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The Corruptions of Patriotism
The United States administers a global empire. This used to be a secret. Through the 1990s, our government told us that we stood for democracy, freedom, and independence of nations worldwide (lying to us). But the majority of U.S. citizens refused to critically examine their government out of patriotism. Sheeplike, we acted in defiance of the founding fathers of our nation who distrusted the power of government, who realized that small acts of terrorism (which existed then as now) were nothing compared to the potential for tyranny from those who wield governmental powers.
From the late 1940s to the 1990s, most citizens of the U.S. thought that patriotism meant blind faith in the pronouncements of our leaders, even when the public statements of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush, and Clinton were shown by a few decent and honest critics in this country to be one lie after another. They told us we stood for "democracy" against the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union and people (like children) wanted to be patriotic and believe the lies from Washington.
Meanwhile the U.S. government secretly overthrew the democratic governments in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, carpet bombed Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the 1960s and 70s, helped install a dictator in Indonesia in 1965 (at the cost of half a million lives), overthrew the democratic government of Chile in 1973 and destroyed the democratic government of Nicaragua with a terrorist army based in Honduras in the 1980s. The list goes on and on, and any informed, honest citizen will be well aware of it.
But such blind patriotism destroys democracy and corrupts the people who blindly follow their corrupt and deceitful leaders. Today, we reap the whirlwind, the judgment of God, so to speak, the consequences of our trashing the vision of the founding fathers. For today, our leaders no longer keep it a secret. They openly admit and act on the truth that the United States runs a brutal, world-wide empire based on the immense military might of the Pentagon and the immense domination of U.S. multinational corporations over the global economy.
The Bush government does not even try to cover up its lies. It simply makes all public records that world expose its lies "top secret." It openly censors and suppresses the truth, and we do not care because our patriotism has corrupted us to this sorry extent. They know they can count on the loyality of the majority of the U.S. who are willingly coopted by the thinnest and most transparent tissue of lies.
We openly invade sovereign nations, ignoring the United Nations and world opinion. We led NATO to do this to Yugoslavia in 1998 (killing many more innocent civilians than were killed in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center). We bombed the towns and villages of Afghanistan, destroying more homes and lives or poor, innocent peasants (men, women, and children) in that bleeding country than were killed during 9/11. And we openly invaded, conquered, and established a military dictatorship in Iraq in defiance of world opinion and the United Nations, again killing thousands more innocent civilians than were killed in 9/11.
Democracy has its moral basis in truth, tolerance, freedom, and respect for human dignity. These are all universal values. If we are loyal to these universal values, then we cannot at the same time be blindly loyal to one government or nation. We corrupted ourselves with our blind patriotism of the late 1940s to 1990s to the point where patriotism today most often means openly supporting the empire (under self-serving lies like "liberating Iraq"), the oppression of freedom worldwide, global economic exploitation and domination, and even the suppression of freedom at home.
Those honest people who believe in universal values should not attempt to redefine "patriotism" so that it looks as if holding universal values is what is "really" patriotic. We need to repudiate that term. Decent and honest people resist the empire out of universal moral values, out of justice, not out of patriotism. It is universal values like justice and compassion that make us human. Patriotism only divides us from our suffering brothers and sisters worldwide.
Our war against the poor majority in Columbia who are struggling for a decent society used to be covered up under the lie of a "war on drugs." Today, in Columbia, we send ever more billions of dollars in weapons and training to the country with the worst human rights record of the past three decades while openly declaring that we are trying to crush its revolution. We no longer hide our global lust for world-wide domination. Patriotism corrupts, and absolute patriotism corrupts absolutely.
Recently, our unelected, dictatorial President George W. Bush visited Africa, beginning with the country of Senegal in West Africa. According to one Senegal witness, just before his visit 1500 people were arbitrarily arrested and jailed for the duration of his visit. U.S. military planes flew over the capital city of Dakar night and day so the people could not even sleep for the noise. About 700 U.S. security personnel arrived with their dogs, their own cars, and high tech equipment. They would not even let Senegal security personnel near the U.S. President.
Bush even brought his own armchair and furniture and would not use Senegal furnishings. All trees in places where Bush passed were cut down, some of them over 100 years old. All roads going downtown (where schools, hospitals, and businesses are located) were closed down during his visit. People were not allowed to go to school, the hospital, or work. The list of indignities continues. One Senegal economist estimated that this poor country lost an immense amount of money by being shut down in this way by the visit of the American President.
The message, of course, was that the United States is the world dominator and that these poor and weak countries are in effect ours to do what we want with. The arrogance and lack of respect for the people of Senegal are astonishing. These arrangements remind one distinctly of Caesar, Napoleon, the Czar, Hitler, or Stalin. They are the actions of world dominators surveying the empire with utter disdain for the people whose lives and economies they crush.
Any informed person knows that Bush and his junta are utterly corrupt. They openly assign multi-billion dollar contracts to their former business partners without any competitive bidding. They openly represent the big oil companies in Alaska, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They openly oppose environmental regulations for their friends in big business. They openly lie. They openly defy world opinion and invade any country they please.
The really sad part is that our absolute patriotism has corrupted us: we, the people in the United States. We are no longer outraged by anything our government does. We are blindly obedient and, therefore, have thrown away the moral basis of our existence as human beings and as a country. That moral basis rested on loyalty to the universal values of truth, tolerance, freedom, and respect for human dignity. Blind patriotism, loyalty, and obedience to one nation or government are not legitimate moral values. As a nation, we have corrupted ourselves absolutely.
GLEN T. MARTIN is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Radford University in Southwest Virginia and President of International Philosophers for Peace.