The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 2)

Perhaps this is truer than people are willing to recognize?

This post is a continuation of an earlier one, “The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 1).” Read it first!

Looking at patriotism in this way, it’s easy to see how things can get carried away. The sense that the loss of an American life is more devastating than the loss of an Iraqi’s or any other person’s life instills Americans with a dangerous sense of superiority, of an almost racist nature.

Not only can this give Americans too much of a “proud to be an American” sense, it inherently devalues any who aren’t American!

Nationalism can take many forms, but I would say that any amount of patriotic zealotry is too much. I recently saw some of this on a blog I had the misfortune of coming across, called “Patriotic Mom.” The mom, whose name is Pamela Reece, gushes in a post about her patriotism, and how central it is to “being American.” One of the comments on the post, by one Josh Ondich, reads as follows: “Patriotism can be used as good like the National Anthem or the pledge, but has been used by dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joesph Stalin to invade countries and impose mass genocide against millions of people. using patriotism for war is using it for terror. -Peace”

Now, I thought this was a perfectly valid and fairly unbiased point. The guy was simply pointing out an observation he had made. This was Pamela’s response:

Using patriotism for war? Perhaps you have forgotten about 9/11!! Remember? When war was declared on the U.S.? We are defending America and fighting the global war on terror. Patriotism is standing by America…recite the words of the National Anthem and remember 9/11. Do this and you will understand.

United we stand!

Now, maybe I’m just blind or stupid, but it seems like this response is exactly what Josh Ondich is warning of. Besides that, Pamela Reece’s “comeback” argument illustrates perfectly the kind of fanatical, almost mindless patriotism that many Americans use to justify all kinds of evil. The line, “Patriotism is standing by America… recite the words of the National Anthem and remember 9/11. Do this and you will understand,” is particularly appalling. To me, the advice to recite our National Anthem and remember 9/11 is reminiscent of Soviet-style nationalism or the advice some Christians give: “Just pray to Jesus and you’ll understand the truth!” It shows a terrifying immaturity of thought and a dangerous unwillingness to listen to any kind of disagreement, insisting that a “good American” doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t need answers.

Perhaps more infuriating though, is a “tribute” on the left side of the page, a slideshow with images of 9/11 and the bombing of the USS Cole, which then transitions to the words “Never Forget Who Did It,” which is followed by pictures of Middle Eastern men. This victim mentality was used by George Bush to embroil the US in two devastating wars, and is still the opinion of many conservatives (particularly evangelical Christians) in the United States.

As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” I can think of few things that are more blinding than such an insistence on national superiority. Patriotism is good when it’s used to express valid pride in country and culture. But it, perhaps more than any other sentiment, can become poisonous extremely quickly. As soon as patriotism is turned into a justification or reasoning for war, torture, or other such crimes against humanity, it can become nationalist, McCarthyistic fervor, which is no better than the religious fanaticism American patriotism is so often turned against.






Filed under Human Rights, Politics & Power

2 responses to “The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 2)

  1. Emily

    We all possess patriotism whether we like to admit it or not. I have never heard anyone say that patriotism will eventually be “turned into a justification or reasoning for war, torture, or other such crimes against humanity.” It sickens me that you would think like this. You are American, are you not? Osama Bin Laden, for example, was his death another result of American patriotism? In case it has slipped your mind, he second-handedly slaughtered thousands of innocent, American lives. What do I label his death as? Some true American justice. What about the attacks on Pearl Harbor? Take a good look at the photographs of the remnants of Pearl Harbor after the Japanese demolished the city, killing 2, 402, and left 1, 282 wounded. And when Japan refused to surrender we dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima. What would you call that? Americans blinded by their patriotism? No, it was, once again, American justice and vengeance for the blood smeared on Japan’s hands. So please keep your hands off the keyboard if you’re going to say that American patriotism will eventually be “turned into a justification or reasoning for war, torture, or other such crimes against humanity.” Because blaming patriotism just won’t cut it.

    • Thanks for the comment Emily.

      If you read my post carefully, you’ll have noticed that I never said that patriotism “will eventually be” turned into a justification or reasoning for war, etc. I said that it is “as soon as” it is turned into a justification for these things that it becomes dangerous.

      Note one of the last lines in my post:
      “Patriotism is good when it’s used to express valid pride in country and culture.”

      Osama bin Laden’s death may well have been justice served. But invading Iraq in the name of a national war on an international ideology? That logic just won’t cut it. Do you know how many people were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Most of them civilians, I might add? Between 150,000 and 250,000. I’d rather not have foreign policy dictated by vengeance and gut anger.

      Again, I never said that patriotism will eventually become a justification for these things, I said that it can be twisted and used as a tool to justify them.

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