FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Are You a Patriot or a Journalist?

‘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.

 

 

More articles by:

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.

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail