Some Thoughts on “Patriotism”

The Anti-Empire Report

Some thoughts on “patriotism” written on July 4.

Most important thought: I’m sick and tired of this thing called “patriotism”.

The Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor were being patriotic. The German people who supported Hitler and his conquests were being patriotic, fighting for the Fatherland. All the Latin American military dictators who overthrew democratically-elected governments and routinely tortured people were being patriotic — saving their beloved country from “communism”.

General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, mass murderer and torturer: “I would like to be remembered as a man who served his country.” ((Sunday Telegraph (London), July 18, 1999))

P.W. Botha, former president of apartheid South Africa: “I am not going to repent. I am not going to ask for favours. What I did, I did for my country.” ((The Independent (London), November 22, 1995))

Pol Pot, mass murderer of Cambodia: “I want you to know that everything I did, I did for my country.” ((Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong), October 30, 1997, article by Nate Thayer, pages 15 and 20))

Tony Blair, former British prime minister, defending his role in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis: “I did what I thought was right for our country.” ((Washington Post, May 11, 2007, p.14))

At the end of World War II, the United States gave moral lectures to their German prisoners and to the German people on the inadmissibility of pleading that their participation in the holocaust was in obedience to their legitimate government. To prove to them how legally and morally inadmissible this defense was, the World War II allies hanged the leading examples of such patriotic loyalty.

I was once asked after a talk: “Do you love America?” I answered: “No”. After pausing for a few seconds to let that sink in amidst several nervous giggles in the audience, I continued with: “I don’t love any country. I’m a citizen of the world. I love certain principles, like human rights, civil liberties, democracy, an economy which puts people before profits.”

I don’t make much of a distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Some people equate patriotism with allegiance to one’s country and government or the noble principles they supposedly stand for, while defining nationalism as sentiments of ethno-national superiority. However defined, in practice the psychological and behavioral manifestations of nationalism and patriotism are not easily distinguishable, indeed feeding upon each other.

Howard Zinn called nationalism “a set of beliefs taught to each generation in which the Motherland or the Fatherland is an object of veneration and becomes a burning cause for which one becomes willing to kill the children of other Motherlands or Fatherlands. … Patriotism is used to create the illusion of a common interest that everybody in the country has.” ((“Passionate Declarations” (2003), p.40; … Z Magazine, May 2006, interview by David Barsamian))

Strong feelings of patriotism lie near the surface in the great majority of Americans. They’re buried deeper in the more “liberal” and “sophisticated”, but are almost always reachable, and ignitable.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the mid-19th century French historian, commented about his long stay in the United States: “It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.” ((Democracy in America (1840), chapter 16))

George Bush Sr., pardoning former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five others in connection with the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal, said: “First, the common denominator of their motivation — whether their actions were right or wrong — was patriotism.” ((em>New York Times, December 25, 1992))

What a primitive underbelly there is to this rational society. The US is the most patriotic, as well as the most religious, country of the so-called developed world. The entire American patriotism thing may be best understood as the biggest case of mass hysteria in history, whereby the crowd adores its own power as troopers of the world’s only superpower, a substitute for the lack of power in the rest of their lives. Patriotism, like religion, meets people’s need for something greater to which their individual lives can be anchored.

So this July 4, my dear fellow Americans, some of you will raise your fists and yell: “U! S! A! … U! S! A!”. And you’ll parade with your flags and your images of the Statue of Liberty. But do you know that the sculptor copied his mother’s face for the statue, a domineering and intolerant woman who had forbidden another child to marry a Jew?

“Patriotism,” Dr. Samuel Johnson famously said, “is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” American writer Ambrose Bierce begged to differ — It is, he said, the first.

