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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The threat of patriotism in the USA

Published: April 4, 2008
Section: Opinions

I love history. It’s been my favorite subject for as long as I’ve been in school. Unfortunately, too often I feel like this puts me in the minority. Too many Americans demonstrate a lack of historical knowledge; this is something that I, as a strong believer in the old saying, “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, find disturbing.

Recently, I found myself reading about Senator McCarthy’s crusade against Communism during the 1950’s. In his quest for fame and power, McCarthy exploited and fueled the Red Scare that had swept the country. It was a dark time in American history where anyone’s patriotism could be legitimately questioned at any time, and like so many dark times, most Americans assume that it is over, and little more than a blemish.

But it has never been over. Though the Cold War has ended, our fear of mysterious enemies has never abated. “Communist” has been replaced with “terrorist.” What we consider to be “patriotism” is little more than a measurement of how many flags one can wave, how many wars one can support, and how many times one can say “America is great” in one sentence.

Since I love history so much, part of me can appreciate the irony. But another part of me is appalled. We should all be appalled. Instead of blindly waving our flags, we should be questioning our surroundings. Why is a presidential candidate criticized for not wearing a flag lapel? Why is his wife facing similar criticism for not being proud of America? Why are anti-war Americans accused of hating their country and helping the terrorists? Why has it been deemed necessary for private citizens and public figures alike to robotically recite “God Bless America!” “God Bless America!” over and over and over again?

I am fairly certain that most Americans, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, love their country. But it should not be necessary for us to wear this love on our sleeves. This is no way to defend the First Amendment, or to prove to the rest of the world that, in the War on Terror, we have the moral high ground by fighting for freedom.

In order for any nation to fight for freedom abroad, it must preserve freedom at home.

We are still afraid; we have been afraid for a half-century. Our push for nationalism is, more than anything, motivated by a strong fear of our unknown enemies and an even stronger desire to root them out of the crowd. As a result of this fear, we have embraced the aggressively patriotic, overly powerful government that leads us in conflict around the world in order to make America “stronger”.

I think it is appropriate to quote Edward R. Murrow, the newscaster who risked his career by attacking McCarthyism. He said this:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”

They are powerful words that, fifty years later, are still terribly relevant. Readers, I hope you all know that you are free to speak out against your country if you feel that we are doing something wrong. True patriotism is following the Constitution, the backbone of America.