For many Americans, patriotism is the recognition that we are the "greatest country on earth," with military and economic strength second to none. The United States is the world's last remaining "superpower" for a reason, many will note, and that we alone have prevailed is proof-positive of our superiority.
So what's so great about Switzerland? The Swiss may enjoy quality chocolate and be able to earn a good living, but in the minds of many, their neutrality makes them a joke. What about France? According to some, they "retreated" during World War II, and they have "retreated" on the War on Terror; all the beauty of Paris couldn't mask their inadequacies. Or how about a country like Mexico, dirt poor and corrupt? What do they have to be proud of?
And yet, Switzerland, France, and Mexico are full of patriots, people who love their countries, even if they're not the strongest or richest. Mexicans, in particular, strangely retain their patriotism even after experiencing life in the United States, as their red, white, and green flags continue to replace our red, white, and blue ones at an alarming rate.
Patriotism has nothing to do with "who's best," but simply "who?" Who are Americans? Or Mexicans? The French? The Swiss? There are many factors — a particular people with particular traditions, a sense of rootedness, a shared history and shared ancestors, an identity distinct from others.
This sense of shared community, whether at the national or local level, is what defines a people, gives them a sense that they belong to something larger than themselves and induces patriotic sentiment. Whether or not they can kick other people's ass has little to do with it.
The U.S.'s economic and political dominance that many Americans mistake for patriotism has long clouded our better judgment. As conservative columnist Joseph Sobran explains, "Many Americans admire America for being strong, not for being American. For them America has to be 'the greatest country on earth' in order to be worthy of their devotion. If it were only the second-greatest, or the 19th-greatest, or, heaven forbid, 'a third-rate power,' it would be virtually worthless."
Sobran is correct.
A man does not love his mother because she is the "best" mother, but because she is his mother. She belongs to him and is a part of him, whether she is an angel or a raging alcoholic. If she were indeed a rotten mother, it is understood that he does not have to justify his loyalty, as such matters are outside the realm of objective reason. After all, we all have, or have had, mothers.
The same is true of nations. Continues Sobran: "G.K. Chesterton once observed that Rudyard Kipling, the great poet of British imperialism, suffered from a 'lack of patriotism.' He explained: 'He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reasons. He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English."
Far from being measured by military might, technological advancement, or the gross domestic product, patriotism — in a nutshell — is a "love of one's own," a fact that could be proven in the typical letter a soldier might write home. They never write letters to applaud the president's foreign policy strategy or the continuing success of Wal-Mart, but to tell their families they love them. Whether the war they are fighting is just or unjust has little to do with the reason they fight, as any soldier's mother, father, wife, husband, or child understands — the soldier fights for them without question.
But while no one questions the soldier, we should question our government. Yet too many today consider supporting any and all wars a patriotic imperative, while those who do question or oppose our government are often considered "traitors" or worse.
I don't know when blindly trusting the government became a "conservative" value, but it certainly has nothing to do with patriotism. And if talk of peace is considered unreasonable and naive, American patriots should look at where the constant fog of war has led us and continues to lead us for the same unfounded reasons and with the same unacceptable results — a place where behind each battle there always lies another.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.