To the Contrary

Why I'm not patriotic

It's July Fourth again, a day of near-compulsory flag-waving and nation-worshipping. Count me out. Spare me the parades and the martial music. And don't befoul nature's sky with your F-16s. You see, I don't believe in patriotism.

It's not that I'm anti-American, but I am anti-patriotic.

Love of country isn't natural. It's not something you're born with. It's an inculcated kind of love, something that is foisted upon you in the home, in the school, on TV, at church, during the football game.

Patriotism (especially in its malignant morph, nationalism) has done more to stack the corpses millions high in the last 300 years than any other factor, including the prodigious slayer, religion.

The victims of colonialism, from the Congo to the Philippines, fell at nationalism's bayonet point.

World War I filled the graves with the victims of the most foolish nationalism. And Hitler, Mussolini and Imperial Japan brought nationalism to new nadirs. The flags next to the tombstones are but signed confessions -- notes left by the killers after the fact.

The millions of victims of Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot have on their death certificates a dual diagnosis: yes communism, but also that other ism, nationalism.

The whole world almost got destroyed because of nationalism during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The bloody battles in Serbia and Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s fed off the injured pride of competing patriotisms and all their nourished grievances.

In the last five years in Iraq, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died because the United States, the patriarch of patriotism, saw fit to impose itself, without just cause, on another country. But the excuse was patriotism, wrapped in President Bush's brand of messianic militarism: that we, the great Americans, have a duty to deliver "God's gift of freedom" to every corner of the world.

The Congress swallowed it, and much of the American public swallowed it, because we've been fed a steady diet of this swill.

At times, the appeal to patriotism may be necessary, as when harnessing the group to protect against a larger threat (Hitler) or to overthrow an oppressor (as in the anti-colonial struggles in the Third World).

But it is always a dangerous toxin to play with, and it ought to be shelved up high with cross and bones on the label except in these most extreme circumstances.

To the extent that we're a great country -- not the greatest, mind you: that's a fool's game -- we're less of a great country today.

Because those things that truly made us great -- the system of checks and balances, the enshrinement of our individual rights and liberties -- have all been systematically assaulted by Bush and Vice President Cheney.

From the Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act to the new FISA Act, and all the signing statements in between, we are less great today.

From Abu Ghraib to Bagram Air Base and Guantanamo, we are less great today.

Admit it. We don't have a lot to brag about.

It is time, it is long past time, to get over the American superiority complex.

It is time, it is long past time, to put patriotism back on the shelf -- out of the reach of children and madmen.

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