Thursday, July 5, 2012

As the Cookie Crumbles: Patriotic Poison

I am not a big fan of "patriotism." Behind it's bloody flags and booming drums are conducted the most egregiously and self-consciously evil acts of which men are capable.

Not only the killing and the maiming and the destruction, but the conniving and the thievery and the profiteering and the cowardice, too.

Oscar Wilde thought of it that "Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious."

At Nuremberg, the Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering opined: "... the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger."

The redoubtable Julius Ceasar recorded his thoughts on the matter:: ""Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind."

The first important American sociologist, Thorsten Veblen said of patriotism: "Sensational appeals to patriotic pride and animosity made by victories and defeats...[helps] direct the popular interest to other, nobler, institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comforts. Warlike and patriotic preoccupations fortify the barbarian virtues of subordination and prescriptive authority."

World renowned psychologist Erich Fromm held patriotism in low esteem: "Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. "Patriotism" is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by "patriotism" I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice."

Neither of the contemporaries George Bernard Shaw nor Bertrand Russell had much good to say about it. Shaw, ever irascible, thought "Patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy." Russel wrote: "Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons."

And of course, that is the subject of Wilfred Owen's wrenching, poetic account of the deadly costs of trench warfare and the "glories" of perishing for God and Country: "Dulce et Decorum Est." In one of those freakish flickers of fate, Owen was killed on NEARLY the last day of World War One. Read it here:

Perhaps most tellingly and famously, according to Dr. Johnson, lo these many hundreds of years ago,  "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."

Times change: Today, oftener, it is the FIRST refuge of the scoundrel, the pernicious pettifogger, the draft-dodging militant, and the precious poseur.

There is an extensive debate over who first said, When  fascism came to the USofA, it would be carrying a cross and be wrapped in the flag, and would be called "Americanism." It probably wasn't either Sinclair Lewis or Huey Long; it might have been a fellow named Haford Luccock, sometime in the early 30s, according to the New York Times of the day. Though the sentiment has long been a familiar one.

But none can doubt its truth, any longer, I think, since that dread arrival has already occurred. Flag-wrapped fascism is on radio, every day, and cable television; likewise it's arrival been celebrated from thousands of pulpits, where it's been widely heralded as a necessary restorative to American primacy.


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