“Patriotism is the conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” — George Bernard Shaw

Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. … 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.
— George Orwell ((Notes on Nationalism, p.83, 84, in “Such, Such Were the Joys” (1945) ))

“Pledges of allegiance are marks of totalitarian states, not democracies,” says David Kertzer, a Brown University anthropologist who specializes in political rituals. “I can’t think of a single democracy except the United States that has a pledge of allegiance.” ((Alan Colmes, Red, White and Liberal (2003), p.30)) Or, he might have added, that insists that its politicians display their patriotism by wearing a flag pin. Hitler criticized German Jews and Communists for their internationalism and lack of national patriotism, demanding that “true patriots” publicly vow and display their allegiance to the fatherland. In reaction to this, postwar Germany has made a conscious and strong effort to minimize public displays of patriotism.

Oddly enough, the American Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy, a founding member, in 1889, of the Society of Christian Socialists, a group of Protestant ministers who asserted that “the teachings of Jesus Christ lead directly to some form or forms of socialism.” Tell that to the next Teaparty ignoramus who angrily accuses President Obama of being a “socialist”.

Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, we could read that there’s “now a high degree of patriotism in the Soviet Union because Moscow acted with impunity in Afghanistan and thus underscored who the real power in that part of the world is.” ((San Francisco Examiner, January 20, 1980, quoting a “top Soviet diplomat”))

Throughout the nineteenth century, and particularly throughout its latter half, there had been a great working up of this nationalism in the world. … Nationalism was taught in schools, emphasized by newspapers, preached and mocked and sung into men. It became a monstrous cant which darkened all human affairs. Men were brought to feel that they were as improper without a nationality as without their clothes in a crowded assembly. Oriental peoples, who had never heard of nationality before, took to it as they took to the cigarettes and bowler hats of the West.
— H.G. Wells, British writer ((The Outline of History (1920), vol. II, chapter XXXVII, p.782))

The very existence of the state demands that there be some privileged class vitally interested in maintaining that existence. And it is precisely the group interests of that class that are called patriotism.
— Mikhail Bakunin, Russian anarchist ((Letters on Patriotism, 1869))

To me, it seems a dreadful indignity to have a soul controlled by geography.”
— George Santayana, American educator and philosopher

Another thing Americans have to be thankful for on July 4

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a new feature on their website called “Find Insurance Options”. You just provide certain information about your family size, your age, your employment situation, your financial situation, whether you have certain disabilities or diseases, whether you now have Medicare or some other health insurance, or how long you have not had health insurance, whether you have been denied insurance, whether you are someone’s dependent, a veteran? an American Indian? an Alaskan Native? etc., etc., etc. … and the site gives you suggestions as to where and how you might find health insurance that might suit your particular needs. The head of HHS, Kathleen Sebelius, tells us “This is an incredibly impressive consumer tool,” adding that the site is capable of providing tailored responses to about 3 billion [sic] individual scenarios. “This information can give folks choices that they just didn’t have any idea they had available to them.” ((Washington Post, July 1, 2010))

Isn’t that remarkable? Where else but in America could one have such choice? Certainly not in Communist Cuba. There it’s only one scenario, one size fits all — you’re sick, you go to a doctor or to a hospital, and you get taken care of to the best of their abilities; no charge; doesn’t matter what your medical problem is, doesn’t matter what your financial situation is, doesn’t matter what your employment situation is, there’s no charge. No one has health insurance. No one needs health insurance. Isn’t that boring? Communist regimentation!

Separation of oil and state?

On May 19, in a congressional hearing, Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) asked BP America President Lamar McKay: “Is there any technology that exists that you know of that could have prevented this from happening?”

“I don’t know of a piece of technology that could have prevented it,” replied McKay. ((Washington Post, June 17, 2010))

Given the extremely grave consequences of a deepwater oil-drilling accident that’s a pretty good argument that such operations are too risky and dangerous to be permitted, is it not?

Moreover, if it could have been prevented if BP had not been so negligent and reckless to save money, can we count on all oil companies in the future to never put profits before safety? I think not. And if an accident happens can we count on the company being able to rectify the damage quickly and efficiently? Apparently not.

