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Rethinking Patriotism

Several months ago when I wrote an essay questioning the appropriateness of military air shows as a form of community-sponsored family entertainment, I received a number of responses. The gist of most of the letters was that the military defends our freedom and without it, I could not write these words. Indeed, I was told that to criticize militarism is unpatriotic and how dare I impugn the honor and integrity of those who serve in the armed forces defending the American way of life.

But what precisely is this American way of life that our military purportedly defends? We live in the richest country in the world, yet unlike other developed countries that have universal health care, tens of millions of people in this country do not have health insurance and our medical care system comes in dead last behind comparable countries. Millions of children go to bed hungry every night and our educational system is leaving far too many children behind. The standard of living of all but the rich has fallen and people are losing their homes. Our energy use and wastefulness is a toxic disgrace.

In the name of all this, we squander trillions of dollars to send our troops to fight a war that was justified by lies. In Iraq we have killed an uncountable number of innocent people and so destroyed the infrastructure of the country that millions of children are starving to death and one in eight children will die before their fifth birthday. Going to school or feeding one's family is all but impossible and millions have now become refugees living in unspeakable conditions. The result of all this is that violence continues to escalate, more and more people hate our country and the world is a far more dangerous place. And when all is said and done, we bring our wounded warriors home to the squalid conditions of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

To defend a government that claims these actions in the name of "democracy" is hardly patriotic. At best, it might be construed as nationalism. As George Orwell once put it, "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

Indeed in the aftermath of the atrocities that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, in a scene that seemed scripted by Orwell himself, American flags started to appear everywhere--on cars, lapels and babies' bottoms. That defecating on the flag to which we pledge allegiance could be construed as patriotism should surely have given us pause to wonder if perhaps the true meaning of patriotism has been hijacked.

Clearly what was conveniently forgotten in this unquestioning, reflexive flag-waving is that dissent in the face of tyranny is the ultimate act of patriotism, it is in fact how this country was founded. We Americans are long overdue for a very serious discussion of just what it is that we are defending, which by any definition is a far cry from democracy or freedom.

There is no excuse for putting the interests of our way of life over that of any other country or people and in doing so we only harm ourselves. Too continue to misconstrue militarism as defensible in the name of patriotism is bankrupting our country and imperiling the planet, its resources and all of its citizens. If we continue along this path, there will, in the end, be nothing left to defend.

As July 4th approaches, it may well be time to consider whether patriotism and the defense of national borders is in fact an outmoded concept. Instead of Independence Day, perhaps it is time to declare an Interdependence Day and to pledge allegiance as global citizens, to build our strength by nurturing our resources rather than plundering them, by nurturing all of the world's citizens, especially the young. Most of all, it is time to pledge to end the wanton destruction of the planet and the politics of hatred and greed that divide us.

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