In celebration of the 4th of July there will be many speeches about
the young people who “died for their country.” Let's be honest about
war. Those who gave their lives did not die for their country, as they were
led to believe but for their government. The distinction between country and
government is at the heart of the Declaration of Independence, which will be
referred to again and again on July 4, but without attention to its meaning.
According to the Declaration of Independence—the fundamental document
of democracy—governments are artificial creations, established by the
people, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”
and charged by the people to ensure the equal right of all to “life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness.” Furthermore, as the Declaration says, “whenever
any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of
the people to alter or abolish it.”
It is the country that is primary—the people, the ideals of the sanctity
of human life and the promotion of liberty. When a government recklessly expends
the lives of its young for crass motives of profit and power, always claiming
that its motives are pure and moral (“Operation Just Cause” was
the invasion of Panama and “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in the present
instance), it is violating its promise to the country. War is almost always
a breaking of that promise. It does not enable the pursuit of happiness but
brings despair and grief.
Mark Twain, having been called a “traitor” for criticizing the
U.S. invasion of the Philippines, derided what he called “monarchical
patriotism.” He said: “The gospel of the monarchical patriotism
is: ‘The King can do no wrong.’ We have adopted it with all its
servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: ‘Our country, right
or wrong!’ We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had—the
individual’s right to oppose both flag and country when he believed them
to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it, all that was really
respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism.”
If patriotism in the best sense (not in the monarchical sense) is loyalty to
the principles of democracy, then who was the true patriot, Theodore Roosevelt,
who applauded a massacre by American soldiers of 600 Filipino men, women, and
children on a remote Philippine island, or Mark Twain, who denounced it?
Today, U.S. soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan are not dying
for their country, they are dying for their government. They are dying for Bush
and Cheney and Rumsfeld. And yes, they are dying for the greed of the oil cartels,
for the expansion of the American empire, for the political ambitions of the
President. They are dying to cover up the theft of the nation’s wealth
to pay for the machines of death. As of July 4, 2006, more than 2,500 US soldiers
have been killed in Iraq, more than 8,500 maimed or injured.
With the war in Iraq long delcared a “Mission Accomplished,” shall
we revel in American military power and—against the history of modern
empires—insist that the American empire will be beneficent?
Our own history shows something different. It begins with what was called,
in our high school history classes, “westward expansion”—a
euphemism for the annihilation or expulsion of the Indian tribes inhabiting
the continent, all in the name of “progress” and “civilization.”
It continues with the expansion of American power into the Caribbean at the
turn of the century, then into the Philippines, and then repeated Marine invasions
of Central America and long military occupations of Haiti and the Dominican
After World War II, Henry Luce, owner of Time, LIFE, and Fortune, spoke of “the
American Century,” in which this country would organize the world “as
we see fit.” Indeed, the expansion of American power continued, too often
supporting military dictatorships in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle
East, because they were friendly to American corporations and the American government.
The record does not justify confidence in Bush’s boast that the United
States will bring democracy to Iraq. Should Americans welcome the expansion
of the nation’s power, with the anger this has generated among so many
people in the world? Should we welcome the huge growth of the military budget
at the expense of health, education, the needs of children, one fifth of whom
grow up in poverty?
Instead of being feared for our military prowess, we should want to be respected
for our dedication to human rights. I suggest that a patriotic American who
cares for her or his country might act on behalf of a different vision.
Should we not begin to redefine patriotism? We need to expand it beyond
that narrow nationalism that has caused so much death and suffering. If national
boundaries should not be obstacles to trade—some call it “globalization”—should
they also not be obstacles to compassion and generosity?
Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own?
In that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would
be unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world. Human ingenuity
would have to search for other ways.
Read from Looking Glass News
away the flags
The Reality Beneath the Flag-Waving
your Independence on the 4th; Burn a Flag
Flag of the Corporate States of America
Burning and Other Dubious Epidemics