It seems to me the problem with patriotism is that it is love of country, not love of
countryman. The perinial favorite phrase of oh so many lovers of country is “my country
right or wrong.” this is such a horrid phrase. If your country is wrong make it right. It is more of a diservice to your country and, more importantly, country men to support your country's wrongness. It is better, and necessary, to stand up for putting your nation on the right track. It is our duty to stand up against the wrongs our country does. In fact anything less is treasonous.
That makes me wonder if patriotism is even what we claim it to be. In a book from 1973, entitled The Spirits of '76 there are essays on the nature of the American spirit, of the American attitude, and the first essay is one which I take to heart, an essay on the spirit of respect. Though this may seem an odd place to start, it is more evident why this is the beginning once you start reading the piece. The author wished to examine patriotism. The goal of his book was to examine spirits and ideals which he felt the nation had left behind, or was beginning to abandon, but in his research of patriotism he found one fairly startling thing “Patriotism has become all too closely related with war: the most patriotic people in history (like the Nazis) were always the most warlike and ruthless.” (Sloan 14) Perhaps Jingoism is a better word then?
The recent glut of patriotism is something which should be positive. Being proud of your country, being proud of ist citizenry, and proud of ist fertile plains is good, and even necessary, but taking on a holier than thou attitude about it is misguided, and undermines the very idea of patriotism, being united with your nation, and with your countrymen. And it comes as no surprise that this recent uprising of flag waving, yellow ribbon adorning, national anthem humming, patriotism comes on the heels of yet another war. Jingoism is a better word.
In case it's not clear, Jingoism, according to Webster's Dictionary, is “chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy.” If a pre-emptive war isn't belligerent I don't know what is. I certainly can’t say that jingoism is a Term most people use in common speech. Because it’s not too common of a word I’ll further define it. Jingoism is a state of unbridled nationalistic pride, oftentimes accompanied by brinksmanship, such as started World War One. This tendency towards extreme patriotism, or as I will refer to it in the future jingoism, is extremely troubling. Jingoism has overtaken our nation in such a manner, that it has taken more than two years and 2000 deaths for a withdrawal plan from a war which we started (first one in quite some time that we started) to gain reasonable support.
This Jingoism which has overtaken our nation is a problem, not only because of the wars it supports, but because it encumbers true patriotism. By this I mean that true patriots are those who question their nations policies, who despite their nations failings, and despite their dislike of its failings, decide to stay there.
Those people who said that they would move to Canada were Bush re-elected (I said I would consider applying to a foreign university were it to happen) but who decided to stay are a good example. They loved their nation so much, that despite their prior conviction to leave it, and their vehement dislike of the man running it, they decided to stay. This sort of devotion is important.
Something which may be brought up is the idea that by saying they would leave at all, those who threatened to retreat to Canada, were betraying their nation. An important aspect of that threat, though, is that those who threatened to leave never expected to need to. They had faith in the electoral process, or maybe undeserved hope, in its’ ability to eschew a president who had a largely failed first term. It is much like the villain in a common Davey Crocket story, the man who told Davey Crocket that if he was beaten by him, he would eat his hat. Obviously the man wasn’t expecting to lose, wasn’t expecting to have to eat his hat, else he wouldn’t have made such an outrageous statement. Nearly every human at one point or another gives an ultimatum to which they will not stick.
There are certain words in the English language which have a great deal of emotive force, such as love, and hate, but one I’d like to add to this list is patriot. With this one word you can suggest that a person is a good person, trustworthy, worthy of respect, someone who believes what you believe, and any number of other things. You can shut down an argument with outrage using the idea of patriotism as your cornerstone. “You're Damn Right: We're Questioning Your Patriotism” (RushLimbaugh.com)
Not only does the term patriotism have great emotive force, but much like the words terrorism and communism it can be used as an excuse for action. Any time something was to be done during the cold war the communists were brought up. Any time something is to be done now, terrorism is brought up. Any time someone wants to discredit you they question your patriotism. Whether or not their claims have any validity, they bring doubt to the conversation, and undermine whatever your point may be.
Because of this misuse of the term patriotism, and because of this situation in which jingoism masquerades as patriotism, I don’t believe that the term patriot has any validity anymore. Much like how the word fuck was quite acceptable in the time of Shakespeare, but is a curse word now, patriotism once meant something good, meant something of repute, but now is soiled, and indeed unusable in polite conversation.
A new term is necessary, Erik Sloan suggests “the word patriotism be substituted whenever possible, by the better word respect. I find respect to be the vanishing American spirit most worthy of return to our beloved nation.” Though respect is as good a word as any to replace patriotism in its current job, I would like to suggest yet another word, allegiance. This word is more accurate to what patriotism is supposed to mean, devotion to ones country and support of ones country. It does not make a value judgment on people who criticize their nations actions, and those who have allegiance to their nation don’t have to be fervent in order to be allegiant.
People of true allegiance are not afraid to right their nation when it is wrong, and are proud of where they come from. People of allegiance are people worthy of respect, and are accepting of their fellows’ ideas, and their fellows’ principles when they do not collide with the rights of others. People of allegiance is what we should all aspire to being.
Limbaugh, Rush.”You’re Damn Right: We’re Questioning Your Patriotism.” RushLimbaugh.com. 21st Nov. 2005 http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_111005/home.guest.html
Sloan, Erik. The Spirits of ‘76. New York: Balantine Books, 1973.
Merriam-Webster. 20th Nov. 2005. www.m-w.com