Monday, April 09, 2007

The real definition of patriotism

Recently, I watched an MSNBC news story about the Army promoting itself on YouTube. In interviewing a retired general, he said the reason why the Army wants to have a favorable image to its viewers is because of a lack of recruiting. When ask why the people aren't interested in joining the Army, the general answered a smaller family and a lack of patriotism. From listening to the general on the latter, I could guess that "patriotism" means to love and to stand by the military.

In all of the 50 states, I find the most agreement with the general in Oklahoma, and within Oklahoma, I find the most agreement in Midwest City. In fact, when I was in college, I was a member of the Naval (Marine Corps) ROTC, and I am still proud to be a Marine.

But the meaning of patriotism is different as told from the Founders and from past presidents. For example, look at Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was the 3rd President of the United States and authored the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson said, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

Look at Thomas Paine. Paine published Common Sense, a paper, published in 1776, which challenged the authority of the British Crown. Paine said, "It is the duty of every patriot to protect his country from its government." At that time, both Jefferson and Paine were British citizens.

And look at Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was the 26th President of the USA. Roosevelt said, "Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official." I stand to agree with those last three. There is a difference between the country, including the people, and the government, including the military.

There is the public sector and the private sector. The private sector represents the country. The public sector represents the government. Sometimes the government sector engages in conduct that is very harmful to the private sector. The genuine patriot is not the person who loves the government, but rather the person who loves the country and who is willing to stand up against the government in favor of the country.

If you ever want to befuddle one of these people who conflate the government and the country, remind them that the very purpose of the Constitution, with its equal but separate branches of government, those branches are checked and balanced by the other branches, and adding a Bill of Rights before ratification, is to protect the country from the government. Their systems will begin to short-circuit as they try to figure out a response.

I watched a movie this year called Sophie Scholl: The Final Days [I found it at Hollywood]. This movie was in German (with English sub-titles), but it told of the last 5 days of Sophie and her brother Hans' lives. I also read Jacob Hornberger's essay, "The White Rose: A Lesson in Dissent" about the same people (but in English), however their full lives.

When the Scholls were young (in the 1930s), they loved their country (Germany) and they loved its government. The leader of Germany was Adolf Hitler, and they enthusiastically joined the Hitler Youth. They believed that Hitler was leading Germany and the German people back to greatness.

Their parents, however, were not so thrilled. Their father told his children that Hitler and the Nazis were leading Germany down a road to disaster. As they went to college, they realized that their father was right. But they still loved their country. So they risked their lives distributing their pamphlets, titled the White Rose. These pamphlets called on Germans to oppose their government, even in the midst of war.

The movie starts when they were finally caught by the Gestapo (though Sophie's eyes). They were quickly brought to trial, where the presiding judge harangued them for hating Germany. They were quickly found guilty (in a secret proceeding, of course) and executed.

You tell me: were Sophie and Hans Scholl "traitors", or were they "patriots"?

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