American Patriotism is Vomit Worthy

20

July 7, 2009 by J. Madson

This started out as a comment in a blog post on why mormonism is so tied to american patriotism. One commenter, who runs a fine blog btw, Chris H. labeled himself as “just a political philosopher who finds America-is-so-great-rhetoric vomit worthy.” Well my comment got longer and longer so I though I should post it here. This is my meager offering on why I find American Patriotism or what passes for patriotism lately in the United States vomit worthy.FlagPatchBlack.jpg

The problem with the America-is-so-great rhetoric is what it often leads to. It takes a certain humility which is in stark contrast to over-bearing american patriotism in order to repent.

America may have great things about it, as do most nations, but it also has many things for which we should collectively be ashamed and repent. Unfortunately, MLK Jr. statement that we are the “greatest purveyor of violence” in the world still remains true. We take up the treasures and wealth of the world and use it to buy up armies, both through enlistment and more recently in our massive use of military contractors (more than half of the personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan), while wealth and power elects tyrants all the while false religious leaders swear allegiance to money, nation, and power first and God last if ever. For so many of God’s children is it truly an exaggeration to suggest that our nation reigns with blood and horror on the earth!

Let us not forget that we lead the world in creating weapons of war that we both sell throughout the world and use ourselves or through proxies to bring about massive human casualties and loss of life. Our “defense” budget is the largest in human history and equals that of the next 15 closest nations combined. Our country was founded in war and violence, grown on the backs of slaves, our territory expanded with the genocide of this land’s native populations, and yet we still have not repented while we continue to engage in the type of american exceptionalism that allows us to use labels like enhanced interrogation for our own actions but call it torture when another nation, not us, does it. What judgment should a nation be worthy of that offends the little children like when Bush Sr. destroyed the water treatment plant after the first gulf war leading to UN estimates of 500,000 children’s deaths? Should a millstone be hung around our nation’s collective neck? What of the thousands of civilian deaths we still cause around the world, perhaps even this very minute in distant lands such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan? How red does the red of the American Flag truly bleed? How many fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons have we sacrificed upon our pagan altars in obedience to our idolatrous god, America?

Why are mormons so damn patriotic? In short, I think we are patriotic as mormons because for all our attestations of Christianity and fulness of the gospel we still, like most people, engage in tribalistic, us versus them, thinking. This type of thinking pervades every thing we do including the very manor in which we read our history and the scriptures. This is why we can take phrases like the “land of promise” and equate it to our national government while conveniently ignoring both the numerous other nations which probably fit the geography better as well as the curse which accompanies said promise. This is why we take prophecies and relate them to a very specific American context and assume prophecy is not just a statement on the future but an endorsement of our actions. The 12th article faith then becomes simply a way to cover our sins and our tribalism. A war indulgence much like those given in the medieval times. Be of good cheer because so long as the 12th article of faith is around you get a pass no matter how vile your nations commands may be.

If our past has taught us anything, its to not make waves. So in lieu of extermination orders, vengeance oaths, and a tenuous relationship with the USA we have went all in to prove we aint so strange. You can trust us mormons. We are good patriots willing to spill blood for our nation. So on the 24th with a certain irony, we celebrate the expulsion of mormons from the USA by raising flags. When the nation goes to war, Utah polls nearly always as the most hawkish, most eager to shed support violence abroad. It often goes so far as to become a form of idolatry and blasphemy like when our former president proclaimed America “the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness overcomes it not.”

George Orwell once wrote

All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side … The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them

This is why I have to agree with Chris H. that its vomit worthy.

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20 thoughts on “American Patriotism is Vomit Worthy

  1. Chris H. says:

    Hey, thanks!

    If anyone else is interested, I posted my more academic musings on the topic at Faith-Promiting Rumor, prior to making vomit comments at New Cool Thang.

    It is here: http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2009/07/cosmopolitanism-an-alternative-to-patriotism/

    Thanks again.

  2. Chris H. says:

    BTW, On the 4th of July, I wore a t-shirt which had a quote of it from Thomas Paine:

    “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

    The shirt was designed by the students in my senior seminar on global justice.

  3. I put it more tactfully than “vomit-worthy,” but I essentially agree: the mainstream concept of patriotism is really nothing more than the sort of hubris which the Gospel urges us to reject, and which precipitates a tragic fall.

