FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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! 

November 20, 2018
John Davis
Geographies of Violence in Southern California
Anthony Pahnke
Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it
Maximilian Werner
Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation
Masturah Alatas
Undercutting Female Circumcision
Jack Rasmus
Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond
Geoff Dutton
Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow
Binoy Kampmark
Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange
Rev. William Alberts
America Fiddles While California Burns
Forrest Hylton, Aaron Tauss and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo
Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia
Patrick Cockburn
What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?
Clark T. Scott
Our Most Stalwart Company
Tom H. Hastings
Look to the Right for Corruption
Edward Hunt
With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail