The American Patriot

Jeremy asks, “How can you be an American patriot in 2013?” and relates his experience watching “Zero Dark Thirty” in light of my criticism. He writes:

I found the portrayal of torture rather nuanced in terms of what it says about its efficacy and its morality. What was surely war porn was when they were closing in on bin Laden, but I found myself thinking–so what? Haven’t all societies had their stories of glory and victory? Only a real fringe (of which Rindy is firmly a part) think that the raid to get bin Laden was anything but totally justified and something to be proud of.

There is a damned if you do/damned if you don’t aspect to how the world looks at America: if we had intervened in Syria we’d be the imperialists; the fact that we haven’t makes us cold-hearted and uncaring. What is America’s role in the world? How can we proud of what is good about this country without being chest-thumping, jingoistic idiots?

I’d counter that when our country’s noble story of “glory and victory” is tracking down and murdering an international terrorist, that is not something to be proud of. Putting that international terrorist on trial in front of the world, showing enormous restraint and the highest ideals of justice and the rule of law – now that would rouse the patriot in me.

For me, it’s tough to square “patriotism” with celebrations of military aggression. Syria is an interesting case. Why should America’s honor and goodness rest solely on whether we choose to intervene? Not to mention that we are intervening, providing some low-level weaponry and attempting to keep Saudi and Turkish arms out of al-Qaeda’s hands. Is that noble? It’s an attempt to keep the rebellion going against a leader we don’t like – where is the assistance to the people of Bahrain? Not happening. And how about Libya in the wake of American intervention? Kind of ugly.

Taking us away from the military context, consider the earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti. Reports three years after the quake are that very few of the massive resources that were marshaled to help Haitians will leave any lasting impact on the country. Predictably, most of the money has been funneled back toward US and western aid agencies and contractors.

Americans take pride in a few core principles: freedom, justice, and democracy, for example. We enjoy our status as protector and champion of these values, yet we fail to notice that people in the rest of the world increasingly do not believe that we care about these things.

Love means being honest. If patriotism is truly a love of country, then I say it must allow room for criticism. It must be self-aware. To be an American patriot in 2013 we must see that American society is decadent and brutish: our war machine out of control, surveillance and advertising permeating our personal space, debt saddling our backs – and we must change it. If we love our country, let us make it better.

That’s my rant, anyway – come on out and give us your take on Wednesday, January 30th. You call yourself a patriot? Yes or no, come and tell us what it means. DOC Wine Bar, Williamsburg. 8pm.

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