FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Patriotism of Deeds

One day when I was about eight years old, my mother tossed one of her frequent “out of the blue” questions at me:

“Ralph, do you love your country?”

“Yes, mother,” I said, wondering where she was going with this.

“Well, I hope when you grow up, you’ll work hard to make it more lovable.”

Thus, began my education in the patriotism of deeds, the patriotism of advancing justice. The country was in the middle of World War II and the spirit of patriotism was engulfed by the war effort, by the heroics of our armed forces against the fascists, and, for my parents, by my brother Shaf’s impending enlistment into the Navy.

Still, having come as teenage immigrants from Lebanon, during the Ottoman Empire and French mandate periods, my mother and father were very sensitive to any monopolization of patriotic symbols—flags, anthems, the July 4th holiday—to induce public obedience. They were wary of how many politicians would use and misuse these symbols to stifle dissent, hide abuses and manipulate public opinion. They rejected both political and commercial manipulation of patriotic feelings for narrow, often harmful self-serving ends.

Of course, the factory town of Winsted, CT where we grew up had its July 4th parade with marching bands, flags, proud veterans and assorted ceremonies. Its mile long Main Street was perfectly suited for these festivities. Plenty of fireworks in plenty of youthful hands too. We all had a general good time.

During one such Parade, it suddenly occurred to me that no one had ever marched holding up a large replica of the Declaration of Independence, which was the reason for the celebration that day. Other than being printed in its entirety by some newspapers, this bold Declaration whose eloquent assertion of human rights was heard around the world for many years, still is not front and center for historical recollection and contemporary contemplations.

My parents prized the freedoms they found in America, and they were alert to anyone who might try to diminish them. At his sprawling restaurant on Main Street opposite the textile factories, my father would always speak his mind. He was a constant critic of power – big business, government, local and national – and readily offered solutions.

His longtime customers and friends would sometimes say to him: “How do you expect to make a profit if you keep speaking out this way?” He would smile and say: “When I passed the Statue of Liberty, I took it seriously,” cautioning them with this advice: “If you don’t use your rights, you will lose your rights.”

At the same time, he would challenge attempts to monopolize and debase our country’s symbols of flag, pledge and anthem into an unthinking patriotism by politicians to cover their sins. As Dad often reminded anyone who would listen, our flag stands for the principles embodied in the last words of the Pledge of Allegiance – “with liberty and justice for all.”

There has always been military patriotism. There is more and more commercialization of the Fourth of July. In our hometown, we were raised to respect and nurture a civic patriotism.

As my brother Shaf said many years later: “A true love for the community of human beings that is our country is expressed when each one of us helps define that patriotism by our deeds and thoughts working together.” And, he set a wonderful example when in 1965 he founded the Northwestern Connecticut Community College in town.

Maybe we should start reserving time on the Fourth for assessing the ways forward toward expending those “inalienable rights – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions (Harper Collins, 2007), a remembrance of the ways his parents raised their four children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

Weekend Edition
March 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Ron Jacobs
Donald Cox: Tale of a Panther
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
REZA FIYOUZAT
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
John W. Whitehead
The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs
Jeff Cohen
Let’s Not Restore or Mythologize Obama 
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
The Masculinity of the Future
Jessicah Pierre
The Real College Admissions Scandal
Peter Mayo
US Higher Education Influence Takes a Different Turn
Martha Rosenberg
New Study Confirms That Eggs are a Stroke in a Shell
Ted Rall
The Greatest Projects I Never Mad
George Wuerthner
Saving the Big Wild: Why Aren’t More Conservationists Supporting NREPA?
Norman Solomon
Reinventing Beto: How a GOP Accessory Became a Top Democratic Contender for President
Ralph Nader
Greedy Boeing’s Avoidable Design and Software Time Bombs
Tracey L. Rogers
White Supremacy is a Global Threat
Nyla Ali Khan
Intersectionalities of Gender and Politics in Indian-Administered Kashmir
Karen J. Greenberg
Citizenship in the Age of Trump: Death by a Thousand Cuts
Jill Richardson
Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Puddle Jumping in New Britain
Matt Johnson
The Rich Are No Smarter Than You
Julian Vigo
College Scams and the Ills of Capitalist-Driven Education
Brian Wakamo
It’s March Madness, Unionize the NCAA!
Beth Porter
Paper Receipts Could be the Next Plastic Straws
Christopher Brauchli
Eric the Heartbroken
Louis Proyect
Rebuilding a Revolutionary Left in the USA
Sarah Piepenburg
Small Businesses Like Mine Need Paid Family and Medical Leave
Robert Koehler
Putting Our Better Angels to Work
Peter A. Coclanis
The Gray Lady is Increasingly Tone-Deaf
David Yearsley
Bach-A-Doodle-Doo
Elliot Sperber
Aunt Anna’s Antenna
March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail