On Patriotism

I have always been torn between beliefs that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and my pride in being an American. I fell in love with this nation as a small boy, read enormously of its history (co-authored a history of the United States as well), and wandered over this land many times. I have tremendous admiration for men and women who risked their lives defending it and feel anger at the manner in which a group of cowards and draft dodgers in Washington D.C. have abused all that I hold dear about this nation. I do not apologize for loving this land even though I know full well of its mistakes and the brutality that many of our citizens have endured.

I often feel that critics place America under a measurement criteria that no nation in the world has ever been compelled to meet. As a patriot, I feel it is my duty to ensure basic values are adhered to by this society, and that no woman, man, or child should ever have to endure hate or hunger. During the past six years I repeatedly have listened to Americans boast that constitutional rights must be ignored because that is the price of security. I have heard men and women who swore to uphold the Constitution argue we are not a nation of law but a frightened, threatened society which must abandon our heritage to defeat enemies who oppose our Constitution. Millions of Americans are willing to forgo the beauty of our Constitutional system by waving flags of surrender in the name of patriotism.

As an American patriot I swore to uphold the Constitution when I entered the United States army and I will, and cannot, violate that solemn oath. I hitchhiked across this great land and encountered its warmth, its kindness, and its friendship to strangers. I also encountered prejudice because I was Jewish and discrimination against fellow Americans because they were black skinned. As an American patriot I spent my life fighting against all forms of prejudice because that is the duty one accepts by being a citizen of this land. As a patriot, I cannot, under any condition of fear, accept surrender of liberty in the name of preserving liberty. That is not the manner in which true patriots function.

America is not a perfect land, but then again, neither is any other society. We are flawed nations because humanity is flawed. A student recently told me that Lincoln was a bigot and the Civil War was all about economics, not freedom for slaves. Abraham Lincoln is a great symbol of America. He concluded early in his life that slavery was an abomination and spent his career fighting to abolish it. His eye was always on the end result but he had to weave and twist to accomplish his goal. Some people decry him for not following a straight path, but life never offers us such roads into the future. A recent volume published letters of Union soldiers. In reading them one discovers their initial lack of commitment to ending slavery, but as the war unfolds, they changed and became fervent opponents of slavery. That is the American story of patriotism. We sometimes are hesitant about the price of freedom, but in the end, our core values come to the fore.

On this Memorial Day I see evidence that Americans are turning away from the holy rollers of fear. Americans are learners, and people like George Bush have educated them about the folly of being swept away by the tides of insecurity. They now understand there is only one security for a patriot – abiding by the principles of our Constitution and our commitment as a nation of immigrants (Native Americans are also immigrants from Asia) to ensure all people of the world have the right to make decisions concerning their own destinies. Americans are learning that true patriots do not impose their vision upon others but respect the principle of diversity. A true patriot has optimism that in respecting the dignity of all peoples, eventually all peoples will respect the dignity of others.

As a young boy hitchhiking I saw the Rocky Mountains emerge from a haze. I saw the sun come up over San Francisco harbor showing the majesty of the Pacific Ocean. As a soldier on a troop ship I watched as dawn broke and the Statue of Liberty’s arm was held high, beckoning me to a land that was not afraid. George Bush gave us a scare, but we patriots know his words of fear and hate have no place in this great nation. I have one great sight yet to behold – George Bush and his fellow traitors departing from the White House so that once again that building is home to true American patriots.