Who stole real American patriotism?
The dictionary definition of "patriotism" is "love for or devotion to country." Why then is patriotism so identified with a muscle flexing pro-war stance when some wars are clearly unnecessary and harmful to our national interest?
Nothing new here. In 1846, then Congressman Abe Lincoln was dubbed a "moral traitor " by the Illinois press. Why? Lincoln opposed the Mexican American war. When Woodrow Wilson showed reluctance to enter WWI (considered by many historians to be a senseless bloodbath that paved the way to WWII), Theodore Roosevelt accused him of emasculating American manhood. "New York Times" columnist Tom Wicker recollects that his opposition to the Vietnam War led many to reject him as unpatriotic. Not so the hawkish columnist Joseph Alsop: "You can't be considered unpatriotic if you're for a war," Wicker explains. Recently, fear of being called unpatriotic led members of Congress who had openly expressed opposition to attacking Iraq, to vote to give war powers to President Bush.
Support for military expenditures is part of the patriotic package; this facilitates and conceals the undue influence of the weapons industry. In June 2002, members of Congress-- knowing full well that much of the money would be wasted on unnecessary weapons systems and that every year the Department of Defense loses track of a quarter of its budget-- voted overwhelmingly to add $40 billion to the Pentagon budget, bringing it to just under $400 billion for the coming year. The allocation of military contracts to congressional districts all over the country, and $90 million in campaign contributions in the last year and a half by weapons manufacturers, play a major role in preventing necessary Pentagon budget cuts. Military experts like Colonel David Hackworth have long pointed out that the Pentagon wastes tens of billions on weapons like the B2 bomber designed to take down the Soviet Union, unnecessary nuclear warheads, and a missile defense system that according to most experts is futile.
When it comes to protecting ourselves against terrorists, the patriotism = war = military spending equation is particularly dangerous, for our national security depends in large part on taking measures that have nothing to do with war. But there is no political punishment for the failure to take such measures. Shortly after 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft placed the gun lobby above national security by refusing the FBI's request to use records of gun background checks to investigate suspected terrorists -- this in spite of his staff's opinion that it was legal to do so. Yet Ashcroft was not then, nor is he now stigmatized as unpatriotic, unmanly, and endangering our national security. But opposing unnecessary weapons of war leads to just that kind of labeling.
The failure to take measures to prevent wars or terrorist acts is not considered unpatriotic either. Has anyone ever questioned the patriotism of our political leaders who from 1982 to 1990 encouraged American companies to furnish that sadistic megalomaniac Saddam Hussein with the wherewithal to make weapons of mass destruction, and secretly committed taxpayers money to assist him, while turning a blind eye to his poison gassing of his own people?
Would we have provided Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan with weapons and training if we had paid attention to how these fanatics think and act, if we had thought through the long-range implications of our support? But our leaders' failure to do so is not viewed as unpatriotic, nor as endangering our national security.
Our very survival may require that we heed President Eisenhower's dire warnings about the undue influence of the military industrial complex by enacting real campaign finance reform; and that we allow our love and devotion to country to lead us towards measures that truly enhance our national security.