Patriotism in the Age of, well, Patriotism

Nothing has been harder for me to wrap my arms around than “Patriotism” and what makes one a “Patriot.” I remember an older definition (and wish I had the attribution to give) That said a Patriot is one who fights for their country and win. Otherwise, they are a rebel/traitor/terrorist. Perhaps that is true, but I have never been comfortable with the notion that patriotism means fighting–and yes, it usually means physical interaction, not just wars of words.

Now, usually I don’t spend TOO much time thinking about such things, except these days accusations are flying that people are not “Patriots.” What truly strikes me as “interesting” is the radio-ical left (Al Franken, Janeane Garafalo, and the like) essentially standing indignant that “the radical right” is calling them unpatriotic. (And, alas, I have no direct citations
here either–just weak old-dude memory.) Unfortunately, I dont’ remember anyone actually accusing anyone of being “unpatriotic” and the only use of “Unamerican” I remember since the McCarthy era was Theresa Kerry’s use a week and a half ago, which she conveniently forgot that she had even said.

So what does it mean to be “American” and what does it mean to be “Patriotic?” Should this even matter?

Perhaps we are all missing the bigger picture. Yes, our nation was attacked, and yes we are deeply divided from the election in 2000. Unfortunately, we as a nation are so conditioned to place blame rather than fix problems, that we cannot be satisfied to put our shoulders to the grindstone, and just “fix things.” What do I mean by this, by this notion that we “need” to place blame? This is an even deeper problem.

As a nation we feel “someone must pay” when something happens. We see this in the highly litigious nature of our world, where everyone has the right to “sue” when they are offended, or affronted, or hurt. Why? Because “someone” must pay. In many instances that is perfectly fine–if I company knowingly sells a product that, when used as intended will potentially harm the careful consumer, they should pay for that act. People, and corporations, should be accountable for their decisions and their actions.

It’s when this need for accountability spills over into holding people accountable for the actions of others that I have problems. The Columbine shootings are one example of the larger pathology. When the people who commit evil, such as the two boys in Columbine and the terrorists on the airplanes from 9/11/2001, kill themselves in the process, we seem to somehow feel “cheated.” “We” are unable to exact revenge, to punish, and thus we start to look elsewhere for someone to “make pay” for this. Quite often I hear “someone must pay for…” and then we seek to find someone, anyone, that we can blame. Perhaps it is some deep psychological need for this elusive “closure” that people feel they need. I am not sure, but I do know it takes time, energy, and resources away from those things which could make a difference. For instance, the 9/11 Commission has spent millions of dollars to find what we all really knew. Terrorists were directly responsible. Our government was not prepared for such an event, and the benign neglect spanned several administrations.

Wow–no wonder President Bush didn’t want to have the Commission. I suspect he knew that we would all learn what we all already knew–and it would distract attention away from the things that mattered.

So how does this tie to Patriotism? Simply because people on all sides, in a frenetic effort to “assign blame” have a tendency to assign motives as well.

  1. President Bush wasn’t opposing the Commission because he understood that they would find nothing new, but was rather participating in a vast cover-up. This hypothesis has even been put forward in part by Michael Moore, and others, who assert Bush knew about the effort for 9/11 and passively participated in the conspiracy.
  2. The War in Iraq was “obviously” all about the oil–just ask Janeane Garafalo. Forget that the supposed benefits of “having the oil” haven’t been seen. Forget the fact that even the 9/11 Commission concluded that there were ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam (although not in the planning/execution of the event.) Forget that millions of people were tortured and killed by Saddam, and that we have seen the liberation of a people who for 30 years lived under tyrannical rule. Those are just inconvenient facts. The war was certainly all about the oil.
  3. Michael Moore hates America–certainly this is clear because he made a movie that attacked the President through a twisting of the facts, and resequencing or ignoring key issues. Yes, I am defending Michael Moore–in the sense that I believe he honest is acting out of love of country in making his movie.

You see, by definition, according to The American Heritage Dictionary a Patriot is “One who loves, supports, and defends one’s country.” We might not agree with their methods. In fact, we might not agree on what the country should be doing, or even how it looks, but we all want to see Her defended. Michael Moore’s vision of what America should be disagrees with mine. I actually believe his vision is harmful, but I understand that he is acting out of a love for what America can become.

Patriotism may be lacking in America. There are probably not enough people willing to stand up, support, and make sacrifices for America. But we should, even while disagreeing strongly, acknowledge and praise those Americans who are willing to take a stand for what they believe America can be, even if that vision is at odds with our own.

Are there any questions? If not, class is dismissed.


One little side note I discovered while researching this. The title “PATRIOT Act of 2001” is actually an acronym. It is “Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” And we don’t think congress is creative.