So, will those who serve corporate America learn a lesson from the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster? Well, consider the following: Oil companies – even as you read this — are busy making plans for further Gulf drilling; in June the Mineral Management Service of the US Interior Department was continuing to issue waivers to these companies which exempt them from submitting a detailed analysis of the environmental impact of their plans, not at the moment for drilling new wells but to modify their existing projects in the Gulf; one waiver was to a British company called BP. ((McClatchy-Tribune News Service, June 20, 2010)) … Here’s the District Manager for Louisiana of the Mineral Management Service: “Obviously, we’re all oil industry. Almost all of our inspectors have worked for oil companies and on these same [oil drilling] platforms.” ((Washington Post, May 27, 2010)) … A financial analyst at the preeminent bank J.P. Morgan Chase announced some good news for us — the US Gross Domestic Product could gain slightly from all the expenditures for cleaning up the mess, adding that “the magnitude of these setbacks looks dwarfed by the scale of the US macroeconomy”. ((Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2010)) … And three leading congressional Republicans recently referred to the spill as a “natural” disaster. ((Washington Post, June 18, 2010))

If I were the president I would in fact prohibit all underwater drilling for oil, permanently. President Obama announced a six-month prohibition and has run into a brick wall of oil companies, politicians, and the courts. He’ll cave in, as usual, but I wouldn’t. How would I make up for the loss of this oil? Not by importing more oil, but sharply reducing our usage. Here are two suggestions to begin with:

The US Department of Defense is not only the leading consumer of oil in the United States, it is the leading oil consumer in the entire world. A 2007 report by a defense contractor posits that the Pentagon in its foreign wars and worldwide military support operations (such as maintaining thousands of bases at home and abroad) might consume as much as 340,000 barrels (14 million gallons) every day, a quantity greater than the total national consumption of Sweden or Switzerland. ((Michael Klare, “The Pentagon v. Peak Oil”, Tom’s Dispatch, June 14, 2007)) This is taken from an article with the title: “How Wars of the Future May Be Fought Just to Run the Machines That Fight Them”. If the American defense industry is added in, the military-industrial complex would be 12th in the world in oil consumption, more than India.

Accordingly, as president, I would take the admittedly controversial step of abolishing the United States military. The total savings, including the mammoth reduction in oil consumption, would be more than a trillion dollars a year.

Class assignment:

1. Try and think of the things that would improve the quality of life in American society, things that money could bring about, that would not be covered by a trillion dollars.
2. If you believe that having no military would open the United States to foreign invasion, state:
   a. who would invade;
   b. why they would do so;
   c. how many soldiers they would need to occupy a nation of more than 300 million people.
3. List the dozen wars the United States has been involved in since the 1980s and specify which of them you are glad and proud of.
4. On October 28, 2002, five men were murdered by a mob in India because they had killed a (sacred) cow. ((Washington Post, October 29, 2002, p.18)) On the very same day the United States was actively engaged in preparing to invade Iraq and kill thousands of people for control of their oil. Discuss which society was more insane.

Second suggestion to reduce oil usage: Public transportation would be nationalized so as to reduce prices to levels very easily affordable for virtually the entire population, resulting in a huge reduction of private automobile and gasoline usage. This public transportation system would not be required to show a profit. Like the military now.

The Cold War is over. Long live the Cold War.

I recently attended a showing of Oliver Stone’s new documentary film, South of the Border, which concerns seven present-day government leaders of Latin America -– in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, Cuba and Brazil — who are not in love with US foreign policy. After the film there was a discussion panel in the theatre, consisting of Stone, the two writers of the film (Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot) and Cynthia Arnson, Director of the Latin American Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington; the discussion was moderated by Neal Conan of National Public Radio.

