Pledging Allegiance to Peace

A Quaker argues that patriotism is deadly, no matter where or why it is practiced


| July-August 2011


Our country is the world, our countrymen are all mankind. We love the land of our nativity only as we love all other lands. The interests, rights, liberties of American citizens are no more dear to us than are those of the whole human race. Hence, we can allow no appeal to patriotism, to revenge any national insult or injury. 

—William Lloyd Garrison, abolitionist, “Declaration of Sentiments Adopted by the Peace Convention” (1838)

Most Americans take for granted that patriotism is a virtue. We are taught at home, in school, and by the media that love for and pride in our country rank among our highest moral duties. We are exhorted to patriotism daily by flags, songs, holidays, monuments, marches, speeches, images, and literature that extol the glory of our country. So deeply ingrained is our belief in the value of patriotism that even to question it is taboo. When someone criticizes our personal sense of patriotism—always a ready-made tactic for trashing peace activists—it stings, and makes us very defensive. We think they just don’t understand what true patriotism is all about, and perhaps we are moved to buy a bumper sticker reading “Peace Is Patriotic.”

But is patriotism peaceful? Based on my life experience, studies, intellect, and conscience, I am led undeniably to the conviction that patriotism is immoral: It is selfish and irrational, hinders our judgment, divides the world, contributes to militarization, causes war, and contradicts the teachings of Jesus.

Patriotism is an attitude of favoritism toward “my country” and “my people.” If egotism or pridefulness toward oneself is a vice, then patriotism or pridefulness toward one’s particular country is likewise deplorable.

Patriotism clouds our judgment; it hinders objectivity and detracts from our ability to assess political situations rationally. Patriotism biases us toward our country’s perspective, encumbering our desire and ability to consider outside perspectives. Patriotism breeds conformity and closed-mindedness. Furthermore, it makes us overly trusting of those in power over us, and susceptible to abuses of that power.



This is evidenced by what happened after 9/11: Americans were swept up in a wave of feverish patriotism and fell in line with a corrupt agenda. As a prime example, take the USA Patriot Act—who would dare oppose such a noble-sounding ordinance? Never mind that it involves gratuitous violations of civil liberties; what freedom-loving U.S. citizen does not also love warrantless surveillance, wiretapping, search and seizure, as well as detention and no-fly lists? Clearly, the act was given that title because politicians know the efficacy of patriotism for manipulating public opinion.

That patriotic propaganda measures are increased during wartime should be reason enough to give us pause concerning patriotism. Notice also how many flags are displayed for U.S. holidays associated with war—Presidents Day (celebrating the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, both notorious for leading war efforts), Memorial Day, Independence Day (celebrating the day war was declared by the colonists on Britain), and Veterans Day—and how few flags appear on other federal holidays: Martin Luther King Jr. Day (honoring a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize), Thanksgiving (purportedly celebrating gratitude and cooperation between European colonists and Native Americans), and Labor Day. The bond between patriot­ism and war is not even covert.

John Richard Clinton Maenpaa
7/23/2011 3:53:45 PM

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." -Thomas Jefferson- "Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains." -Thomas Jefferson- It was the rise of the nation-state, and then the rise of the democratic nation-state, that finally put a stake through the heart of feudalism. Now, in a world where international banks attack vulnerable democracies with austerity plans in the name of protecting the fabulously wealthy from taxation, and industries chase all over the globe in search of the most thoroughly exploitable labour and resources, perhaps it's time to consider rebooting this system. Quote: "Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people." -Thomas Jefferson- Now, raise your hand if you voted for your WTO delegate... As I thought. The time has long passed for the false dichotomy of unfettered trade versus isolationism. While Patriotism, like religion, ideology and national security, has been used as a tool to keep armed peasants humping themselves and their gear toward the front lines, a modicum of nationalism is precisely what we need. The road to this fresh new hell is paved with good intentions...


John Richard Clinton Maenpaa
7/23/2011 12:37:36 AM

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." -Thomas Jefferson- "Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains." -Thomas Jefferson- It was the rise of the nation-state, and then the rise of the democratic nation-state, that finally put a stake through the heart of feudalism. Now, in a world where international banks attack vulnerable democracies with austerity plans in the name of protecting the fabulously wealthy from taxation, and industries chase all over the globe in search of the most thoroughly exploitable labour and resources, perhaps it's time to consider rebooting this system. Quote: "Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people." -Thomas Jefferson- Now, raise your hand if you voted for your WTO delegate... As I thought. The time has long passed for the false dichotomy of unfettered trade versus isolationism. While Patriotism, like religion, ideology and national security have all been used as tools to keep armed peasants humping themselves and their gear toward the front lines, a modicum of nationalism is precisely what we need. The road to this fresh new hell is paved with good intentions...


steve eatenson
7/7/2011 6:08:29 AM

Article and comments make many good points. Yes, I would add that many religions have also become another form of patriotism. How many were killed in the Crusades in the name of Christianity? For that matter, religious wars of many flavors have and continue to kill and maim a sad number. Cooperation rather than competition is a better idea for most. Competition only serves the greedy few who happen to win, often by cheating. Competition serves the antisocial in society rather than the majority. Throughout history patriotism has even led to soldiers raising arms againt their own neighbors. It's happening around the globe, right now. Let us not forget that this country was founded by wealthy landowners who come to America to be able to make more money and pay less taxes. Do not think for a minute that "our" laws and constitution were not carefully crafted by self-interest. America is a sophisticated marketing machine that is expert at manipulating the masses for the benefit of the chosen few. We see it in our government and in our religious institutions as well as our corporations. Dictatorships are more honest. They are direct and make no pretense. Patriotism is fanned by the flame of fear and everywhere one looks the powers who have the most to lose by change fan that flame. The answer does not lie in violent revolt. Look at history. It has never worked over the long run. Passive resistance seems a slow process but the best mode for lasting advancement.















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