I have come to the realization over the years that I am not Patriotic. It’s not that I wasn’t taught to be Patriotic. I was. I was taught that the country I was born to, that I reside in, I claim citizenship in, was the greatest country in the world. I was taught that the founding fathers were wise men who were infallible in their wisdom. I was taught that the troops only fight wars to protect us and keep our freedoms. I wasn’t taught this by my parents. They had more practical lessons for me. Lessons of the day to day. I was taught this by the institutions and the representatives of those institutions of society itself. I was taught this by my peers and teachers. I was taught this by the media.
I would only later discover that they were wrong.
Don’t mistake this for an “I hate America!” rant. It is not. I’m not going to give away my citizenship and flee to another country. I’m not going talk about how horrible Americans are compared to the rest of the world. But I’m not going to praise us either. I say “us” because I am an American. I am a citizen of the U.S. I live the lifestyle. I have in my life walked the walk and talked the talk. It was grilled into me by school, the media and my peers that United States was the greatest country in the world, and in my youth I honestly thought that was the case. I got older. I learned to be a bit more skeptical.
The first moment that it occurred to me that my country may be not all it claimed to be had to be the lead up to the war with Iraq in 2002 and 2003. I was apolitical at that time but as I watched the news I became more and more uncomfortable with what I was seeing. It struck me as disingenuous. I remember sitting in a car with a friend about a week before the war started and stating to him, “I honestly don’t think this war is what they say it is.” He agreed with me. The entire time the war was going on I felt like a voice out in left field while my colleagues and even some friends waved the flags of patriotism and pontificated on how great it was we were freeing Iraq.
Look at it now.
I don’t want this to be a commentary on Iraq, or the Middle East. I could write one, but there are those that are better equipped to do so here at the Chaos Section. Individuals who’ve been there and seen first hand the things that have gone on, and gone wrong in that region. During that war I became interested in politics, as before I was not. During that war I became interested in history. Genuinely interested. Where before it was a mild fancy. During that war I became interested in how America, the United States, compares to the rest of the world. Delving into these areas left me both pessimistic and saddened.
What did I learn?
Diving into politics – after much effort – I learned not to buy into the bullshit. I learned that while both political parties have different platforms mostly they just want power. I do firmly believe that there are differences between them, but I also believe it doesn’t matter. Neither party is genuinely interested in letting other views have the floor. The Tea-party, which many people still erroneously identify as a grassroots movement, was quickly subsumed by the conservative right. The GOP. The Occupy movement was embraced and devoured by the left, the Democrats. And those that still want their voices to be heard independently have been drowned out by those who used both of those movements to gain power. The other political parties that have entered into the arena of the past several decades: the Libertarians, the Green Party and the Constitution Party and so on, are ignored by the big two. That the run of the mill voter is encouraged to ignore those other parties is both discouraging and shows how much ideas outside the accepted mainstream are not to be taken seriously.
I also learned to follow the money. But that’s another blog post. And another rant.
From history I learned that as a country we’ve got a great track record of treating other people like shit. From the Native Americans here in the US. To the people of South America from all the little secret coups that were staged to keep our corporate interests in power. To the wars – both secret and open – that were fought to keep dictators in control that were friendly to us. Dictators like Saddam Hussein that we would eventually oust. I learned that for every great accomplishment that came out of this country, there seemed to be a travesty to walk along with it.
When looking at how we compared to other countries I learned that education is a right elsewhere, and so is health care. It’s not free. It comes out of taxes. But I learned that I’d rather my taxes go to something beneficial for society itself rather to fight some war that never qualified as justified. I learned that there are countries that the democratic process works differently. Where individuals who are in the minority genuinely get a say.
I also learned that we have it pretty good. And that there are those who’ll lie and tell us the reason we have it good is because of the status quo. The people in power who assure us everything will be alright as long as we let them do their job. Those faces may change, and the color of their party might change. And the rhetoric definitely changes while one side casts aspersions at the other. But most importantly, part of that rhetoric is the idea of Patriotism. The idea that if you question the status quo, if you question the action of those in power or the country as a whole you are un-American. That you are not Patriotic.
Well I’m not. I’m not because I do question. I do understand that things could be different. That what we the people want could be made manifest if two things happen: First, that those who are waving flags and claiming that to question the ideals set forth by their favorite party is unpatriotic, actually wake up to the empty words and gestures that they embrace and actually engage in the idea of owning the government and not simply claiming they do. And secondly, that those disinterested in the process realize that the system is theirs and that they could claim it at any time. It’s only a matter of waking up.
I’m not Patriotic, but I do realize that the country could someday be great. If we the people actually claim what is ours.
Author: Frank Shaw lives in the far reaches of Utah where oil is king and dinosaurs once walked. He’s learning to be a home owner and wondering what’s next in life. When he’s not pontificating about politics, history or philosophy he’s discussing movies on an unrelated podcast and hanging out with his dogs and girlfriend.