Published on Tuesday, April 8, 2003 by the Philadelphia Inquirer
Think You Know What Patriotism Is?
by Jerry Long
I've always had a fairly simple definition of patriotism: You can take pride in being an American and still dislike Lee Greenwood songs.
While Americans may not know the nationalities of the Sept. 11 hijackers, let alone the members of the Carlyle Group, we all claim to know what is or isn't patriotic in time of war. But do we? If people incinerate Dixie Chicks CDs while remaining uninterested in the number of innocent lives our bombs have incinerated, are they patriots? Second-tier celebrities Mike Farrell and Janeane Garofalo are vilified for their positions, but third-tier celebrity Ben Stein can declare Iraq would be a "cakewalk." Is that patriotic?
If Gen. Richard Myers labels criticism of the battle plan by retired military men concerned for the safety of our soldiers as "harmful to our troops," what of the Perles and Wolfowitzes and Kristols who did so much to bring about this war while painting scenarios of a flower-strewn frosting trot? Did that support the troops?
Many who have never seen combat have found a fail-safe way to prove they are patriots: They tell us they are. William Bennett, who never fought for anything more consequential than grant money, writing a book titled Why We Fight might not be as morally leprous as the jingoistic professor in All Quiet On The Western Front, but is it patriotism?
As for the media, in the months preceding our invasion, there was so much laughter at Pentagon press briefings reporters should have been charged a two-drink minimum. Was that patriotism?
Cable news programs will exhibit our weaponry, they will explain the ingenious capability with which it can kill... but they will not show us the dead. They will not show us the blood-spattered marketplace, the chunks of flesh, the severed head, the liquefied remains. Those images are reserved for the rest of the world.
Yet these same news organizations, which don't give a moment's thought to how the average Egyptian may view "situation room" set designs of Americans literally walking all over a map of the Middle East, will invariably ask themselves in sonorous tones: "Why do they hate us?" And nothing in the conclusions they draw will discourage an average citizen from believing that an Iraqi teenager who lost his entire family in a bombing raid hates us because he, in the words of our President, "hates our freedom." Is that patriotism?
Saddam is a butcher... but he always was. And it would have been nice if tough-talking Don Rumsfeld, during one of his early '80s grovels to Baghdad, in lieu of warm handshakes and canape nibbling, had shot him. It would be even nicer if so many of our leaders had not chosen to embed themselves with profit.
Dick Cheney amassed a fortune peddling connections made during the first Gulf War. Did he give any of that money to the families of the 148 Americans who died to win it?
Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell fled the 9/11 commission rather than reveal, or discontinue working for, their international clients. Vast bipartisan armies of retired politicians are fanned out over Capitol Hill, dedicated to maintaining the status quo on the security of our nuclear plants, food and water; representing the interests of foreign governments and multinational corporations, with no greater concern for future ramifications beyond their billable time for the next quarter. Is war profiteering by lobbyists the same as patriotism?
Just before his Oval Office speech announcing war, President Bush was shown joking with the makeup assistant, pumping his fist, and exclaiming, "I feel good." And while I'm unconditionally uninterested in how he feels, I do care what he thinks.
Does he truly think God has called him to fight evil? How does God tell him which evil to fight? How much evil will God sanction to destroy a great evil? And... if he knew this war would result in only one dead Iraqi child and one brave 20-year-old's casket on the tarmac at Dover, would Jesus "feel good" about starting it?
Or aren't those the thoughts of a patriot?
Jerry Long (JerryBeggar@aol.com) and his brother Joe are known as the satirists the Sturdy Beggars.