Monday, October 22, 2007

Can We Question Patriotism?

Is it fair to question an individual’s patriotism? In today’s political arena, it is common to hear the phrase, “How dare you question my patriotism…”, or, “I don’t question his patriotism, but…” I have wondered for some time now when this became such a big taboo.

What is Patriotism? Is it simply a love of country? Or is it more complex? Perhaps patriotism is the desire to see your country be the greatest on the planet. If so, then sometimes a patriot is required to question the direction his or her countries leaders are taking the country. Questioning leadership doesn't detract from patriotism. What of those in the United States and Europe who believe their particular country should be part of a larger, “trans-national” organization. Does that factor into Patriotism? If you actively believe your country should take a backseat to decisions made by the European Union or by the United Nations, are you still wanting the best for your country?

This is a topic with no easy answers. I believe there are examples of people who were obviously lacking patriotism. Someone who commits treason should definitely have their patriotism questioned. Other emotions and feelings can be difficult to evaluate, but we can all point to examples of someone lacking that quality. Does a husband who beats his wife really love her? Does it matter what he says?

However, if patriotism can’t be questioned, that must mean that everyone is a patriot. If that is true, surely some of the logical patriotic acts should be encouraged by people from both sides of the aisle. Perhaps as a first suggestion I might offer a patriotic history class in public schools. Not one that would whitewash our mistakes as both individuals and as a nation, but one that would teach our mistakes and also celebrate our successes as a nation.

I believe there are people in the United States who will blame the United States as a knee jerk reaction to many of the problems in today’s world. While some of this comes from at least a somewhat “questionable” notion of patriotism, I think much of it comes from a lack of knowledge of our country. I think the more one studies the history of the United States, the more one sees the incredible good our country has also produced throughout its still relatively young lifespan. Have we made mistakes? Sure, but they are few and far between compared to the good things we have done.

If Patriotism is something that shouldn't be questioned, then let’s start teaching patriotism in our schools. Let’s show our children why they should be proud to be Americans, and why they should aspire to be patriots themselves.


Jayne d'Arcy said...

My own interpretation of patriotism is a faith and believe in my country and its citizens. I don't believe I should blindly follow, but that if I have concerns, I should question those I've helped to elect to represent my interests. I also believe that as a patriot, I have the right to question my leaders motives without being thrown into prison.

Brandon said...

What is patriotism? It is loving your country, without being afraid to disagree and criticize its policies and/or its leaders. It is also something that you cannot be taught, you either love your country, faults and all, or you don't.

North Korea brainwashes its people to believe that Kim Jong Il is a great leader and that DPRK is a great country. However, just because the people faithfully repeat the phrases, they aren't truly being patriotic.

Andy D said...

Both of you have very good comments.

I am not sure that I believe Patriotism can't be taught. I am convinced that a hatred of one's country can be taught. I also believe that our public schools do a terrible job of showing students why they should be proud of their country. I don't believe patriotism should be forced on anyone. However, we should teach the "glory and romance of our great history". Then let students decide for themselves what they think.

familyman said...

Hey Andy.

You say, "I believe there are people in the United States who will blame the United States as a knee jerk reaction to many of the problems in today’s world." This is probably true. But you have to admit that it is also true that there are probably just as many people om the flip side of that coin who will jump to the defense of the United States as a knee jerk reaction, out of some idea that patriotism means unquestioning loyalty.

You also say, "I think the more one studies the history of the United States, the more one sees the incredible good our country has also produced throughout its still relatively young lifespan. Have we made mistakes? Sure, but they are few and far between compared to the good things we have done."

Has the U.S. done a lot of good in the world? Yes. Of course we have. But to say our nation's mistakes and misdeeds have been few and far between is to be too generous I think.

About a full half of the time our country has existed we spent systematically wiping out the native population. Slavery lasted almost 100 years after we declared independence. And there are number of relatively recent examples of our country allying with rather undesirable despots around the globe due to a very short-term view of foreign policy.

Patriotism is a devotion to your country despite it's flaws. Of course there are times when someone's actions should lead us to question their patriotism. But criticizing your country when they've done something wrong is part of being patriotic. Not a reason to question someone's patriotism.

