“I am a Patriot, And I Love My Country”

I was distracted for a good part of Sunday by Jonathon Delacour's Patriotism and the martial state , which makes an all-too convincing argument that America is a martial state that is mired in a mind-numbing patriotism.

Of course, I realize as a Vietnam Veteran who periodically complains that most of my life has been dominated by war that I'm probably not in the ideal position to counter that argument. In fact, merely having to make that admission makes me wonder if Jonathon isn't right.

Still, like Yossarian's girl friend who protests Yossarian's cynical view of God when Yosarian points out that she has previously said she didn't believe in God:

"I don't," she sobbed, bursting violently into tears. "But the God I don't believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He's not the mean and stupid God you make Him out to be."

I would cry out that the patriotism that I don't believe in, the patriotism that most Americans pledge allegiance to isn't the chauvinistic patriotism of "my country right or wrong" but, rather, the patriotism that Jackson Browne celebrates in:

I AM A PATRIOT

And the river opens for the righteous
And the river opens for the righteous
And the river opens for the righteous
And the river opens for the righteous
And the river opens for the righteous
Someday

I was walking with my brother
And he wondered what's on my mind
I said what I believe in my soul
Ain't what I see with my eyes
And we can't turn our backs this time

I am a patriot
And I love my county
Because my country is all I know
I want to be with my family
The people who understand me
I've got nowhere else to go

And the river opens for the righteous
And the river opens for the righteous
And the river opens for the righteous
Someday

And I was talking with my sister
She looked so fine
I said, "Baby, what's on your mind?"
She said, "I want to run like the lion
Released from the cages
Released from the rages
Burning in my heart tonight"

And I ain't no communist
And I ain't no capitalist
And I ain't no socialist
And I ain't no imperialist
And I ain't no democrat
Sure ain't no republican
I only know one party
And it is freedom

I am, I am, I am
I am a patriot
And I love my country
Because my county is all I know

And the river opens for the righteous
And the river opens for the righteous
And the river opens for the righteous
Someday

And the river opens for the righteous...
And the river opens for the righteous...
And the river opens for the righteous...
And the river opens for the righteous...

I want to run like the lion
And the river opens for the righteous...
And the river opens for the righteous...
Released from the cages
I said what I believe in my soul
It ain't what I see with my eyes
And the river opens for the righteous...

Someday,
And the river opens for the righteous...
Someday
And the river opens for the righteous...
Someday
And the river opens for the righteous...
Someday

For most Americans what they believe in their soul isn't what they see with their eyes.

Recent book signings to the contrary, few Americans I've known have idolized The President, though dead and retired presidents are generally held in much higher regard than sitting presidents.

Like Jackson Browne, most Americans reserve their patriotism for the concept of "freedom." Even in our "pledge of allegiance" we pledge allegiance to "liberty and justice for all," not just a nation.

I would certainly agree that far too many of America's recent militaristic interventions have been driven by capitalistic aims. Generally, though, it has taken an act of aggression, real or imagined, to lead us to war. Despite Hitler's aggession in Europe, Americans were unwilling to go to war until the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.

Although recent wars may suggest Jonathon correct in his assessment, the fact is that less than 4% of the Gdp is spent on the military. Even the chickenhawks don't dare suggest reinstituting the draft, knowing that it would inevitably end their political career. If America is a "military state" it is a militarly state where most citizens do not want to be in the military and where most people have a vague distrust of generals and their lock-step conformity.

In reality, America hasn't conquered the world through military might, but through capitalism. There's little need for armed might when other country's avarice makes them willing victims of our capitalistic system because it promises them the same kind of endless (dis)satisfaction that American consumers enjoy. Though Mick Jagger's "Can't Get No Satisfaction" may sell songs, unfortunately most of his followers are dissatisfied because they haven't attained his lavish lifestyle, not because they don't believe the commercials that overwhelm their existence.

6 thoughts on ““I am a Patriot, And I Love My Country”

  1. I did make one of my usual blathering, disconnected, most likely badly mispelled comments on this issue over at Jonathon’s. But I did want to say that I agree with much of what you’re saying here.

