Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Psychopathic Meaning of “Patriotism” to Militant Nationalists

By Time for change

By “militant nationalist” I’m referring to the type of person whose idea of “patriotism” is a belief that their country is better than any other country, their country is always right (with the possible exception of when a liberal is president), and anyone who believes differently and raises objections to their country’s actions during war time is unpatriotic at best, or treasonous at worst. This type of person supports every war that his or her country enters into, even in the absence of the slightest clue as to the purpose of the war. Thus, militant nationalism is very much akin to a religion* – more specifically, a fundamentalist religion. It provides the same type of unambiguous security feeling that a strict fundamentalist religion does – the feeling of belonging and the feeling that as long as one follows a rather simple set of rules one will be taken care of by one’s God/country.

Why do I choose to write an article about this subject? Two reasons: First, I believe that such people are terribly dangerous to our country and to our world. This is the type of person who supported Hitler in his genocide and his march to tyranny and war. And secondly, I believe that there are way too many people like this in our country today. Put the two of these reasons together, and what we have is a phenomenon that is leading our country and the world down the road to tyranny and widespread death and destruction.

Yes, I realize that what I’ve described here is somewhat of a stereotype, and perhaps there are not many people who fully fit that stereotype. After all, most Americans today do not approve of our invasion of Iraq, and most eventually came to disapprove of the Vietnam War as well. But a large part of the reason for that is our failure to achieve “victory” in those wars. How many Americans would have disapproved of them had we “won”? Stereotype or not, my concern is that there are way too many Americans today who at least approximate the definition I described above. And that is very dangerous.

* I am not anti-religion, though I recognize that my statement may sound that way. I believe that religion can and often does play a useful and important role in our society. I have nothing against it as long as it is not used as an excuse for war or other bad things.

It’s not what we do that counts – It’s what we say we do

Those who care about their fellow human beings and the direction of their country are willing to speak out when they notice an atrocity being committed by their country. To a militant nationalist, however, it is not the atrocity that is the problem – the much bigger problem is pointing out the atrocity. That makes their country look bad. The reaction to Richard Durbin’s 2005 Senate speech exposing torture at Guantanamo Bay makes this point perfectly:

Senator Durbin tells the U.S. Senate of Bush administration use of torture
In 2005, Senator Dick Durbin gave one of the most courageous speeches that has ever been given on the floor of the U.S. Senate: In response to an FBI agent’s eyewitness report of torture by U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay, he quoted that report to the U.S. Senate and made a comparison between our use of torture and the use of torture by historical regimes from other countries that “had no concern for human beings”. This is what Senator Durbin said:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here – I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what an FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

“On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for eighteen to twenty-four hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold… On another occasion, the air conditioner had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion…. with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor…”

No exaggeration there. How could there be? Durbin was simply quoting from an FBI report. But he didn’t stop there. Instead he went on to put the matter into historical context:

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in the gulags, or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no concern for human beings….

That’s what really got him into trouble – what enraged the militant nationalists. Why did Durbin do that? Simple. He was trying to make a forceful argument that our country should not do such things. He was hoping that his appropriate comparison of the Bush administration’s actions to some historical evil regimes might shame our country into reversing course – as can be seen by the continuation of his speech:

It is not too late. I hope we will learn from history. I hope we will change course. The president could declare the United States will apply the Geneva Conventions to the war on terrorism. He could declare, as he should, that the United States will not, under any circumstances, subject any detainee to torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The administration could give all detainees a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention before a neutral decision maker.

The reaction to Senator Durbin’s Speech
The militant nationalists were outraged by Senator Durbin’s speech. Not outraged by our treatment of prisoners, but by the fact that Durbin dared to point it out. Here is what Karl Rove had to say about it:

Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see … Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia.

Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantanamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot - three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the 20th century?

Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.

In other words, what’s important to Karl Rove and his ilk is not what we do, but how we are seen. It is not the Bush administration who puts “America’s men and women in uniform in greater danger” by violating the Geneva conventions. No, it is Durbin’s fault and Al Jazeera’s fault for broadcasting what people in other countries already know but which very few Americans have much knowledge of because our “journalists” are so concerned to protect us from this knowledge.

Conservative talk radio host, Hugh Hewitt, also had some revealing things to say about the meaning of Durbin’s speech, in his book, “Painting the Map Red”. After inaccurately implying that torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay represented “criminal conduct by a handful of out-of-control GIs not acting under orders”, Hewitt goes on to characterize the Democratic Party, referring to it as “defeatist”, having a “blame America first impulse”, having “suspicion of American military power”, and most important:

They are what they have so often shown themselves to be: a party of bitter hostility to the idea of American exceptionalism…

Ah, good old “American exceptionalism”! He thinks that’s a good thing. In other words, he (and militant nationalists in general) believes that our country has no obligation to live in accordance with international laws that were meant to protect the human rights of all humanity and to prevent war. Why do they believe that? Because in their view we’re so special and good that there is no need for us to prove it by restraining ourselves from the atrocities that other nations are expected to restrain themselves from.

The Iraq War as an example of militant nationalism

The Iraq War in general
There has been a great deal of talk recently about whether George Bush’s surge “worked”, given that monthly American military mortality figures are now down into the 30s. Closely related to this, there has always been much talk of the need to “win” the war. Virtually absent from corporate news media discussion of the war is what it would mean for the surge to be “working” or to “win” the war.

If the surge “works” or if we “win” the war, that will never erase the fact that we’ve killed approximately a million Iraqis, made refugees out of over four million, and ruined their infrastructure. Nor will it change the fact that most Iraqis hate us (polls consistently show that over 60% of ordinary Iraqis approve of violence against U.S. troops) and that our war has contributed to the expansion of al Qaeda by fueling Muslim hatred against us – the imperial occupiers of a Muslim country that never posed any danger to us. So if we “win” the war, what will we have “won”, other than the right for U.S. corporations to operate in Iraq, access to Iraqi oil, and the right to say that we “won”?

The April 2004 battle for Fallujah
Let’s take a look at the April 2004 battle for Fallujah as an especially egregious example of militant nationalism, as related by investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill in his book, “Blackwater – The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”. The background for this battle of Fallujah is that four mercenary soldiers who worked for Blackwater had been recently ambushed and killed by guerillas from Fallujah. That was in retaliation for U.S. soldiers shooting and killing several Iraqi civilians in Fallujah, in retaliation for peacefully demonstrating against the U.S. occupation. Scahill described the U.S. retaliation for the four slain American mercenaries in his book. I’ll begin with his description of the end results:

In the end, perhaps as many as eight hundred Iraqis (including hundreds of women and children) died as a result of the first of what would be several sieges of Fallujah. Tens of thousands of civilians fled their homes, and the city was razed… Far from asserting U.S. supremacy in Iraq, Fallujah demonstrated that guerrilla tactics were effective against the occupiers. The number of guerillas probably totaled no more than 400 out of a population of 300,000. But by assaulting a whole city, as if it was Verdun or Stalingrad, the US Marines managed to turn it into a nationalist symbol….

And the U.S.-created Iraqi security forces? As described by Anthony Shadid, in “Night Draws Near – Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War:

Iraqis in the U.S.-created security force began deserting their posts; some joined the resistance to the siege, attacking U.S. forces around the city. “In all, as many as one in four of the new Iraqi army, civil defense, police, and other security forces quit in those days, changed sides, or stopped working, according to Anthony Shadid. When the United States attempted hastily to hand over “responsibility” for Fallujah to an Iraqi force, some 800 AK-47 assault rifles, twenty-seven pickup trucks, and fifty radios … ended up in the hands of the resistance.…

Remember the above paragraph the next time that some politician or anyone else whines about the Iraqis not doing their part to help us. Or the next time some idiot says “When they stand up, we’ll stand down”. Iraqis who refuse to help us in our occupation of their country, or those who switch to the other side do so not because they’re “terrorists”, as George Bush calls them, but because they don’t like imperial occupiers who murder their women and children in the name of bringing them freedom and democracy.

And lastly, consider what a real journalist, Dahr Jamail, had to say about the state of journalism in our country with respect to its reporting of the battle of Fallujah:

In April of 2004, as a city was invaded and its residents were fleeing, hiding, or being massacred, there was considerable public awareness in the United States of human beings whose bodies had been mutilated in Iraq, thanks to our news media. But among thousands of references to mutilation in that month alone, we have yet to find one related to anything that happened after March 31st (when the Blackwater mercenaries were killed) … Mutilation is something that happens to Blackwater-hired mercs and other professional, American killers, not to Iraqi babies with misplaced heads.

Why are so many Americans militant nationalists?

