Patriotism is defined, by dictionary.com, as “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.”
That’s it; that’s all there is to the definition of patriotism. There is no sub-clause in that definition stating that a patriot must support the troops in the exact same fashion as the vocal majority or minority. There is no clause that demands a patriot must be Republican or any other political party. In fact, the definition says “love of country” – not of government or policies or leaders or figureheads.
The calls to action within the definition of patriotism are simple; support, love, and defend your country. The greatest truths are often deceivingly simple and elegant – and usually worthless as a result. Just so with the definition of patriotism. It’s so simple that countless possible definitions could be applied. Thus it becomes meaningless at any level except the highest.
It’s as simple as supporting, loving, and defending my country. And as complex as that.
Since patriotism is such an open-ended and subjective concept, we must, all of us, decide what it means and how to best act upon it. You, me, your co-worker, your spouse, your siblings, your friends; we must all decide for ourselves what patriotism really is and how (and if) to act upon it.
How do most Americans, the teeming masses, define patriotism? Typically they choose the path of least resistance and define it the same way everyone around them does. That’s a dangerous and troubling realization if you stop to consider it. People don’t consciously define patriotism: they blindly follow the mob within which they find themselves.
I’ve ranted and railed about how the average man or woman on the street displays an astounding lack of critical thinking skills in my blogs. I’ve agonized over the split between science and religion. I’ve decried the use of pseudoscience to gain false validity for decidedly non-scientific disciplines. I encourage debate and differing opinions on my blog and on Facebook. But I was never called unpatriotic – until just recently.
There is a wave of patriotism devoid of critical thought sweeping this nation. Blind patriotism. It revolves around the United States military and the troops who put their lives on the line. It’s all over the social networks and I’m sure you’ve seen the messages floating around, virally growing and feeding as people blindly agree and forward on to others. The most common message, now seen on bumper stickers as well, is “If you don’t stand behind our troops, stand in front of them.”
There is no room for discussion about these messages and viral emails. There is no latitude to define how (or if) you support the troops. You can’t comment that you don’t support the reasons, the government rationalizations, that put our young men and women in danger. You either support the troops or you do not. There is no middle ground. That, people, is a False Choice Fallacy.
The false choice is that if you don’t support the troops (or at least appear to) in exactly the same fashion as everyone else, you are unpatriotic. I learned that lesson and was labeled unpatriotic when I tried to leverage my critical thinking skills in a debate on Facebook. I had the gall to ask the participants for specifics, for clarification, for facts. I had the nerve to break from the herd and speak out. I didn’t just blindly accept the viral and trite messages being bandied about.
This was all in reference to the proposed 1.4% pay increase for troops in Obama’s budget; the lowest troop budget increase in recent years. And yet, it aligns perfectly with the national growth in the private sector, as reported by the Army Times. I simply asked, “In a time of recession shouldn’t that be enough?” I pointed out the fact that 1.4% was small, but millions of Americans who don’t have housing guarantees like soldiers do, don’t have basic allowance for quarters, don’t have stipends for children, and don’t have guaranteed health care are also only averaging 1.4% (if they even have a job).
When the initial outrage grew over my questions, the participants began inferring that the troops deserve more simply by virtue of being soldiers. I pointed out that the bulk of our soldiers do not join for purely altruistic or patriotic reasons, but for the benefits and education they receive. These help them get a fast track on career and life. We don’t have compulsory service in the United States and serving is a job choice. Admittedly, it’s a job that can be highly dangerous; just as statistically a trash man holds one of the most dangerous job in America. I respect our soldiers. I support them – but I do not blindly give them entitlements just because they are soldiers working a job they chose to accept. I try to make sure my support can stand on the legs of logic – otherwise it doesn’t have any legs at all. The soldiers who fight for my freedoms deserve no less from me.
Those statements caused quite an uproar. You would have thought I was Osama Bin Laden, Hitler, and the Anti-Christ all rolled into one. I was attacked, told I had put my foot in my mouth, and it was suggested that the only reason I can even have such a “shitty” opinion is because of the soldiers who fight for my “ungrateful ass”. (which isn’t true at all; people in suppressed societies have opinions all the time – but it can be dangerous to express them)
I realized immediately that most people aren’t patriots; they are followers. Patriotism is like religion; you’re supposed to do it like everyone else and not question it. I’ve never been good at that.
People in the thread started pulling out “personal credentials” to impress upon me how firmly entrenched their patriotism is. They had relatives who had fought in three wars. They were married to a soldier. They had served three tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. They berated me and told me they felt sorry for me, but they supposed that even someone like myself deserves the right to an opinion.
I, too, have “credentials,” but they don’t mean much when it comes to defining personal patriotism. I grew up a Navy brat, moving all over the country my entire childhood as my father was stationed in different places. My brother served as a US Marine. My brother-in-law is a Commander in the Navy. My grandfather on my mom’s side fought in the Pacific in WWII. My grandfather on my father’s side was a POW for months in WWII, received the Purple Heart, and was actually knighted by the French government for his valor in the Battle of the Bulge. My best friend is currently halfway across the world in Dubai – a Navy diver who holds the extremely dangerous job of looking for mines attached to ships or mines floating in the harbor. I, personally, spend 40+ hours a week as a consultant for the Army National Guard; I am an IT contractor in charge of some very significant software projects with the Guard. I come from a family with a very strong military background.
I still ask questions, though, despite my “credential-laden” patriotic background. Does that make me unpatriotic? Do my attitudes mean that I, in fact, do not support the troops? How do I really feel about all of this?
Simply, I feel as I imagine Albert Einstein felt when he stated, “Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them!” I love my country. I think the idea of the United States of America is an amazingone. I grieve for the troops who are separated from their families; who fight and die – not against a country, but against a concept called “terrorism.” You can’t win a war against “terrorism,” any more than you can win a war against drugs. As neither terrorism nor drugs can be eliminated, because of basic human nature, we have a perpetual and never-ending war machine that funds itself from the very blood of our children.
I find it extremely hypocritical that the same people who claim I don’t support the troops never, ever, stop to question who or what those troops are fighting against. They have so completely bought into the concept that War is Necessary that they blindly support any and all military activities overseas, as long as they see CNN’s sanitized view of it. They resist with every fiber of their being the notion of peace or negotiations, or of acceptance of different cultures. These same people who label me unpatriotic don’t even question whether or not war is just, let alone necessary. These are the same people who support the “viral patriotism” movement sweeping our nation; the thoughtless acceptance and endorsement of hate-filled propaganda without any logical or critical thought behind it.
It was Malcom X who said “You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.” It’s wrong to denounce our President for being a diplomat who wants to wage war at the negotiation table instead of in the streets. It’s wrong to give up your liberties for the illusion of temporary security, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin. It’s wrong to send our troops to die when there may be other options available to us. It’s wrong to label someone who questions the government as unpatriotic, since patriotism has nothing to do with government and everything with country.
Do I support my country? Yes. I work, I vote, I debate, and I use my brain to weigh issues and question our government; just as every loyal American should.
Do I love my country? Yes The United States of America is, in my opinion, the best nation in the world. From sea to shining sea the United States is a beautiful country, founded on amazing ideal, and has been a shining beacon for the world to follow for generations.
Do I defend my country? Yes. While I can never be a soldier, I do what I can to support our troops by keeping their IT systems working professionally and, through my vote, by making sure our government doesn’t cavalierly send them into conflict.
Do I support our troops? Yes, I do. There are times and reasons why we have to send our troops in harm’s way. There are valid reasons for the wars we are fighting today. We are too quick, though, to send the troops into harm’s way at times.
Ultimately, I think the concept of “nations” is nothing more than “tribalism.” I long for the day when borders are no longer necessary and we speak not of nations, but of humanity, but that day is not today. Until then, I choose to support, love, and defend the United States of America in the way I see best.
Just because my definition of patriotism is not the same as the mindless, viral, masses doesn’t mean I am unpatriotic. I could argue that I am more patriotic, because I think about and have consciously chosen the reasons for my patriotism.
Don’t be blindly patriotic; think about it. Decide why you are patriotic. Above all, question everything. As Howard Zinn said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”
This post originally appeared on my original blog, http://www.binarybiker.com in 2010 and was, subsequently, included in the high-school/college anthology on patriotism in 2011, titled “Current Controversies: Patriotism” by Greenhaven Press.