  2. I think it’s a tough time to be an American.

    I certainly wouldn’t defend most of what we’ve done in the last four years, and I think Americans have generally over reacted to 9/11, but I still have faith in the American people and their overall sense of generosity, their willingness to share thier wealth with the world.

    More and more I’m convinced that American’s are too focused on material wealth and that has many deleterious effects on our society and on our society’s actions, but even that has failed to undermine my overall faith in the students I taught for thirty years.

  3. I am currently applying to medical school, and the military has offered to pay for the 4 years of tuition in return for 4 years of service in the military. I’ve thought long and hard about the decision, knowing that I’ll come out of medical school with 200,000 dollars of debt, a sum that takes most doctors around 15 years to pay off. It’s a tempting offer, however, I do question the nature of the military. I’m going into medicine with the hopes of curing illness and alleviating suffering. Do I want to assist an organization that trains to be the most efficient killer on the planet?

    I studied Taoism for a good portion of time myself, Loren. First of all, the core reading for the religion is quite light! 🙂 I was interested in the ideas presented by Taoism, coming to me during a stressful time in my life. I found the messages presented by the religion to be quite helpful in my endeavors as a musician. I began to “go with the flow” more often, and allowed myself to be removed from… well… myself for periods of time.

    I have to admit that I am a Christian. However, I have found other religions to be a source of wisdom. A good number of people grow up with some religious background given to them by their parents. They stick with that belief system, refusing to acknowldge the others. Would it be so wrong for a Christian to study some different styles of meditation? I suggest that anyone interested in learning more about the major religions in the world read “The World’s Religions” by Huston Smith. Mr. Smith does not compare them. By no means! He tries to get inside the minds of those that believe. It is a book that takes religion seriously. It is not a tourist guide. Even if you think you’ve read all the literature, or the core material about a religion…. read this book. Even if only for his commentary on Taoism. He’s simply fantastic. You have an interesting take on enlightenment. Your approach seems to focus less on information and knowledge, and more on wisdom. For, “the way to enlightenment is work performed in detachment from the empirical self. A line between the finite self that acts, and the eternal self that observes the action (Smith).”

    Loren, I totally agree with your statement that:

    “I would cry out that the patriotism that I don’t believe in, the patriotism that most Americans pledge allegiance to isn’t the chauvinistic patriotism of my country right or wrong…”

    Americans seem so bent upon supporting our luxurious lifestyle, that we’ll do anything to keep what we have. I’m sickened by the disparity of wealth in the world…. and, by myself, sitting here, typing on a computer in a comfortable room… while there are starving people all around the world. I like that little phrase about “oceans of greed never fill up”. I justify what I have, by looking at others that have more, instead of looking at those that have very little, and realizing just how good I have it.

  4. I’m glad that you found something of interest here, Jeffrey. You sound like someone who has given considerable thought to your life, probably more thought than I gave to my life at your age.

    You’re right that I’m more interested in wisdom than information or knowledge, though I certainly make no claims to be “enlightened” or even to seeking “enlightenment,” a term whose connotations make me rather nervous.

    All I want in life is to be happy with who I am and what I do, to live without regrets, now and ’til death do us part.

  5. Loren,
    your site is remarkable, especially the intelligent discussion of poetry. Who are you anyway? if I may ask. Are you a poet yourself? I’ve had a very few poems published, but came up short in the talent dept., and am now mostly just a reader and appreciator and like a lot of the poets on your list, such as Wilbur, Plath, Stevens etc etc, and some that aren’t there–most notably Larkin. Keep up good work.

  6. Henry, no, I don’t consider myself a poet, though I’ve obviously attempted to write poems at different times in my life.

    I’m probably more of a “philosopher,” but I’ve always identified more with poetry than with philosophers per se.

    I graduated from the University of Washington English Department, with a strong focus on modern poetry, and I’ve spent the rest of my life reading modern poetry both as part of my job as a high school English teacher and as a means of maintaining my personal sanity.

    The poets I discuss here are those that I have read since retiring from teaching. Though I’d obviously read many of them in school, I only write here about books or poets that I’m currently reading or re-reading.

    As for who I am, I suspect a look around the site will reveal “who I am” more than anything I’m willing to put here in my comments.

What do you think?