It perhaps was not meant to be a “debate”, but it quickly became that, with Arnson leading the “anti-communist” faction, supported somewhat by Conan’s questions and more vociferously by a segment of the audience which took sides loudly via applause and cries of approval or displeasure. Twenty years post-Cold War, anti-communism still runs deep in the American soul and psyche. Candid criticism of US foreign policy and/or capitalism is sufficient to consign a foreign government or leader to the “communist” camp whether or not that term is specifically used.

In the late 1980s, as Mikhail Gorbachev was steering the Soviet Union away from its rivalry with the West in a bid for a “new thinking” foreign policy, Georgiy Arbatov, director of the Soviet’s Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, declared to the United States: “We will do the most horrible thing to you; we will leave you without an enemy.” (( “Russia Now”, a supplement to the Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2009, p.H4))

The American military-industrial-intelligence complex understands the need for enemies only too well, even painfully. Here is U.S. Col. Dennis Long, speaking in 1992, shortly after the end of the Cold War, when he was director of “total armor force readiness” at Fort Knox, Kentucky:

For 50 years, we equipped our football team, practiced five days a week and never played a game. We had a clear enemy with demonstrable qualities, and we had scouted them out. [Now] we will have to practice day in and day out without knowing anything about the other team. We won’t have his playbook, we won’t know where the stadium is, or how many guys he will have on the field. That is very distressing to the military establishment, especially when you are trying to justify the existence of your organization and your systems. ((New York Times, February 3, 1992, p.8))

Arbatov was right about the United States fearing a world without an enemy, but wrong about the United States actually being left without one. In addition to all the enemies produced in the Middle East by military interventions and the War on Terror, the US has had a continuous supply of “communists” challenging Washington’s militant hegemony – from Yugoslavia, Cuba and Haiti to the present large crop in Latin America. We should realize that the Cold War was essentially not a struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was more a struggle between the United States and the Third World. The US sought to dominate the Third World and intervened in many countries even when the Soviets were not playing any significant role at all in the political tumult in those places, albeit Washington propaganda routinely yelled “communist”. There existed a strong push in the United States to stand tall against communism, particularly communism of the invisible variety, since that was the most dangerous kind.

In actuality, Bolshevism and Western liberalism were united in their opposition to popular revolution. Russia was a country with a revolutionary past, not a revolutionary present; and the same could be said about the United States.

In the post-film discussion, Stone replied to a charge of the film being biased by stating that the US media is generally so slanted against the governments in question that his film is an attempt to strike a needed balance. Indeed, it must be asked: How many of the 1400 American daily newspapers or the numerous television stations even occasionally report on Washington’s continually ongoing attempts to subvert the governments in question or present the programs and policies of their leaders in a positive light? Particularly Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, the two main focuses of the film; not forgetting of course that American journalists accuse Cuba of violating human rights first thing upon their awakening each morning.

While we no longer hear about the “international communist conspiracy”, American foreign policy remains profoundly unchanged. It turns out that whatever Washington officials and diplomats at the time thought they were doing, the Cold War revisionists have been vindicated; it was not about containing something called “communism”; it was about American supremacy, expansion and economic interests.

Choosing a warlord

The media have been rather preoccupied by the replacement of General Stanley McChrystal by General David Petraeus in Afghanistan; it’s been like gossip-column material, or a sporting event, or the Oscars; “Petraeus for president” some clamor, lots of letters to the editor, all over the Internet. Some journalists have discussed which general would be better for the war effort. To me, this is tantamount to asking “Which Doctor Strangelove do you prefer to be in charge of our international psychotic mass murdering?” Hmm … let’s see … hmm … ah, here’s the answer: Who gives a fuck?

William Blum is the author of: Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire. He can be reached at: Read other articles by William, or visit William's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. BartFargo said on July 6th, 2010 at 10:53am #

    Fabulous stuff as usual from Bill Blum.

  2. mary said on July 6th, 2010 at 11:27am #

    I second that. Most refreshing.

