To many Americans, it seems that patriotism is the flag-waving unquestioning devotion to the United States and its armed forces. July 4th and Memorial Day bring out these sentiments everywhere, and we are constantly reminded to be patriotic, support our troops, to pledge allegiance to our government above all else, and remember those in the armed forces that died for our freedom.
Many “patriotic” people get mad at those that point out that the United States has never, in its entire history, lived up to those words in the pledge: “with liberty and justice for all.” In fact, when the pledge was written in 1892, slavery was not yet a distant memory. Segregation and racial discrimination were still the norm. White juries, especially in the south, sentenced black men to death on the flimsiest of evidence, while exonorating white lynchers that were clearly guilty. It’s considered “unpatriotic” or “against America” to mention these things, especially around July 4.
As a pacifist, I’ve often had trouble understanding this sense of patriotism, the honoring of those that died in the military, and have never really felt it myself. To me, a great tragedy is that so many of those in the armed forces died, but not for our freedom. An obvious example of that is Vietnam. And this is not a slam against the people that were there; it is a complaint about people that think every military action is justified and preserves our freedom. It’s also about the people that think that these actions must be taken, no matter the cost of human lives on the other side. That American lives are more important than Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Iranian, or Iraqi lives.
So, I’ve tended to think about patriotism as rather unseemly. What purpose does it serve, I thought, to be blindly devoted to one’s government, supporting its every military move, even when people are clearly dying without preserving our freedom or anyone else’s?
Many of those people would also tell me to be thankful that we have more freedoms than anyone else (I’m not so sure that’s true) and that my comments make me ungrateful.
I heard yesterday an interesting point: we Americans do have many rights and privileges. Yet with each one comes responsibility for us as citizens. A democracy cannot function unless its citizens think, evaluate, and throw out the people that take the country in the wrong direction.
I’d advance this hypothesis: A true American patriot is one who seeks, speaks, and votes the truth.