just like imitation crabmeat looks like the real thing; or just like Astroturf looks like real grass. But under close inspection, you know these things just are not the same as the real deal. So is the same with faux patriotism.

Oh, it looks the same. They’ll wave the same flags, sing the same patriotic songs, and pledge the same unending, unyielding, undying support for America. But underneath all of that pomp and flag-waving lay a stark contradiction to everything America stands for.

For instance, not too long ago, there was a push by many of these so-called "patriots" to force students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Not encourage, not teach, but force, whether or not that student has objections, or if that student’s religious beliefs prohibit taking such oaths or pledges. Ironically, it is a Pledge that was written by a self-professed Christian socialist… a political ideology that many of these so-called "patriots" would proclaim to hate.

Strange - don’t you think - that a country based on principles of freedom would force people to recite a pledge even if their religion opposed it? But that is what faux patriots believe in.

How about a country that prides itself in the freedom of speech, and then goes to great lengths to curtail that speech? Remember all of those protesters and dissenters who object to striking out against terrorists and the countries that support them? Well there is many a faux patriot who would like to have those with dissenting opinions tried for treason. They wouldn’t mind resurrecting the unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Act just to silence anyone that disagrees with our current course of action overseas.

I don’t even have to get into the issue of flag burning, because you know these faux patriots are quick to turn the American flag into a false idol. If the founding fathers hadn’t already designated a national animal, these faux patriots would have easily chosen a golden calf over a bald eagle.

Of course, these faux patriots are all for the freedom of religion… provided it is one of those religions that THEY approve of. Of course, these are the same patriots who would then demonstrate outside of Muslim mosques, and proclaim that this ongoing War on Terrorism is really some resurrected combination of the Crusades of the Dark Ages and the Spanish Inquisition.

And woe be the person who objects to them putting the government’s "unofficial" seal of approval on their religious beliefs! After all, wasn’t America "founded" on religious crusaders who were pissed off because THEY weren’t allowed to expunge other religious believers? That is, after all, why the Puritans made their way to Plymouth Rock, right?

And then there is the "need to know" crusade to make sure the government finds out everything going on with "We the People". After all, they would argue, didn’t we get INTO this mess because we didn’t know what the bad guys were doing? If we knew what they were doing, then we would’ve stopped them from carrying out their plans. Privacy, they would argue, is for people who have something to hide.

These are trying times, these faux patriots would say, and if you aren’t with us – unequivocally, unconditionally, and unquestionably – then you’re with THEM!

To be fair to these people, faux patriots really do believe in a vision of America. It’s a crystal-clear vision of the way things used to be. The way things were once upon a dream. The way things they think OUGHT to be. And if it takes an act of international tragedy, an act of aggression that any rational human being would consider to be an act of pure evil, to change the course of a great country like America into their image… well then these faux patriots would say "so be it." They may never ever consider themselves the instigators of such evil, but they have no qualms capitalizing on it.

But let’s get brutally honest here… their vision of America is that of the 1950’s. A society made paranoid by fears of a nuclear holocaust and wild rumors of communist spies in every neighborhood. Comparisons refreshed by today’s fears of terrorism both conventional (if such a term can ever apply) and biological, and wild rumors of possible nuclear terrorism. A paranoid America that gave rise to publicity whores like Joe McCarthy, and allowed bible-thumpers to further instill their religion into government to supposedly "counter" the god-less Soviets.

Is that the kind of America you want to give to your kids? Is that the legacy our generations wish to leave the next? A society that fails to learn the lessons of the past, and is thus condemned to repeat them? Do we really want to turn America into a nation whose only freedom that is truly defended is the right to be a Lemming?

If we truly care about freedom, we have to make sure that those who would take that freedom away don’t do so under the guise of patriotism. It’s easy to march down the path towards tyranny when that path is paved with pomp and flags and banners and colorful slogans. That’s how all tyrants get to power in the first place, not by coercion, but rather by appealing to one’s sense of patriotism, and then twisting that path to their liking.

So let’s see what real Americans patriots do that make them differ from the faux patriots.

Real American patriotism is based on freedom. There is no room in freedom for tyranny, coercion, or fear.

Real American patriots TEACH freedom in schools. They don’t try to force it, because they know you cannot force others to be free. Freedom comes from a free mind.

Real American patriots don’t try to make idols out of patriotic symbols. They appreciate the real value of symbols and don’t try to place them above what they represent.

Finally, perhaps it is best if we remind ourselves of the words of Mark Twain as he talked about patriotism:

"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."

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