No, I was not dropped on my head as a child. What I want to know is what the word “nationalism” means to you. For me, “nationalism” means fanaticism, self-righteousness, and pharisaism. Where some see enthusiastic flag waving and patriotism, I see a tool to perpetuate some of the worst evils of the last two centuries. (Remember the holocaust?) Some will say that no such evil has come of good old fashioned American nationalism, but I say FOOEY! Think no further than this continent’s indigenous people; if you think they got a fair shake then you need a history lesson. Some will say that we’re no worse than other nations; nations guilty of wiping the floor with other people’s rights. Are you familiar with the trail of tears? Whole societies were erased from the face of the Earth in the name of a contrived “Manifest Destiny.” But surely we’re better now, right? How many people have been detained since 9/11 without so much as a phone call to an attorney? How many examples “Justice, American style” have graced the airwaves these last several years? Police beatings and prison torture may be the exception rather than the rule, but they seem to happen more often than they should, and the world takes notice. We can say that these exceptions don’t reflect our values, but talk is cheap. We are judged by how we react to these exceptions and how we strive to eliminate them. If all we do is talk about our “real values” and rest on our imagined laurels as a great nation, we loose credibility among ourselves, let alone everyone else.
This July 4th, I will look fondly upon much of our country’s history. I will appreciate the ideals and values championed by our founding fathers. At the same time, I will remember that ideals and values are no more than just ideals and values. They mean nothing unless our actions reflect them.
Today I see our leaders using nationalism as a tool once again to further an agenda. As I’ve said before, I’ve heard it suggested repeatedly that disagreement with our leaders is tantamount to anti-patriotism. This July 4th I will look fondly on those values that have distinguished us from many of history’s empires, monarchies and republics – chief among them being freedom; freedom to speak our mind, freedom to disagree.