I’m sure that one could write a book on the answer to that question, and I certainly don’t have the answer to it. But I do think it’s important to note that our “leaders” consider it very important to impart militant nationalistic thinking to the American people. Their motives may vary, but the end result is that there is great pressure put upon politicians and ordinary Americans alike to support American wars, regardless of the reasons for them. So in that respect, those Americans who have characteristics of militant nationalism are not necessarily fully to blame for their unthinking knee-jerk support for American wars. I was fortunate enough to have two liberal parents who brought me up to recognize that it’s important to think for myself rather than believe everything that I’m fed by the news media or other “authorities”. That’s one reason, I believe, why I try to be careful about judging those who weren’t fortunate in that respect.

With that in mind, a very revealing example of how politicians reject the truth about our country in favor of a cleansed and idealized version of the truth is the U.S. Senate’s rejection, in 1995, of the proposed National Standards for United States History (take a look at the table of contents), by a vote of 99-1 (The one vote against the resolution was cast because the Senator felt that the resolution wasn’t strong enough.)

The standards
The standards were produced by a policy-setting body called the National Council for History Standards (NCHS), consisting of the presidents of nine major organizations and twenty-two other nationally recognized administrators, historians, and teachers, and two taskforces of teachers in World and United States history, with substantial input from thirty-one national organizations. The document was created through an unprecedented process of open debate, multiple reviews, and the active participation of the largest organizations of history educators in the nation.

In November 1994, NCHS released its document, which was meant to provide purely voluntary guidelines for national curricula in history for grades 5-12. As explained by Gary Nash, who led the effort, these standards were meant to have one thing in common: “to provide students with a more comprehensive, challenging, and thought-provoking education in the nation's public schools.” Their signature features were said to include “a new framework for critical thinking and active learning” and “repeated references to primary documents that would allow students to read and hear authentic voices from the past”.

The controversy over the standards
One article derogatorily refers to the “multi-cultis” who it is claimed wrote the document to advance their “politically correct” and radically left point of view. Lynn Cheney aggressively criticized the document as containing “multicultural excess”, a “grim and gloomy portrayal of American history”, “a politicized history”, and a disparaging of the West. Other major critics of the document included Newt Gingrich and Republican presidential candidates Pat Buchanan and Bob Dole. Dole blamed the document on “the embarrassed to be American crowd” of “intellectual elites”. With regard to the criticisms of “grimness and gloominess”, Nash had this to say:

To be sure, it is not possible to recover the history of women, African Americans, religious minorities, Native Americans, laboring Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans without addressing issues of conflict, exploitation, and the compromising of the national ideals set forth by the Revolutionary generation… To this extent, the standards counseled a less self-congratulatory history of the United States and a less triumphalist Western Civilization orientation toward world history…

Reduced to its core, the controversy thus turned on how history can be used to train up the nation's youth. Almost all of the critics of the history standards argued that young Americans would be better served if they study the history presented before the 1960s, when allegedly liberal and radical historians "politicized" the discipline and abandoned an "objective" history in favor of pursuing their personal political agendas.

Nash then discusses the historians’ point of view:

On the other side of the cultural divide stands a large majority of historians. For many generations, even when the profession was a guild of white Protestant males of the upper class, historians have never regarded themselves as anti-patriots because they revise history or examine sordid chapters of it. Indeed, they expose and critique the past in order to improve American society and to protect dearly won gains… This is not a new argument. Historians have periodically been at sword's point with vociferous segments of the public, especially those of deeply conservative bent.

The meaning of patriotism to the militant nationalists

Thus it is that for a large segment of our population, “patriotism” has come to mean defending and glorifying the actions of our country, right or wrong (because our country is always right), especially during war time.

To me and other liberals, patriotism that is worth anything is almost the opposite of that: Out of concern for our fellow citizens, and out of concern for people of other nationalities as well, we would always prefer that conflicts be handled peaceably if possible, and that war should be used rarely and only as a last resort, in order to defend ourselves or to stop genocide or similar crimes against humanity. When our country acts wrongly we feel that it is better to expose the wrong so that it may be corrected, rather than to support or acquiesce to it out of a misguided sense of “patriotism”.

If so-called “patriots” feel that the attitude I’ve described here is not patriotism, or that it exposes my “hatred of America”, my answer to that is that their version of “patriotism” is nothing but an inability to face reality and a defensive, immature militancy that will result in the destruction of the world as well as their own country if they get their way. If that’s what “patriotism” has come to in this country, we are far better off without it.

Posted in full with author's permission.

Originally posted at

No comments: