FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Are You a Patriot or a Journalist?

by Robert Jensen

‘Are you an American first, or are you a journalist?”

Unfortunately that question–posed to a journalists’ meeting in Salt Lake City in April by distinguished newsman Bill Kovach–is necessary after Sept. 11, as the few who dared critique the rush to war were attacked for being insufficiently patriotic. Too many journalists responded to the post-9/11 hyper-nationalism by waving the flag, literally and figuratively.

Even Dan Rather, perhaps the most vocal journalistic patriot after the tragedy, has had second thoughts, confiding in a BBC interview May 16 that “patriotism run amok” has led to self-censorship by journalists, himself included.

Kovach’s challenge and Rather’s confession are compelling, but unfortunately formulated in a way that diverts journalists and citizens from a more crucial question: Are you an American first, or are you a human being? That’s the question for everyone after Sept. 11.

The answer depends on the meaning of patriotism. Two definitions competed after the terrorist attacks. One was the patriotism of President George W. Bush: “You are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” meaning “get on board with plans for war, or …” Or what? The implication was that real Americans rally around their government and traitors raise critical questions.

This poses an obvious problem for journalists, who get paid to raise questions. But for anyone–journalist or not– such a crude patriotism abandons moral responsibility. What if a war violates international law or is prosecuted using immoral tactics? Nations–including ours–are not benevolent institutions, and U.S. history is replete with inhumane acts. If patriotism requires we support such acts, then patriotism becomes inhumane.

An alternative, kinder-and-gentler patriotism is offered by others, especially war opponents: patriotism not as reflexive support for a policy or leader, but allegiance to American ideals of freedom and democracy.

Freedom and democracy certainly deserve our allegiance. But what makes them uniquely American? Is there something about the United States that make us better able to achieve freedom and democracy than, say, Canadians or Indians or Brazilians? Are not people around the world–including those who live in countries that do not guarantee freedom– capable of understanding and acting on those ideals?

If the justification of this notion of patriotism is that these values are realized to their fullest extent in the United States, then there will be questions from the people of Guatemala and Iran, Nicaragua and Vietnam, East Timor and Panama. Victims of U.S. aggression–direct and indirect– might wonder why our political culture, the highest expression of the ideals of freedom and democracy, overthrows democratically elected governments, supports brutal dictators, funds and trains proxy terrorist armies, and unleashes brutal attacks on civilians in war.

Before claiming America is the fulfillment of history, the ultimate expression of liberty and justice, we might think a bit about our history–the near extermination of Indians, for instance.

At its worst, patriotism can lead people to support brutal policies. At its best, it is self-indulgently arrogant in its assumptions about our uniqueness. But rejecting patriotism isn’t moral relativism. We should not be afraid to judge systems and societies, using principles we can articulate and defend–so long as they truly are principles, applied honestly and uniformly, including to ourselves.

And we should maintain a bit of humility. Instead of claiming, “America is the greatest nation on Earth,” we might say, “I live in the United States and have deep emotional ties to its people, land and ideals, and I want to highlight the many positive things while working to change what is wrong.”

We can say that without suggesting other people are less capable of understanding democracy or defending freedom. We can believe that and encourage spirited debate about policy.

In such a world, the question by Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, would be irrelevant; there would be no conflict between being an American and a journalist. Journalists would simply pursue professionally– with the extra time, training and resources they have–what everyone would pursue privately: questioning those in power and challenging ourselves.

Everyone, including journalists, needs to ask: Can we move beyond being American?

Given the destructive capacity of the United States–and our history of using it in the interests of power, not people–never before has our answer been more important.

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream.

His pamphlet, “Citizens of the Empire,” is available at http://www.nowarcollective.com/citizensoftheempire.pdf.

Other writings are available online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/freelance/freelance.htm. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

 

 

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Minute Musings: On Why the United States Should Launch a Tomahawk Strike on Puerto Rico
Tom Clifford
The Return of “Mein Kampf” … in Japan
Todd Larsen
Concerned About Climate Change? Change Where You Bank!
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Brexit: Britain’s Opening to China?
John Hutchison
Everything Old is New Again: a Brief Retrospectus on Korea and the Cold War
Michael Brenner
The Ghost in the Dream Machine
Yves Engler
The Military Occupation of Haiti
Christopher Brauchli
Guardians of Lies
James Preece
How Labour Can Win the Snap Elections
Cesar Chelala
Preventing Disabilities in the Elderly
Sam Gordon
From We Shall Overcome to Where Have all the Flowers Gone?
Charles Thomson
It’s Still Not Too Late to Deserve Your CBE, Chris Ofili
Louis Proyect
Documentaries That Punch
Charles R. Larson
Review: Vivek Shanbhag’s “Ghachar Ghochar”
David Yearsley
Raiding the Tomb of Lubitsch
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail