Category "What Is Patriotism?"

Thoughts of an American on the Celebration of ‘Independence’

July 4th, 2015 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?

It’s the Fourth of July in America. And here we are with shark attacks and burning churches, presidential candidate’s poll numbers rise on the strength of immigrant stigmatization… I feel as if I am just a minor character in a dystopian novel; insignificant but driven by quixotic delusion.

It was in such national celebration that I took my grandson to watch fireworks from his boat club’s downtown docks last night. There were a lot of families milling around, tables of food and a couple grills going. I approached a lady working one of the grills and asked if the food was free or if we had to pay. She informed me it was a pot luck and people were supposed to bring their own meat. Not easily offended, I overlooked the obvious surplus and quietly walked away.

The note the expressions of patriotism as they continue to proliferate around me. I still have a couple of friends posting confederate flag reverence, and one who even went so far as to conflate gay marriage with government intrusion. I watched the fireworks last night wishing I could just enjoy the lit up sky with everyone else. It’s the sound of not so far away guns. It confuses me that this stirs a patriotic pride.

My patriotism began to shape almost 50 years ago. I was at the Nha Trang airport trying to catch a flight to Cam Ranh. I was sitting quietly on a bench, smoking cigarettes, when a grunt drags this Viet Cong prisoner to the floor in front of me and sits down. The shackled VC was wearing those cut off white pants they wore and nothing else. He had a super hero’s body but was covered in dirt, slime and he stunk. He sat there defiant and he caught my stare. Our eyes locked. Another GI came up and spit on his face, uttered some vindictive shit and walked away. The prisoner’s stare never broke. I don’t think I had ever been the object of so much hatred in my young life. It was his unyielding, proud defiance that got me. This guerrilla warrior, probably off of some small, struggling farm, in this moment of irrepressible, glaring defiance, may have been the most beautiful human being I had ever seen. I think it was one of my most profound moments in that war, questioning what the fuck we were doing there, and experiencing an admiration for an “enemy” defending his country. It started me thinking in a way that has cursed me all these years. Interesting how this memory always resurfaces as we celebrate our “independence.”

I’m sharing this story in the hope that maybe a few of us might take a moment and stare with me, back into that guy’s eyes. I mean, sharks are attacking, churches are burning, an entire field of misanthropic theocrats are dominating one of our thoroughly owned, lock stock and barrel political parties. Enjoy the skies but listen to that sound, it too is a sound of terror.

All said and done, I do love my country. I am awed by how visually beautiful she is, even in our cities. However, once I get past what seems to me to be a superficial sheen in our new developments, cool as the architecture may be, I just don’t feel any “spiritual” connection. I much prefer experiencing the power in the ghost of our seemingly bombed out industrial ruins, with the neighborhoods that have within a generation gone from being sources of life to being boarded up windows and high weeds.

I love the imposition of our historical reality. I am also drawn to and often overwhelmed by our natural landscapes and the magic they evoke. As a people, it is expressed by the clashing of cultures. Well, maybe “marriage” of cultures would be a better term (much to the chagrin of certain political forces), that have made it possible for the birth of such amazing musical genres, as just one example of our national potential.

Make no mistake, there is plenty I see to be critical of, but I consider that on an historical world scale, we are just making our way through a difficult adolescence. It is through this perspective that anyone who has endured the parenting of a teen will understand my long term optimism. It is with that thought in mind that I wish all my countrymen a contemplative and calming celebration in consideration of our potential, and a good Fourth.

- Posted by Denny Zappin

An American Berlin Wall Moment: The Confederacy and a 150-Year End To The Civil War

June 25th, 2015 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?

I don’t know, but somehow it feels like we might be in a kind of Berlin Wall falling-type moment right now in American history.

All of these issues around the Confederate flag, the Confederacy, the entire legacy of the Civil War, and the white privilege and power for which it was fundamentally fought - it seems to be coming to some kind of real turning point. Dylann Roof wanted to trigger a new Civil War, a new resurgence of the exact same cause that was unleashed in that same town of Charleston over 150 years ago. It didn’t quite work out the way those original Confederates anticipated. I’m sensing this one may not either.

Perhaps this effort will go the same way, and maybe, just maybe, begin to truly put an end to the ignorantly racist illusions for which it was originally initiated. It’s as if southern culture and national racist xenophobia was never truly eliminated, just repressed. And like a diseased infection, has continued on like a permanent low grade fever, always present, always compromising the health of the nation. Myths and illusions about the Confederacy and “southern pride” have been allowed to fester on in a way that would have been totally intolerable in Germany after the defeat of National Socialism. In the U.S., we have continued to allow for, and even institutionalize, expressions of respect for that which is wholly unrespectable, and displays of honor for that which is fundamentally disgraceful. Perhaps those days are coming to an end.

I hope the Confederacy is about to *finally* for once and for all lose the Civil War, and its violent, racist ideology get chucked into the dustbin of history. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia did not mean the end of the Confederate cause. It just went into guerilla mode, turning the struggle into a campaign of terror and domination.

However, as I’ve referenced before, hopefully the jig is finally up. The U.S., to its lasting shame and degradation, incorporated an unreconstructed barbarity into its national structure; a virulent, knuckle-dragging racist ideology that, rather than calling it out and purging it for the disease that it is, mollified it and perfumed it with words like “honor” and “heritage” and “tradition.” There’s is no honor to what became a nation that allowed for a domestic terror organization to become the de facto governing authority of power within a huge realm of American society for over a century. It would be somewhat akin to allowing Nazis to continue to fly swastikas and hold office and run the police force through half of Germany for a century after 1945. However, the Nazis wanted to exterminate those they felt superior to. The southern racist Confederates and their copperhead sympathizers just wanted to own and dominate them, and exploit them for their own personal profit. Is one that markedly worse than the other?

In 1917, the publication the Confederate Veteran made it quite clear who these southerners thought was the real hero of the war, and what they were fighting for…

“Great and trying times always produce great leaders, and one was at hand‚ Nathan Bedford Forrest. His plan, the only course left open. The organization of a secret government. A terrible government; a government that would govern in spite of black majorities and Federal bayonets. This secret government was organized in every community in the South, and this government is known in history as the Klu Klux Clan…

“Here in all ages to come the Southern romancer and poet can find the inspiration for fiction and song. No nobler or grander spirits ever assembled on this earth than gathered in these clans. No human hearts were ever moved with nobler impulses or higher aims and purposes. Order was restored, property safe; because the negro feared the Klu Klux Clan more than he feared the devil. Even the Federal bayonets could not give him confidence in the black government which had been established for him, and the negro voluntarily surrendered to the Klu Klux Clan, and the very moment he did, the Invisible Army,vanished in a night. Its purpose had been fulfilled.

“Bedford Forrest should always be held in reverence by every son and daughter of the South as long as memory holds dear the noble deeds and service of men for the good of others on, this earth. What mind is base enough to think of what might have happened but for Bedford Forrest and his Invisible but victorious army.”

As Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out…

“In praising the Klan’s terrorism, Confederate veterans and their descendants displayed a remarkable consistency. White domination was the point. Slavery failed. Domination prevailed nonetheless. This was the basic argument of Florida Democratic Senator Duncan Fletcher. The Cause Was Not Entirely Lost, he argued in a 1931 speech before the United Daughters of the Confederacy:

“The South fought to preserve race integrity. Did we lose that? We fought to maintain free white dominion. Did we lose that? The States are in control of the people. Local self-government, democratic government, obtains. That was not lost. The rights of the sovereign States, under the Constitution, are recognized. We did not lose that. I submit that what is called “The Lost Cause,” was not so much “lost” as is sometimes supposed.”

Time to bring this charade of white “freedom” to a close for once and for all. Time to make it clear to the racist, murderous, antebellum South that it ain’t gonna rise again. Ever.

For as Coates points out…

“The Confederate flag should not come down because it is offensive to African Americans. The Confederate flag should come down because it is embarrassing to all Americans. The embarrassment is not limited to the flag, itself. The fact that it still flies, that one must debate its meaning in 2015, reflects an incredible ignorance. A century and a half after Lincoln was killed, after 750,000 of our ancestors died, Americans still aren’t quite sure why.”


Read Coates’ article What This Cruel War Was Over. A great read.

POST NOTE: So what’s all that hoopla about the Confederacy and the Civil War and ending slavery and such? From the plantation to the penitentiary. Profits Über Alles!

Private Prisons Threaten To Sue States Unless They Get More Inmates For Free Labor

Battle Hymns To American ‘Heroes’

January 24th, 2015 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?

What with all the discourse and debate raging of late regarding the film “American Sniper,” what heroism means, the political divides between how we perceive the bloodshed and sacrifice of the Iraq War, etc, it made me recall this true cultural artificat. One which poses some of these pretty deep seated questions as to what comprises “patriotism,” and what are the values being truly expressed through the proclamation of patriotic allegiance?

Hat tip to Chase Madar for the heads up on this, but wow. I had no idea that this piece of cultural/political history existed. As Madar commented, the American people don’t seem to care too much for Bradley Manning, but just listen to this little ditty about My Lai massacre commander Lt. Calley! It sold over 1 million copies in only four days back in 1971.

Released appropriately on Plantation Records. What’s the B-Side? “Linebacker II - Laying the Carpet of Freedom”?

It is, as John Halle commented, a Dolchstosslegende masterpiece. Horst Wessel lives.

Commemorating In Order To Forget

January 19th, 2015 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?

This is quite provocatively insightful, especially for Time Magazine. Some real wisdom from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for this Martin Luther King Day.

History has a tendency to commemorate the very thing it wishes to obfuscate. When you convince people that they’ve won, they lose some of their fire over injustice, their passion to challenge the status quo. In Alan Bennett’s brilliant play, The History Boys , one of the teachers explains to his students why a World War I monument to the dead soldiers isn’t really honoring them, but rather keeping people from demanding answers as to how Britain unnecessarily contributed to the cause of the war and is therefore responsible for their deaths. By appealing to our emotional sense of loss, the government’s monument distracts the people from holding the hidden villains responsible. The teacher says, “And all the mourning has veiled the truth. It’s not lest we forget, but lest we remember. That’s what this [war memorial] is about … Because there’s no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.”

Read The Full Essay

Sucking Up To Military Brass: Generals, Politicians and Our Complicit Media

December 8th, 2012 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?

Retired Air Force officer William Astore, whom we’ve often posted from before, brings us another insightful piece on the increasingly uncritical adulation that America’s military CEO’s continue to be lavished with, and the dangers that this poses to our ability to sustain a our society in any kind of democratically meaningful form.

Petraeus and McChrystal crashed and burned for the same underlying reason: hubris. McChrystal became cocky and his staff contemptuous of civilian authority; Petraeus came to think he really could have it all, the super-secret job and the super-sexy mistress. An ideal of selfless service devolved into self-indulgent preening in a wider American culture all-too-eager to raise its star generals into the pantheon of Caesars and Napoleons, and its troops into the halls of Valhalla.


In our particular drama, generals may well be the actors who strut and fret their hour upon the stage, but their directors are the national security complex and associated politicians, their producers the military-industrial complex’s corporate handlers, and their agents a war-junky media. And we, the audience in the cheap seats, must take some responsibility as well. Even when our military adventures spiral down after a promising opening week, the enthusiastic applause the American public has offered to our celebrity military adventurers and the lack of pressure on the politicians who choose to fund them only serve to keep bullets flying and troops dying.


Generals behaving badly aren’t the heart of the problem, only a symptom of the rot. The recent peccadilloes of Petraeus et al. are a reminder that these men never were the unbesmirched “heroes” so many imagined them to be. They were always the product of a military-industrial complex deeply invested in war, abetted by a media as in bed with them as Paula Broadwell, and a cheerleading citizenry that came to worship all things military even as it went about its otherwise unwarlike business.

Pruning a few bad apples from the upper branches of the military tree is going to do little enough when the rot extends to root and branch. Required is more radical surgery if America is to avoid ongoing debilitating conflicts and the disintegration of our democracy.

A simple first step toward radical surgery would certainly involve cutting the number of generals and admirals at least in half.


Still, such pruning isn’t faintly enough. A 50% cut may seem unkind, but don‚t spend your time worrying about demobbed generals queuing up for unemployment checks. Clutching their six-figure pensions, most of them would undoubtedly speed through the Pentagon’s golden revolving door onto the corporate boards of, or into consultancies with, various armaments manufacturers and influence peddlers, as 70% of three- and four-star retirees have in fact done in recent years.


In Roman times, a proconsul was a military ruler of imperial territories, a man with privileges as sweeping as his powers. Today’s four-star generals and admirals — there are 38 of them — often have equivalent powers, and the perks to go with them. Executive jets on call. Large retinues. Personal servants. Private chefs.


Think of those proconsuls as the prodigal sons of a sprawling American empire. In their fiefdoms, vast sums of money can be squandered or simply go missing, as can vast quantities of weapons. Recall those pallets of hundred dollar bills that magically disappeared in Iraq (to the tune of $18 billion). Or the magical disappearance of 190,000 AK-47s and pistols in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, representing 30% of the weapons the U.S. provided to Iraqi security forces. Or the tens of thousands of assault rifles, machine guns, and rocket launchers provided to Afghan security forces that magically disappeared in 2009 and 2010.


Whether in money, personnel, or the prestige and power it commands, the Pentagon simply blows away the State Department and similar government agencies. Sheltered within cocoons of compliance (due to the constant stoking of America’s fears) and adulation (due to the widespread militarization of American culture), our proconsuls go unchallenged unless they behave very badly indeed.

Put simply, Americans need to stop genuflecting to our paper Caesars before we actually produce a real one, a man ruthless enough to cross the Rubicon (or the Potomac) and parlay total military adulation into the five stars of absolute political authority.

Unless we wish to salute our very own Imperator, we need to regain a healthy dose of skepticism, shared famously by our Founders, when it comes to evaluating our generals and our wars. Such skepticism may not stop generals and admirals from behaving badly, but it just might help us radically downsize an ever more militarized global mission and hew more closely to our democratic ideals.

As Tom Engelhardt remarked, one of the more notable aspects regarding this whole affair is the role of the media in it. Particularly as it relates to the media management, or “perception management” to use the vernacular of the Pentagon.

As for Petraeus, on November 20th, the Times‚ Scott Shane reported that almost all the main figures in the ever-expanding scandal around him had hired “high-profile, high-priced” image managers. That included the general himself who had, in the past, proved the most celebrated military image-manager of his generation — until, of course, he managed himself into bed with his “biographer.” Petraeus, Shane noted, had hired Robert Barnett, “a superlawyer whose online list of clients begins with the last three presidents. Though he is perhaps best known for negotiating book megadeals for the Washington elite, his focus this time is said to be steering Mr. Petraeus’s future career, not his literary life.” Curiously, Barnett had represented Stanley McChrystal, too, when the axed war commander sold a memoir in 2010.


While both men evidently continue to engage in the sort of take-no-prisoners PR campaigning they know how to do best, the rest of us should be blinking in stunned wonder and asking ourselves: Just what are we to make of the decade of military hagiography we’ve just passed through? What did it mean for two generals to soar to media glory while the wars they commanded landed in the nearest ditch?

Someday, historians are going to have a field day with our “embedded” American world in the twilight years of our glory, the celebrated era when, wartime victories having long since faded away, the image of triumph became what really mattered in Washington.

Read The Complete Article from

Bradley Manning Hearing: Government Foiled By Its Own Policies

March 25th, 2012 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?

The absurdity grows… Lots of good interviews and links here from the Government Accountability Project. Peter Van Buren, the State Department official, and whistleblower on the extreme criminal fraud and waste run rampant in Iraq, who detailed some of this in his book We Meant Well, comments here…

“I came to Iraq and realized that the discrepancy between what we say we were doing and what we were doing at the risk of peoples lives, including my own, and billions of taxpayer dollars, was too wide to stand silent. The waste of lives, the waste of money was so extreme and the lies that were being told in Washington were so egregious that I decided to risk my career and speak out,” he said. . . . .