  4. Chris H. says:

    Derek,

    The vomit worthy comment was more a response to a specific commentator and just part of a larger discussion about the issue taking place on a number of blogs.

    I like the President Kimball quote your shared at New Cool Thang. Nice.

  5. I understand, Chris. And I absolutely agree that the superficial, maudlin nature of a great deal of what passes for patriotism within the mainstream LDS culture is nauseating (not to mention the almost fascist or idolatrous nature of much of it). I just try to be less incendiary than that 😉 But I can’t say I don’t occasionally “reprove betimes with sharpness” myself…

    And thanks about the Kimball quote. I don’t think there is nearly enough critical examination of the militarist connection to conventional patriotism.

  6. J. Madson says:

    Kimball’s talk on the false idols we worship should be read at least once a year in church.

  7. As much as the membership of the Church (at least here in Utah) seems to get caught up worshiping both of the idols he mentioned, once a year over the pulpit should be an absolute minimum…

  8. Joseph says:

    I too love Kimball’s talk, but since it went over everyone’s heads the first time around, I feel pretty confident it would just go over their heads as many times as it might be read. An example I can think of is the statement of political neutrality is read every election, yet I’ve still seen people treat church meetings like they are extensions of a Republican convention, and I’ve still had people’s knowledge of my membership in the Church used to try and intimidate me when I have signs for non-Republican candidates in my yard (and I’m not even in Utah).

  9. Joseph says:

    Oh, and we’re supposed to be reading the Book of Mormon where it says that when we “shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth…[The Lord] will bring the fulness of [his] gospel from among them” [3 Nephi 16:10]. It seems to me that this scripture is not a command to be lifted up above all other nations, but a warning of bad things to happen if we do. Supposedly more people read the Book of Mormon after President Hinckley’s challenge a few years ago than possible ever before in the Church (or at least said they were), but I’ve yet to see this scripture really discussed in recent times. Somehow everyone seems to think the Book of Mormon justifies the very uber-Patriotic pride that the book actually condemns.

    So again, I just don’t have much hope that reading Kimball’s talk once a year, once a month, or even once a week would ever get through.

    Well, this rant felt cathartic. Thanks J. and Chris!

  10. I am a GD teacher, and it was really interesting to discuss in the class how often the Lord warned about the potential for the coming nation of Gentiles to fall into the sin of pride.

    You’re right, Joseph, it would just go in one ear and out the other for most people. But hopefully there are a few who would get it.

  11. Chris H. says:

    Go to original New Cool Thang post and look at Mark D’s reaction to the Kimball Quote.

  12. Joseph says:

    I did, along with looking at some of the others. I’m reminded of why I don’t live in Utah and why I rarely discuss politics with fellow Mormons. I admire you guys for entering into the fray!

    • Grégoire says:

      I’m reminded of why I don’t live in Utah and why I rarely discuss politics with fellow Mormons. I admire you guys for entering into the fray!

      I wouldn’t post over there either.

      It is interesting to see Mark D. talk about ‘self-defense’ in the context of our military campaign. I think the correlation between Mormonism and patriotism is interesting, and he serves as a cogent example of the cultural power of the system as it exists today.

      It’s odd to see so many people (he represents a huge number of our fellow citizens, of all faiths and none) touting the American/British invasion of Iraq, the murder of her citizens, the destruction of her priceless artifacts and the plunder of all her resources, as ‘self-defense’.

      No Iraqi has ever threatened me. Saddam Hussein was a jerk and I hated him but he never posed a direct danger to me or my children. How our unilateral violence could be painted as ‘self-defense’ is curious, yet it’s perceptible every day in the media, in the church/temple/synagogue sermons, in the slant that’s placed on lessons in public schools, and we’re all programmed to believe that the *smart money* supports the current program.

      This war has bankrupted our societies. They may never recover. It has destroyed land and water. Thousands of people are mourning dead relatives. It hasn’t been good for the common people of the West, yet Mark D. sees it as necessary. From an inter-subjective perspective it’s definitely interesting.

  13. Tariq Khan says:

    Good post. I agree whole-heartedly that patriotism is vomit worthy. Patriotism is just another mechanism authoritarians use to shut down people’s natural tendencies for critical, independent thinking. I don’t know where she got her facts, but I heard Amy Goodman say that Utah is the most pro-war state in the nation, yet it has the smallest percentage of people enlisted in the military. If this is true, it wouldn’t surprise me. When I was in the military there were hardly any Mormons enlisted; so few in fact, that my TI (training instructor), who was from South Carolina, didn’t even know what a Mormon was. And I don’t know of a single person from the ward I grew up in who enlisted. Yet, these same people who have absolutely no concept of what war really is, are the loudest cheerleaders for the most bellicose, right-wing, war-mongering politicians. Usually the most loud-mouthed, war-loving patriots are people who’ve never actually been in a war. George Orwell, who saw plenty of war in his life, said, “All the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” Personally, I am not unpatriotic, rather, I am anti-patriotic. I think that patriotism only makes people stupid, cruel, oblivious, and gullible. A critical mind is worth so much more to a nation than a patriotic mind. Emma Goldman had it right when she called patriotism a “menace to liberty”. Arundhati Roy had a great line which went something like, “flags are bits of colored cloth used first, to shrink-wrap people’s brains, and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.” (I’m not sure if that quote is exactly correct as I was quoting it from memory.) Hugh Nibley, who fought in some of the worst of WWII, was highly critical of the Church’s patriotism and he spoke out against what he considered church members’ misuse of the Book of Mormon as a justification for U.S. militarism. Patriotism is bad in and of itself, but when patriotism mixes with religion, it becomes particularly mean-spirited and idiotic, because people who believe they are doing God’s will have shut off the rational part of their minds.

  14. J. Madson says:

    Gregoire,

    I think we all know why its portrayed as self defense although its profoundly simple. We see mistakes and errors in others but not us. The book “Mistakes were made, but not by me” is excellent in showing our cognitive dissonance as it applies to ourselves and by association our tribe or nation.

    Why is it self-defense? Because we are american and by definition we do nothing wrong. We would never engage in terrorism or offensive war which is of course exactly what we do. One of the hugely significant problems with patriotism is that once we self-identify with a group that group can do no wrong. Our own identity is so wrapped up in our national identity that we will gladly support all sorts of barbarity and even murder and torture and then have the audacity to call it self-defense. In our cognitive dissonant world, up has become down, good has become evil. The book I mentioned refers to a study where MRI’s taken of an individual when presented with factual information that goes against the dissonant position, shows no activity in the rational area of the brain. Remarkably our reason completely shuts down and it becomes a very primal emotional response.

  15. Joseph says:

    I don’t think patriotism itself is so bad, so long as it’s the Mark Twain variety: “Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” It’s blind nationalism I have little use for, which unfortunately gets confused with patriotism.

    I have to wonder how someone can say they love their country while strip-mining mountains and carrying on other exploitative practices for short-term gain and destroying our values and economy with morally reprehensible wars. How can you truly say you love your country when you allow a small number of people to ruin everything truly worthwhile and valuable for their own profit and then lie and tell you it’s for your own good? I guess it has to do with the cognitive dissonance J. mentioned.

    I know I’m preaching to the choir here. A can of worms was really opened up with this topic!

  16. theradicalmormon says:

    Hi guys. Here’s a few of my very favorite “patiotism” quotes:

    I would like to be remembered as a man who served his country.
    -General Augusto Pinochet

    I am not going to repent. I am not going to ask for favours. What I did, I did for my country.

    -P. W. Botha, former President of Apartheid South Africa

    I want you to know that everything I did, I did for my country.

    -Pol Pot, mass murderer of Cambodia

    It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism (speaking of the patriotism of the USA); it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.

    -Alexis de Tocqueville

    Pledges of allegiance are marks of totalitarian states, not democracies. I can’t think of a single democracy except the United States that has a pledge of allegiance.

    -David Kertzer

    The very existence of the state demands that there be some privileged class vitally interested in maintaining that existence. And it is precisely the group interests of that class that are called patriotism.

    -Mikhail Bakunin

    A problem with treating patriotism as an objective virtue is that patriotisms often conflict. Soldiers of both sides in a war may feel equally patriotic, creating an ethical paradox. (If patriotism is a virtue, then the enemy is virtuous, so why try to kill them?)
    -Wikipedia

    The heights of popularity and patriotism are still the beaten road to power and tyranny; flattery to treachery; standing armies to arbitrary government; and the glory of God to the temporal interest of the clergy.

    -David Hume

    Patriotism … is a superstition artificially created and maintained through a network of lies and falsehoods; a superstition that robs man of his self-respect and dignity, and increases his arrogance and conceit.

    -Emma Goldman

    Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.

    -George Bernard Shaw

    Patriotism is a arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.

    -George Jean Nathan

    Patriotism ruins history.

    -Goethe

    In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell.

    -H. L. Mencken

    Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.

    -Henry Steele Commager

    During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.

    -Howard Thurman

    Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

    -Samuel Johnson

    When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.

    -Sinclair Lewis

    Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them!

    -Albert Einstein

    I have no sense of nationalism, only a cosmic consciousness of belonging to the human family.

    -Rosika Schwimmer

    I am not an Athenian or a Greek, I am a citizen of the world.

    -Socrates

    I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.

    -Eugene V. Debbs

    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, and 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, Declaration of Sentiments, Boston Peace Conference 1838

    Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarrelled with him?

    -Blaise Pascal

    It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.

    -Voltaire

  17. Derek says:

    Some brilliant quotes there, Radical. As ever, Shaw nails it.

    Joseph, I can understand what you mean about not living in Utah. For most of my life, associating with Mormons in Utah suburbia was excruciating. But there are pockets of heterodox Mormondom in Utah. I’ve really enjoyed living here in downtown SLC, with a wide diversity of thought and respect for alternative ideology.

  18. Grégoire says:

    J writes:
    Remarkably our reason completely shuts down and it becomes a very primal emotional response.

    I used to have my kids check one anothers’ rooms as a little solipsism/paranoia exercise. The tendency you talk about, to imagine oneself as some sort of perfect person and thus to imagine any criticism from outside to be ‘persecution’ is a very primitive response indeed. Perhaps it’s simply a function of the interruption of the development process. Most of the people in my generation have yet to *grow up* in many different ways. Maybe this is yet another one.

    Joseph sez:
    I don’t think patriotism itself is so bad, so long as it’s the Mark Twain variety: “Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” It’s blind nationalism I have little use for, which unfortunately gets confused with patriotism.

    I think much of what’s called blind nationalism is just a perverted class consciousness. If you look at the flag wavers and the guys & gals with the yellow ribbons draped everywhere, you’ll note they’re all working-class men and women.

    It’s the goal of capital to fragment and break up any sort of solidarity among people. These guys at the NASCAR events who wave confederate flags are a good example. Most of them live in trailer parks despite the fact that they work much harder than most of the people who live in big homes on the other side of town. They know on a subconscious level that they’re getting ripped off. They channel their disappointment into a sort of race/nation consciousness, based on a southern retrocultural ideal which never really existed (the confederacy was simply another manifestation of capital anyway – it wasn’t any sort of utopia).

    Nationalism is often a reaction to colonialism, which is what the American South has experienced for the last century and a half. It’s an economic and cultural colony of the north. Southern Blacks have their own version of Dixie culture (they call it New Afrika). Southern Whites and Blacks are chained to these ideas which go nowhere while the system laughs at them. It’s good and healthy to appreciate your own culture and folkways until it becomes so extreme that you refuse to identify with anyone else, at which point it becomes a tool of the people who are ripping you off.

    When Big Bill Haywood (born in Salt Lake City) went to Mississippi the first thing he did was to convince White workers to invite Black workers to the union hall. He was almost run out of town (by both White and Black racists on a number of occasions); but once it happened things really got rolling and once they were together they started getting these parasites off their backs and things turned around immediately. It’s O.K. to be a nationalist/racist if you must be, but we shouldn’t let these petty ideas get in the way of the big picture. My own pet theory is that capital finds race and national consciousness a lot easier to subvert than class consciousness. When people see their children start to go hungry they’ll end up burning their own neighborhoods or lynching their neighbors instead of getting together and running the real bums who exploit us all out of town and simply taking control of the infrastructure that they built in the first place. The working people of Alabama seem to see Iraqi workers in the same light their grandparents saw Yankees and Negroes; and they wonder why they’re still scraping by on next to nothing.

    I’m analogizing Mormon and American nationalism/ethnic chauvinism to the American South because I guess I’ve read more books on the latter, but I think it’s a similar psychological process. Southern workers (at least White and Black workers) are no more or less a cultural and economic colony than anyone else at this point.

    Random thoughts on a Friday.

  19. mike says:

    Don’t forget this great quote on patriotism:

    “Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

    Hermann Goering

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