Global Ethics Corner: Patriotism: Unquestioned Commitment or Dangerous Justification?

Jun 29, 2012

Can you acknowledge dissenters as patriots? Can you dissent and still sing the national anthem wholeheartedly? Can you live in a middle ground?

The 4th of July is America's most genuine national celebration.

Christmas and Valentines' Day are commercialized. Halloween and parents' days are massaged by marketing gurus. Easter, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, and others are focused on religious communities.

Thanksgiving runs a close second as a genuine celebration, but its focus is on family. July 4th celebrates the country, and reminds us of America's special character, of individuals' responsibilities and rights.

All countries express similar sentiments ranging from the muted pride of Germans to the exuberance of Chinese.

Patriotism is the core value that underlies the American Independence celebration. It is defined as "devoted love, support, and defense of one's country; national loyalty."

However, leaders are not always right and actions not always worthy.

Furthermore, healthy democracies are characterized by debate and protected dissention.

Invoking patriotism, as is so often done on July 4th, can lead to polar reactions. While it is easy to be an American patriot since September 11th, for many, patriotism is called into question by policies like the Vietnam and Iraq Wars.

On one extreme, sayings frequently heard are "my country, right or wrong," and "America: love it or leave it." The implicit message is that if you dissent, you are unpatriotic.

On the other extreme, patriotic sentiments are stereotyped as red-neck ignorance, blind thoughtlessness. The implicit message is that patriotism is usually and simply a dangerous justification.

Do you embrace either extreme? Can you acknowledge dissenters as patriots? Can you dissent and still sing the national anthem wholeheartedly? Can you live in a middle ground?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

Stuart Berg Flexner, ed. Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd edition, unabridged, Random House: NY, 1987

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Alex Proimos
Peter Hilton
Ian Fuller
Bill McChesney
Paul-W
Monterey, Calif.
Drew Geraets
David Yu
Monterey, Calif.
Monterey, Calif.
Eric B.

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