“Absolutely. I criticized the Secretary of State. I criticized the president and I’ve criticized other members of the State Department and the Administration, and I did that because when I signed up 24 years ago, my oath was to the constitution, not to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or anyone else. I’ve served under Republicans and I’ve served under Democrats, but my oath has always been to the constitution, and therefore it shouldn’t matter,” Van Buren said.

Read and Watch the full post Here

Robert Reich on the True American Spirit and Confronting The Abuses of the Powerful

October 6th, 2011 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?, Video

These remarks from Robert Reich at a recent rally event are actually quite inspiring in regards to what can and should animate meaningful civic action. Protecting the powerless against the predatory instincts of the powerful sounds like something Jesus would say. Preventing the powerful and the privileged from bullying those in a ‘lesser’ position, and to give ordinary working people and the poor a voice, a truly meaningful voice, is something which Reich states should be a core principle guiding the actions of progressive forces against those of reaction. His faith in the true nature of the American character, one of fairness and equal rights, always responds when the forces of regression seem on the verge of tipping the balance irrevocably. I would like to believe that he is right.

Also of interest is the fact that he had been friends with Michael Schwerner, the civil rights worker who was killed in Mississippi back in 1964 (and whose brother Steve was a long-time professor at Antioch University, and one of the premier jazz DJs on WYSO radio).

The Militarization of Sports

September 7th, 2011 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?

As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, it may be worth reiterating the words of William Astore, as he comments on the militarization of society, as it is reflected in how we celebrate sports.

This is an excellent column on a situation which has long bothered me. I’m also glad to know that I played a small part in this being written, having tipped Bill Astore off to this. This was thanks to an old, dear friend of mine who was a long time sportswriter covering the San Diego Padres, who turned me on to this new development with the Padres organization, and their “Military Affairs” division (which Astore writes about in this column). A sports team with a “Military Affairs” department?? (And ironically, a team named after a religious order). Has this nation finally and totally jumped the shark? This weekend might drive the point home, considering the fact that the NFL’s opening day falls on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and their will be no shortage of opportunity for this growing cultural phenomenon in America’s sports life to go full throttle.

War is not a sport; it’s not entertainment; it’s not fun. And blurring the lines between sport and war is not in the best interests of our youth, who should not be sold on military service based on stadium pageantry or team marketing, however well-intentioned it may be.

We’ve created a dangerous dynamic in this country: one in which sporting events are exploited to sell military service for some while providing cheap grace for all, even as military service is sold as providing the thrill of (sporting) victory while elevating our troops to the status of “heroes” (a status too often assigned by our society to well-paid professional athletes).

Which brings me to a humble request: At our sporting events, is it too much to ask that we simply “Play Ball?” In our appeals for military recruits, is it too much for us to tell them that war is not a sport?

Think of these questions the next time those military warplanes roar over the coliseum of your corporate-owned team.

Read The Complete Post

Ron Paul on WikiLeaks: Truth Is Treason In The Empire of Lies

December 13th, 2010 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?, Video

Rep. Ron Paul lays out some of the stark truth of the situation with this speech in the U.S. House of Representatives: “Which has resulted in the most deaths? Lying us into war, or the release of the WikiLeaks papers?”

Paul continues on this subject with his declarations that what we need is more WikiLeaks.

MLK: On Breaking The Silence and Moving Beyond War

January 18th, 2010 by Andy in What Is Patriotism?, Video

On a day America honors the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., this is one of his speeches most likely not to be quoted or referenced by our politicos or by many, if any, members of the punditocracy.

Delivered in NYC on April 4, 1967, King delivers a cogent analysis as to our responsibility as citizens of a nation which plays the role that it does in the world, and our responsibility as Americans for how war skews the values which become emphasized in our a political and economic system. It becomes ever-more obvious as to its modern relevancy with the ever-expanding military budgets our nation continues to incur in the face of economic break down, and ever-increasing disparities in wealth and opportunity between our haves and growing numbers of have-nots.

Read the full transcript of this lucid and unfortunately still all-too-relevant speech.

As a related video, here’s Martin Luther King, Jr. On War

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