Patriotism and Anti-patriotism

"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" —— Nathan Hale, upon his execution in 1776.

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us —— that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion —— that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain —— that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom —— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." —— Abraham Lincoln, giving the Gettysburg Address in 1863.

"As not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." John F. Kennedy, giving his 1961 inaugural address.

"The entire country may disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for patriotism. Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country... I don't see why people care about patriotism." —— Natalie Maines, Dixie Chick extraordinaire, spilling her guts to the British press in June 2006.

Do you remember that old Sesame Street song?  The one that goes, "One of these things is not like the other one. One of these things just doesn't belong." It's pretty easy here to pick Ms. Maines out from two centuries of Americans who believed that our country was and is something special. Now that it's July 4th, her self—centered comments got me thinking about patriotism in the modern era.

As always, it's useful to start by focusing on the word itself. The dictionary defines "patriotism" as "Love of and devotion to one's country" (the American Heritage Dictionary) or "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it" (WordNet).   Although the first three quotations I've included are more emotive than the dictionaries' dry language, they mean precisely the same thing: patriotism is an individual's belief that his country is so special that saving it is worth sacrifice.

Natalie Maines, however, is the voice of the new American. First of all, she's staggeringly self—centered. It's all about Natalie: Do what you want, live where you want. As for anyone else's wants and needs, well, the Hell with 'em. This is all about me, me, me.

So, we can conclude that part of why patriotism has gone out the window for so many Americans —— especially young ones —— is because we live in an age where self—sacrifice, rather than being considered noble, is merely considered stupid. Why do something for your country, as Kennedy requested, when you can use the same time to get a latte and a massage?

There's also a huge dollop of multicultural guilt thrown into the fact that Ms. Maines questions whether "this land is our land?" Natalie's been raised to believe that we stole this land from the Native Americans and have no right to it. Even without the stain of America's treatment of the indigenous population thrown into the mix, you just know that Natalie believes that we white, imperialist, ugly Americans really don't qualify to call any land our own. Our legacy should be one of shame, not patriotism.

However, I don't see Ms. Maines volunteering to give anything back. She likes the perks of life that our capitalist system has created, and I don't see her riding the plains and killing her own food. It's enough merely to hate what she is and where she comes from.

Ms. Maines isn't the most articulate girl on the block, nor the deepest thinker, so I'll add two more things that I think color modern anti—patriotism. First, I think the Deutschland über alles patriotism that characterized the Nazis has left a lasting legacy, especially Liberals. Thus, Liberals believe that love of ones' country is the inevitable first step to concentration camps and dreams of World domination. Indeed, if you rewrite my last sentence so that "Gitmo" replaces "concentration camps" and "Iraq" replaces "world," you've basically spelled out the Left's fear of patriotism. To them, it's impossible for patriotism to be a celebration of what's good about America; instead, it is inevitably the beginning of totalitarianism.

If you think about this analysis, though, you realize that it puts the cart before the horse. It's not that patriotism leads to totalitarianism. It's that totalitarianism relies on blind patriotism to control people, and keep their focus away from the complete absence of freedom. Indeed, British Nurse Edith Cavell, whom the Germans executed during WWI, spoke before her death   about a pure form of patriotism: "Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

In other words, true patriotism, not mere jingoism, or racism, is the opposite of state—mposed thought, aimed at deflecting attention from the state and focusing it on the "other." A state—coerced patriotism —— "salute the flag or be whipped;" "hang a flag in front of your house or go to a gulag;" "'volunteer' for a 25 year stint in the military or be executed;" "blow up women and children to make a point" —— utterly negates the love and self—sacrifice for the greater good that characterizes the patriotism that drove Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln, and Edith Cavell. Instead, they'd simply be meaningless motions at gunpoint.

Second, uncomplicated American patriotism may simply have died on the spittle flecked streets of American cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That was when hippies screaming "My Lai" battled it out with construction workers hollering "My country right or wrong" or "America, love it or leave it." The problem with the latter slogans is that, while they tried pithily to express myriad complex beliefs about what America is and what patriotism means, they ended up being pretty unappealing concepts. The first implies that America has no obligation to look to a moral compass to guide her (bye—bye Irving Berlin's God Bless America with its idea about God guiding America to do the right thing). The second slogan apparently demands the same mindless obedience that one would see in a totalitarian regime. Once patriotism became entangled in those sayings, it was cheapened.

What we're left with is the question: is patriotism okay? I think it is. If we don't believe that there are core values and qualities that make America someplace special —— as distinguished from Ms. Maines' belief that you can go anywhere and get what you have here —— then the concept of nationhood becomes entirely meaningless. And while liberals may envision some halcyon world government, guided by a beneficent Kofi Anan, what will actually happen without any coalescing force is social and cultural chaos. People need something in which to believe, and the vacuum left behind by abandoning our own belief in ourselves will quickly be filled in a way that will leave Ms. Maines and her ilk yearning for the America she's so blithely castigating today.

So, hang up your flag, attend your parade, and say "God Bless America," not because the State or I are telling you to, but because you believe, as I do, that while America may not be perfect, she's still the best game around.

Bookworm is the pseudonym of the proprietor of the site Bookworm Room, who lives as a cypto—conservative in a very liberal community.

"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" —— Nathan Hale, upon his execution in 1776.

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us —— that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion —— that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain —— that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom —— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." —— Abraham Lincoln, giving the Gettysburg Address in 1863.

"As not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." John F. Kennedy, giving his 1961 inaugural address.

"The entire country may disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for patriotism. Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country... I don't see why people care about patriotism." —— Natalie Maines, Dixie Chick extraordinaire, spilling her guts to the British press in June 2006.

Do you remember that old Sesame Street song?  The one that goes, "One of these things is not like the other one. One of these things just doesn't belong." It's pretty easy here to pick Ms. Maines out from two centuries of Americans who believed that our country was and is something special. Now that it's July 4th, her self—centered comments got me thinking about patriotism in the modern era.

As always, it's useful to start by focusing on the word itself. The dictionary defines "patriotism" as "Love of and devotion to one's country" (the American Heritage Dictionary) or "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it" (WordNet).   Although the first three quotations I've included are more emotive than the dictionaries' dry language, they mean precisely the same thing: patriotism is an individual's belief that his country is so special that saving it is worth sacrifice.

Natalie Maines, however, is the voice of the new American. First of all, she's staggeringly self—centered. It's all about Natalie: Do what you want, live where you want. As for anyone else's wants and needs, well, the Hell with 'em. This is all about me, me, me.

So, we can conclude that part of why patriotism has gone out the window for so many Americans —— especially young ones —— is because we live in an age where self—sacrifice, rather than being considered noble, is merely considered stupid. Why do something for your country, as Kennedy requested, when you can use the same time to get a latte and a massage?

There's also a huge dollop of multicultural guilt thrown into the fact that Ms. Maines questions whether "this land is our land?" Natalie's been raised to believe that we stole this land from the Native Americans and have no right to it. Even without the stain of America's treatment of the indigenous population thrown into the mix, you just know that Natalie believes that we white, imperialist, ugly Americans really don't qualify to call any land our own. Our legacy should be one of shame, not patriotism.

However, I don't see Ms. Maines volunteering to give anything back. She likes the perks of life that our capitalist system has created, and I don't see her riding the plains and killing her own food. It's enough merely to hate what she is and where she comes from.

Ms. Maines isn't the most articulate girl on the block, nor the deepest thinker, so I'll add two more things that I think color modern anti—patriotism. First, I think the Deutschland über alles patriotism that characterized the Nazis has left a lasting legacy, especially Liberals. Thus, Liberals believe that love of ones' country is the inevitable first step to concentration camps and dreams of World domination. Indeed, if you rewrite my last sentence so that "Gitmo" replaces "concentration camps" and "Iraq" replaces "world," you've basically spelled out the Left's fear of patriotism. To them, it's impossible for patriotism to be a celebration of what's good about America; instead, it is inevitably the beginning of totalitarianism.

If you think about this analysis, though, you realize that it puts the cart before the horse. It's not that patriotism leads to totalitarianism. It's that totalitarianism relies on blind patriotism to control people, and keep their focus away from the complete absence of freedom. Indeed, British Nurse Edith Cavell, whom the Germans executed during WWI, spoke before her death   about a pure form of patriotism: "Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

In other words, true patriotism, not mere jingoism, or racism, is the opposite of state—mposed thought, aimed at deflecting attention from the state and focusing it on the "other." A state—coerced patriotism —— "salute the flag or be whipped;" "hang a flag in front of your house or go to a gulag;" "'volunteer' for a 25 year stint in the military or be executed;" "blow up women and children to make a point" —— utterly negates the love and self—sacrifice for the greater good that characterizes the patriotism that drove Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln, and Edith Cavell. Instead, they'd simply be meaningless motions at gunpoint.

Second, uncomplicated American patriotism may simply have died on the spittle flecked streets of American cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That was when hippies screaming "My Lai" battled it out with construction workers hollering "My country right or wrong" or "America, love it or leave it." The problem with the latter slogans is that, while they tried pithily to express myriad complex beliefs about what America is and what patriotism means, they ended up being pretty unappealing concepts. The first implies that America has no obligation to look to a moral compass to guide her (bye—bye Irving Berlin's God Bless America with its idea about God guiding America to do the right thing). The second slogan apparently demands the same mindless obedience that one would see in a totalitarian regime. Once patriotism became entangled in those sayings, it was cheapened.

What we're left with is the question: is patriotism okay? I think it is. If we don't believe that there are core values and qualities that make America someplace special —— as distinguished from Ms. Maines' belief that you can go anywhere and get what you have here —— then the concept of nationhood becomes entirely meaningless. And while liberals may envision some halcyon world government, guided by a beneficent Kofi Anan, what will actually happen without any coalescing force is social and cultural chaos. People need something in which to believe, and the vacuum left behind by abandoning our own belief in ourselves will quickly be filled in a way that will leave Ms. Maines and her ilk yearning for the America she's so blithely castigating today.

So, hang up your flag, attend your parade, and say "God Bless America," not because the State or I are telling you to, but because you believe, as I do, that while America may not be perfect, she's still the best game around.

Bookworm is the pseudonym of the proprietor of the site Bookworm Room, who lives as a cypto—conservative in a very liberal community.