Patriotism and the Fourth
Yes, I'll be partying like the rest of you, and I know we'll have (even) less readers than usual here, today...but I had an observation to make, what with this being Independence Day in the United States.
Periodically you hear the suggestion that American patriots are those who unthinkingly accept whatever their government (or political party, or worse yet church) tells them. This is a day meant to be sacred to all Americans; there's more than enough division in the country these days; I've voted both Republican and Democratic (and even Independent!) in my time; and I strongly believe that we need to be One Country again, as soon as possible, irrespective of what partisans in any camp have to say about it. But this being one of my favorite holidays, the Fourth of July, I thought it worthwhile to make a fairly obvious comment about what distinguishes American patriotism.
Every country in the history of mankind -- however oppressive -- has been more than happy to promote a "patriotism" of unthinking worship of one's rulers. Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, all shared an absolute and deadly insistence on that kind of "patriotism": a strong (and in these examples strong-armed) insistence that their subjects wave their flags all they like, but think, and do, only what they're told. So, why patriotism? -- in particular, why should a thinking person feel "patriotic" about the United States of America?
Simple reason: thanks to the first ten amendments to its Constitution (the "Bill of Rights") -- added in part in order to get ratification for the Constitution itself from those who won its Independence -- The United States of America was the first country in the modern world to place powerful limitations on what a government is permitted to do to its citizens. Not just its nobles (ala the Magna Carta) -- its citizens, its average Janes and Joes. Thanks to the Founders of this country, ever since 1789, anybody who suggests that Americans should accept a state religion (or inhibit the free exercise of individual religion), or muzzle the criticisms of a free press, or accept dictatorial rule -- rather than insisting on the checks and balances built into the system precisely to prevent dictatorial rule -- is quite simply being unpatriotic to do so: is spitting on the very principles which have made this country great, have so often made it an inspiration to the world.
These are, I insist, fine and inspiring ideals: not perfect even when promulgated, and certainly not always realized, but preserved in the main for something over two hundred years. They are ideals worth living, and worth dying for; and many have lived them, and died for them. This isn't a matter of ancient history, either: shortly before I was born the world faced the very real possibility that these ideals would be forever lost to mankind...and some millions of lives were lost, in large measure to preserve these ideals against the claims of dictators. I recalled this specifically in January of 1973, when (newly eighteen) I registered for the draft: prepared, despite my doubts about the Vietnam War*, to give life or limb as necessary to defend my country. As luck would have it, I didn't have to do so, but by God I was prepared to.
For something over two hundred years, Americans have risked their lives for liberty, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and the rest -- not least for the freedom to reject a false patriotism, the patriotism of dictators, who ask only that everyone shut up, obey blindly, and abandon all hope of individual liberty. We today are immeasurably in the debt of those who risked, and not infrequently gave, their lives for that liberty, that freedom from unchecked power.
Those who serve this country -- including Presidents -- take an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." In recent days (to take just one example) even so dicey a bunch as our current Supreme Court elected to insist on doing so, in the face of what seemed to the majority of them an improper assertion that given the current emergency we are now a monarchy, subject for the rest of our lives to unquestioned incarceration at the pleasure of whomever happens to be the monarch. When Madam Justice O'Connor can insist that even war is not a "blank check" for executive power, our country continues to be in better hands than some might have feared.
God bless that Honorable Court for deciding so. God grant wisdom and faithfulness to all those who serve the United States: to keep their oath, to defend their Constitution against any who would threaten it, even with the best of intentions. In particular, God bless and guide not only those in our armed forces, and our elected representatives, but those engaged in crucial intelligence and law enforcement work: keep their minds and hearts clear of fear or favor, keep always before them the sacred goal of defending American liberty against all who would snatch it away...even with the best of intentions. God grant them the strength to remember just what they have been called to defend, and to insist on its defense, come what may.
In short, God bless and preserve the Constitution of the United States of America "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Amen, and Amen without Lie.
Happy two hundred twenty-eighth anniversary of the Independence of the United States, fellow patriots. :)
93 93/93 -- That Corny, Teary-eyed, Flag-wavin' AJ
* Which, as it happened, was ending right then, at least for America...but believe me, I was far from sure of that fact when I registered. "Peace candidate" Richard M. Nixon had been insisting it would all be over soon for over four years, by then. I figured I'd believe it when I saw it, and was astonished when, shortly thereafter, draft call-ups ended.