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Howard Zinn on Patriotism

At some point soon the United States will declare a military victory in
Iraq. As a patriot, I will not celebrate. I will mourn the dead -
Howard Zinn on Patriotism
At some point soon the United States will declare a military victory in
Iraq. As a patriot, I will not celebrate. I will mourn the dead - the
American GIs, and also the Iraqi dead, of which there will be many, many
more. I will mourn the Iraqi children who may not die, but who will be
blinded, crippled, disfigured, or traumatized, like the bombed children of
Afghanistan who, as reported by American visitors, lost their power of
speech.

We will get precise figures for the American dead, but not for the Iraqis.
Recall Colin Powell after the first Gulf War, when he reported the "small"
number of U.S. dead, and when asked about the Iraqi dead, Powell replied:
"That is really not a matter I am terribly interested in."

As a patriot, contemplating the dead GI's, should I comfort myself (as,
understandably, their families do) with the thought: "They died for their
country?" But I would be lying to myself. Those who die in this war will not
die for their country. They will die for their government.

The distinction between dying for our country and dying for your government
is crucial in understanding what I believe to be the definition of
patriotism in a democracy. According to the Declaration of Independence -
the fundamental document of democracy - governments are artificial
creations, established by the people, "deriving their just powers from the
consent of the governed", and charged by the people to ensure the equal
right of all to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Furthermore,
as the Declaration says, "Whenever any form of government becomes
destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish
it."

When a government recklessly expends the lives of its young for crass
motives of profit and power (always claiming that its motives are pure and
moral ("Operation Just Cause" was the invasion of Panama and "Operation
Iraqi Freedom" in the present instance) it is violating its promise to the
country. It is the country that is primary - the people, the ideals of the
sanctity of human life and the promotion of liberty. War is almost always
(one might find rare instances of true self defense) a breaking of those
promises. It does not enable the pursuit of happiness but brings despair and
grief.

Mark Twain, having been called a "traitor" for criticizing the U.S. invasion
of the Philippines, derided what he called "monarchical patriotism." He
said: "The gospel of the monarchical patriotism is: 'The King can do no
wrong.' We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant
change in the wording: 'Our country, right or wrong!' We have thrown away
the most valuable asset we had: the individual's right to oppose both flag
and country when he believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it
away; and with it all that was really respectable about that grotesque and
laughable word, Patriotism."

If patriotism in the best sense (not in the monarchical sense) is loyalty to
the principles of democracy, then who was the true patriot, Theodore
Roosevelt, who applauded a massacre by American soldiers of 600 Filipino
men, women and children on a remote Philippine island, or Mark Twain, who
denounced it?

With the war in Iraq won, shall we revel in American military power and -
against the history of modern empires - insist that the American empire will
be beneficent?

Our own history shows something different. It begins with what was called,
in our high school history classes, "westward expansion" - a euphemism for
the annihilation or expulsion of the Indian tribes inhabiting the continent
- all in the name of "progress" and "civilization." It continues with the
expansion of American power into the Caribbean at the turn of the century,
then into the Philippines, and then repeated marine invasions of Central
America and long military occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

After World War II, Henry Luce, owner of Time, Life and Fortune, spoke of
"the American Century", in which this country would organize the world "as
we see fit." Indeed, the expansion of American power continued, too often
supporting military dictatorships in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle
East, because they were friendly to American corporations and the American
government.

The American record does not justify confidence in its boast that it will
bring democracy to Iraq. It will be painful to acknowledge that our GIs in
Iraq were fighting not for democracy but for the expansion of the American
empire, for the greed of the oil cartels, for the political ambitions of the
president. And when they come home, they will find that their veterans'
benefits have been cut to pay for the machines of war. They will find the
military budget growing at the expense of health, education and the needs of
children. The Bush budget even proposes cutting the number of free school
lunches.

I suggest that patriotic Americans who care for their country might act on
behalf of a different vision. Do we want to be feared for our military might
or respected for our dedication to human rights? With the war in Iraq over,
if indeed it is really over, we need to ask what kind of a country will we
be. Is it important that we be a military superpower? Is it not exactly that
that makes us a target for terrorism? Perhaps we could become instead a
humanitarian superpower.

Should we not begin to redefine patriotism? We need to expand it beyond that
narrow nationalism which has caused so much death and suffering. If national
boundaries should not be obstacles to trade - we call it globalization -
should they also not be obstacles to compassion and generosity?

Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own? In
that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would be
unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world. Human ingenuity
would have to search for other ways.

Tom Paine used the word "patriot" to describe the rebels resisting imperial
rule. He also enlarged the idea of patriotism when he said: "My country is
the world. My countrymen are mankind."
LIAR LIAR 14.Apr.2003 21:29

LIAR LIAR

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multilateralism or bust 14.Apr.2003 21:58

dude

multilateralism or bust.

nice article 15.Apr.2003 00:12

reader

Thanks, that's a nice article by Zinn. I like his idea of the U.S. being a "humanitarian superpower" instead of a military one.

My country, right or wrong 15.Apr.2003 00:21

Dwight Van Winkle

When right, to be kept right.

When wrong, to be put right.

Carl Schurz, German-born U.S. general and U.S. senator, said in 1871, "Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right."

This is responsible patriotism.

Truth hurts 15.Apr.2003 17:17

Rhinocratic Truth hurts

Liar, are you Lars Liarson?
The truth hurts doesn't it?
Read Zinns a peoples history of the US and you will
see that this war is about imperialism not liberation.

rhinocratic