July 7, 2001
It seems fashionable to slang "patriotism" right now amongst
my fellow-liberals. As a bona fide semantics geek, this makes
me nervous. I feel impelled to enter a caveat:
I am a patriot.
I am an American patriot.
I am a patriot of the country that committed military and
cultural genocide against the indigenous peoples who occupied
the land my nation now claims.
I am a patriot of the country that built much its wealth
on the backs of an enslaved race, relegated them to second-class
citizenship even after emancipation, and continues to perpetrate
(and ignore the perpetration of) manifold cultural, economic,
and social injustices upon them even today.
I am a patriot of the country that permits unchecked capitalist
greed to degrade the lives of millions of men, women, and
children, valuing their souls and spirits at naught, and their
sweat and blood and labor, grudgingly, at just a fraction
I am a patriot of the country that in its thoughtless arrogance
rates the comfort, convenience, and wealth accrual of its
elite as a higher priority than the most basic human rights
and dignities of its fellow-nations throughout the globe.
I am a patriot of the country that regards its ability to
satisfy the evanescent gratification of today's consumers
as infinitely more important than preserving a livable environment
for our children and grandchildren.
I am a patriot of the country where I can write the preceding
five paragraphs and publish them in a public forum and not
have to worry about hearing a hostile, official knock on my
door in the middle of the night.
I am a patriot of the country where I can take my concern
about an issue or a problem to a committee of my fellow-citizens,
advocate freely on behalf of it, and convince them to incorporate
it into a platform that will guide the leaders I elect in
making my country's decisions.
I am a patriot of the country where I can walk into a voting
booth and make a decision about to whom I will delegate my
power of self-governance, and not be punished for that decision.
I am a patriot of the country that permitted my parents sufficient
economic opportunities to raise healthy children, gave me
enough education to make it possible for me to continue educating
myself, and sheltered me from the horrors of living on, or
next to, a battlefield.
I am a patriot of the country where my grandparents' and
parents' bones and ashes rest in peace, where there are streets
and buildings that hold my memories and the echoes of my youthful
voice still ring in some timeless dimension.
I am a patriot of the country where there are still millions
who hope for more equitable tomorrow and a more just future,
and are willing to offer their work and their passion to make
I am a patriot of the country where ideals of generosity,
charity, liberality, and concern for the well-being of others
still produces outpourings of individual gifts at the news
that disasters and wars have devastated strangers halfway
across the world.
I am a patriot of a country struggling eternally to express
the best ideals of humanity's altruism, in spite of its continual
and shameful lapses into the worst of humanity's self-interest.
I am a patriot of a country enduring a painful and prolonged
adolescence, with immense potential for good or evil, a country
that needs me, and millions like me to tip the balance to
a positive maturity.
These reflections give rise to the question: What is patriotism?
Is it the blind belief in one's country's superiority to
all others? No. That is parochiality, pure and simple. It
might have passed for patriotism in a younger America, intent
on the developmental tasks of survival, but we have grown
Is it the unquestioning support of one's country's actions
and policies, and the vigorous defense thereof? No. That is
jingoism, deceptive and destructive. It is, again, the ego-assertion
of immaturity, of a country that is unwilling to face the
complex dilemmas of growth and the costs of ripening to wisdom.
Patriotism is an expression of love for one's country. Is
a country real estate, pure and simple? Is it the souls of
its citizenry? Is it the collective history and pain and struggle
we have all shared throughout generations? Or is it all of
Just as it is destructive to withhold my love from a human
family member whose personality includes grave flaws, I cannot
withhold my patriotism from a country whose history, past
and contemporary, is eloquent of human frailty.
I need not tolerate flaws, I need not enable or encourage
them. I bear the responsibility to contribute whatever I can
to overcoming those flaws, to learning from our history and
our failures. I must come to terms, fully and honestly, with
the evil done in my name, rectify that evil where I can, and
contribute the experience to a better nation.
That is the love I bear my country. That is why I am an American