  3. Don Hawkins said on July 6th, 2010 at 6:35pm #

    Well so what is going to happen William? We saw the SubMedia video is breaking windows the answer probably not as destruction that humans are rather good at fear not the Earth is right this minute well on it’s way to show us how it’s really done. The oil spill and now the big giant brains who seem to come in different shapes and sizes oh in about six months will keep drilling in the Gulf. Coal will keep being burned and the big giant brains will still go golfing. Unless we can be calm at peace and focus same page including the big giant brains this story of the human race in the twenty first century if nothing else will not be boring. For a while there I thought the few and a few more knew what’s coming down the track I was wrong they don’t not really maybe in the back of there mind a few thoughts. A new way of thinking and it will take all of us. I see no problem when should we get started.

  4. Don Hawkins said on July 6th, 2010 at 7:00pm #

    Can we keep fighting wars and think we can survive, no. Can we keep consuming the way we do now and shipping those things, stuff from far far away and survive, no. Just the dry cleaning bill of the big giant brains is a good one think everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler. To not do just that let’s say on time delivery will not be what it used to be and kind of hard to consume something that’s not there. War oh yes much war.

  5. Don Hawkins said on July 7th, 2010 at 3:18am #

    In the twenty first century like in the past the big giant brains want most of us to believe things stuff that are not exactly the truth. Well golly gee why do they do that you know the big giant brains we see on TV and some we don’t because there nut’s that’s why. A great place to watch them is on the financial Channels here in the States. In oh so many way’s they the big giant brains want us to play the perception of reality game. It sort of worked for the last 100 years and now requires more of the fair and balanced approach the tea party the old Democrat party and ever increasingly more big giant lies. It does seem like a strange why to run a railroad and why is it this way? I guess so the big giant brains can go golfing and eat orange chicken while outside where they are eating the orange chicken people break windows and set a police car on fire and have to admit that must be a real kick for the big giant brains as they eat there orange chicken on the third planet from the Sun or as the Gulf of Mexico now better known as toxic soup becomes more toxic the big giant brain one of them goes sailing on a boat named Bob. I don’t think we need Einstein to tell us how this might play out. Although the big giant brains would like us to think so. It’s a heat wave and the big giant brains will tell us buy little plastic things go shopping and listen to us as we love you very very much. Far far from home we are.

  6. Don Hawkins said on July 7th, 2010 at 4:24am #

    How come we never see this on TV or on the front of the New York Times and again you will see figure 11 it’s a big one. Wait I get it the big giant brains are hiding it sort of it’s just better that way. Well I didn’t want to know anyway so there. About 2013 or there about’s the big giant brains will……………………….

  7. Don Hawkins said on July 7th, 2010 at 5:29am #

    Someone on one of the finanical channels said this morning something about Aquarian society and picking nut’s and berries so I sent this.


    I heard that pick nut’s and berries. Well where I live that’s all we do is pick nut’s and berries along with a few other food group’s and sometimes we go fishing. Now from the look’s of it to our north the only thing a few pick is people’s pocket’s. I just walked the dog’s and again the old GM dealer inside the building many things have melted and because I watch CNBC and Fox New’s there it was the Sun rising in the western sky’s and I thought hummm in not to many years my kid’s and there kid’s will still be able to pick nut’s and berries as probably a few come down from the North looking for a hand out. Wear a suit and tie and bring copy’s of how to win friends and influence people and maybe a small army.

    Home made is better
    1/2 cup orange marmalade
    1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 teaspoon rubbed sage
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
    1 (3 pound) chicken, cut into pieces
    1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
    1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

    Preheat a grill for medium heat.
    Combine the marmalade, vinegar, olive oil, and sage in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes until smooth. Stir in the chives, then remove 1/3 of the sauce to serve with the chicken later on.
    Season the chicken pieces with garlic salt and pepper. Grill for about 15 minutes on each side, then brush with glaze. Continue cooking until done, 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally, and brushing with additional glaze. Serve with reserved marmalade glaze. Don