Andy D said...

I find it interesting that every comment so far has included the right to question your country. I don't disagree with that at all. I don't think I hinted at thinking questioning the country was unpatriotic either.

I would disagree with your summation of what happened to the native population. About 90 to 99 percent of the Indians that died on contact with the Europeans died because of disease. The Indians also made war on each other every bit as savage as what we did to them. Did we do things that were wrong? Sure, Look no further than the Trial of Tears for an example of that.

Slavery was a terrible thing, and from the earliest moments of the formation of the U.S. there were people fighting against it. Slavery lasted a little less than 90 years from the Deceleration of Independence. However, we did get rid of it. There are still areas of the world that practice slavery, so in that light I think we have done a good job.

We helped protect the world in two major world wars, we have been at the cutting edge of science that has benefited the world, and in more recent years, or charity to other nations has surpassed many of our allies combined.

Our foreign policy has made mistakes, but it has also protected countless people. Taken on the whole, the U.S. has been a force of good in the world and that is the lesson that needs to be taught to our children.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't we be clear that "patriotism"--and even "nation"--is something of an abstraction? I mean, wouldn't it be weird to ask for a yes or no answer to the question: "has Chicago has been a force for good or evil in history?" It's been both, of course, and there's no way to sort all of Chicago's history and individuals and actions into two piles: good or bad.

I love the United States very much and am proud of it, but I don't like being pushed to make a choice between it either being essentially "bad" or "good," or "worse" or "better" than other countries. I also love Cincinnati, Ohio, but it would never occur to me to ask if that city itself was essentially *good* or *bad*, or whether it was to be loved more or less than St. Paul, Minnesota, or Austin, Texas. Reality is a lot more complicated than that kind of binary thinking. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't love the city, and work for it's good--which includes pointing out when things happen there that are unhealthy. There are things that could happen while I live there that would make me love it more. There are also some extreme things that could make me hate living there and make me want to change the place or leave. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

I take the basically the same attitude toward my home country.

Brandon said...


The way that I look at patriotism, it is a love from your country. You can no more teach a child to love their country than you can teach a girl to fall in love with you. I don't know if you can be taught to hate your country either, although you can be taught to hate your government, as racial supremacists do all the time with their children.

I do agree with you however that our schools do a terrible job of teaching U.S. History, they either rush through the material trying to get as far as possible, or they barely make it past World War II because they were too detailed on earlier parts of our history.

Andy D said...

Anon and Brandon, good comments both.


You said that you don't like being pushed to decide if the United States (or Chicago in your example) is basically good or bad, or if it is any better or worse than other countries. To me, that opens up an entirely new discussion. What you are describing (and you may or may not even intend to) is relativism. In that school of thought, you can't call a nation or a group of individuals good or bad because everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and we aren't entitled to pass judgment on those beliefs. I think that is ok when you are talking about nations such as England, Canada, Australia, etc. However, when you start talking about nations such as China, North Korea, Iran, Saudia Arabia, or Cuba, relativism falls apart. Just as there are certain actions that can always be described as good or bad, there are nations that have historically acted in a positive manner in the world an nations that have acted in a negative manner. To say we can pass judgment on those nations leaves us open to repeat their mistakes.


To a certain extent you are right. However, if the girl never sees anything good that you do, how will she ever find anything about you to love? If we don't teach our children the good things this nation has done, how will they ever find the capacity to love it?

Anonymous said...

Andy, thanks for the thoughtful response. As a liberal, one thing I appreciate about conservatives is that they clearly see the dangers of pure relativism. Trying to water down the differences between nations like, say, present day Costa Rica and Nazi Germany, is really stupid and dangerous. Liberals do that sometimes.

I think conservatives can be blind in other ways. In the run-up to our most recent invasion, y'all painted Iraq as if it were Nazi Germany, and it was far from it—and many of who pointed that out were accused of being naïve or unpatriotic. Let's be clear: Iraq was a dangerous, unjust, and unstable place. But by most objective standards, Iraq has now become much, much more dangerous, unjust, and unstable. There are more than 4 million refugees--that's more than Saddam ever created. And the present war has unquestionably killed more innocent civilians than Saddam ever did.

I'm not being a relativist. I'm appealing to a (conservative) sense of justice: killing innocent civilians or making them refugees is wrong. It doesn't make it more right when my own country participates in it. No country should get a free pass when it comes to injustice--that would be a nasty kind of relativism.

The pure-good-vs-pure-evil schemes of conservatives and the wishy-washy relativism of liberals are both wrong: they both ignore the actual, on-the-ground complexities of reality. And both ways of seeing the world bring serious and unpleasant consequences. Look at George W. Bush. Look at Neville Chamberlain.

Once you put a complex entity called a "nation" in a box and call it essentially good or bad (whether you're talking about Canada or Iran), you blind yourself to the different individuals and realities that make up the place. During *most* of the history of Georgia, black people weren't fully legally considered, well, people. That's evil, but I don't think it makes the people or the state of Georgia essentially evil. That would be a stupid way of thinking. That would avoid the complexities of reality. Does that make me a relativist?

Brandon said...


If you think that I'm implying that we shouldn't teach our history to our children, that's not what I'm implying. Just as you would need to let a girl know facts and information about you so she could fall in love with you, you have to teach our children about our history.

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but you seem to be implying that teaching our children our history = patriotism. However, just as one girl might fall in love with you after learning who you are and another might not, patriotism is the same way. The persons who don't love this country tend to move to a country that they agree with, I'm not sure that we should worry about their lack of patriotism.

Andy D said...

No Brandon, I know you aren’t implying that we shouldn’t teach our children History. I don’t think simply teaching them history will make them all patriots either. However, I do believe that our current history curriculum does a very poor job of giving students many reasons to celebrate our nation. I am simply in favor of teaching students both the success and failures of our nation and letting them decide for themselves if they want to be patriots or not.

Anon, I think many of your facts about Iraq are simply incorrect. Saddam Hussein was an evil man. He was every bit as evil as Hilter. Saddam routinely used WMD’s on his own people. He had torture compounds. When people were executed, the family was sent the bill for the execution. He was evil and needed to be removed. Iraq is still a dangerous place to live. However, the Iraqis don’ t live with the brutal tyrant that was Hussein. The news hasn’t been reporting it lately, but things in Iraq have taken a massive turn. Is Iraq a sunny paradise? No. Is Iraqi life better than it was under Hussein? Yes.

Do you really believe that more innocent civilians have died since this war started than for the entire time Saddam was in power? If so, who is killing them? Even the most liberal news coverage I have seen hasn’t been so bold as to try and make that case.

I understand that the world is a complex place. However, when you use relativism as an excuse not to label evil what it is, then you end up endorsing that behavior.

pack04 said...

patriotism: love for or devotion to one's country.

I love my wife but sometimes she pisses me off. I am devoted to my wife but sometimes i want to watch a baseball game rather then grey's anatomy.
same for my country.
when i go out with my wife there is nobody else i want at my side. when i go out, here in the USA and in the rest of the world, i want people to know I am AMERICAN. i accept the bad from the past and the good from the past. I expect and strive for good in the future and will deal with the bad. I accept the actions of our government because I am one of the people that put it in place and gives it its power, therefore I am responsible for it.

as for education: 3 parts of education...parent, teacher, student. stop laying the "failures " of education only at the feet of teachers. remember what they are directed to teach is set by school boards on local, state and federal levels. the school boards are voted in. you want a change in what is taught. vote somebody else in.

iraq comments: throw the killings out this discussion because thousands die every year in our country from violence and most of them are civilians. here is the question: my life controlled by a dictator or my life controlled by my vote? i'll take the vote. i think they are a little better off now. but that is my opinion and that does not matter much because it is their lives and their country. if they need help and ask for it, i think as a good neighbor we give it.

Anonymous said...

Human Rights Watch estimates that as many as 290,000 civilians were killed under 20 years of Hussein's rule. President Bush estimates that as many as 200,000 more were killed. That's as many as 24,500 people each year. I am with Andy: that is the face of evil.

Opinion Research Business estimates that 1,220,580 Iraqi adults have died violently in the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, as of August 2007. That's 244,516 per year. I am with the people killed: that is the face of evil.

Now, there are complexities to deal with, of course. And part of that complexity is some level of U.S. culpability for this evil reality. If Bush would have listened to his own intelligence agencies who told him a) no WMD in Iraq and b) you'll start a civil war and c) create regional instability and d) there'll be no end in sight, we might have found another way to deal with a dictator who had killed many people in the 1980s and 1990s (when Reagan and Bush I were presidents).

And we can't "throw the killings out." We started the freakin' war. Take some responsibility for it. If y'all had turned Iraq into Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, you would have taken the credit for being right in all your predictions--now take the blame like a man.

pack04 said...

Anonymous i am assuming you are calling me a girl ("now take the blame like a man") because i said throw out the killings. i would like to assume you can read because you can type but I do not think I can. if you would read the other comments on this page you would realize that my comment that started with "Iraq comments:" implied i was talking about the comments on Iraq previously stated in the comments by other people. the one asking if Iraq is better now then it was with Saddam running things. I guess my response to that was hard for you to understand. I was saying if you remove all the killings, the wmds, the right decision or not, info known or not known, info listened to or not listened to i feel that life under a dictator is not as good as one under an elected government. yes people die when forms of governments change. life under British rule was not good. then we had a revolution (change in government), people died and life got worse. I for one, as a patriot (topic of this post), am sure as hell glad we did not give up when it was worse. I am saddened by those that died but I am glad at the good that came of it.
In my post i also said i accept the good and the bad of our country. i voted in the last election and the one before that as well. I voted for people according to what they had done before, not done before and what i thought they were going to do. i think that is taking responsibility.
I've taken more responsibility then our congress (and by that i mean both republicans, democrats and independents) who had access to the same info Bush did but yet seem to want to run away from responsibility faster then they want to run away from the war.

as a final note before you go calling people girls i would suggest that you: read, think, think again and then write.

Anonymous said...

Dude, I didn't call you a girl.

Just sayin' you should own up to all those dead Iraqis.

You know: you wanted the war, you got it, now own up to it like a man.

pack04 said...

Man I thought with no response from you for a while you were taking my advice and thinking and then thinking again but I guess you skipped the first part of the suggestion about reading...
I did "own up to those dead Iraqis." I vote, that is how people in a democratic republic get their voices and opinions heard and enacted. And you know what I voted for people who voted for the war because at that point in time I thought they would best represent me. And not just because they voted for the war. Next election I will most likely vote the same way again. I never said I wanted the war at any point. Before you try to throw the previous 4 sentences in my face let me explain what the previous 4 sentences mean. I voted for people not just based on their vote on the war. I do accept that my decision to vote for them means I accept their vote for the war. What more responsibility or owning up to it do you want? We have the war, Americans that is, and now we have to deal with it. You do not deal with it by blaming it on somebody who does not completely condemn the war at some point in their blog post.
Finally, in case you failed biology or life in general. There are two types of humans in the world male (man) and female (woman). When you tell somebody to be like "a man" you are thus implying that said person is not a man and should act like a man. Or in other words that person is a woman.
That is all, I am tired of explaining things to you in extreme detail.

Andy D said...

Anon, very few people take the 1.2 million deaths as a result of the U.S. Invasion seriously. However, As part of the action in Iraq, there have been deaths. I think your primary point is that those deaths are the result of U.S. actions. There have been some like that. However, the majority of innocents killed in Iraq have not been from U.S. firepower but from Al-Queda and other groups operating within Iraq trying to kill Iraqis and Americans. These groups are intentionally trying to turn the Iraqi’s against the U.S. Al-queda has decided that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. We can either engage them there, or let them pick a new battlefield and try to engage them there.

In any military action there will be innocent civilians who get killed. This is tragic, and regrettable, but it is also the face of war. There are a laundry list of reasons why we should have gotten involved in Iraq. I think it is fair (and doesn’t question anyone’s patriotism to discuss those issues). I believe we were right to get involved in Iraq, and I believe we continue to do the right thing by staying in Iraq. Is U.S. involvement in Iraq the “face of Evil”? Unquestionably not. Only a moral standard that ignores right and wrong would say that.