Recently, Glenn Beck said on his radio talk show that the Democrats want America to lose in Iraq. Why? Because they want to prove President Bush wrong, Beck said. He then added that while some question only the judgment of those on the left, he questions their very patriotism.
This shouldn’t be surprising to those of us who listen to right-wing talk radio. Nevertheless, Beck’s comments got me thinking: what is patriotism? Is it true that people who strongly disapprove of their country’s policies are unpatriotic traitors, or is patriotism a little more complicated than that?
Well, let’s unpack this a bit. According to Beck and many others like him, to be patriotic is, at very least, to support your nation in its foreign policy endeavors, even if major mistakes have been made. After all, according to this line of thinking, defeat and embarrassment are two of the worst evils a nation can suffer, so victory must be fought for at all costs. It would seem, then, that the true patriot should want power, prosperity, and prestige for his or her nation.
But I would argue that things are substantially more complicated than that. After all, at what point does the committed patriot call on his nation to cease and desist, or to change course, when it has made a dangerous mistake that is harmful not only to its own well-being but to that of other people we share this planet with? At what point does the patriot, while affirming the necessity of fighting evil, question whether his nation’s current actions are truly working for good—or whether “staying the course” is contributing to this world’s evil forces in one way or another? Could we not agree that men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who fearlessly exposed the evil of Nazi Germany, were the true patriots—both in the interests of a free Germany and a free world? I am of course not comparing the United States or President Bush to Nazi Germany, as has sometimes been done; no, my point is simply to ask whether our nation cannot also make mistakes. Is it not arrogant to believe that our nation is always right, and therefore is it not patriotic to point out those times when America is hurting itself and its world neighbors?
Another question we should ask is this: in a nation that professes to be Christian, shouldn’t it be considered patriotic to hold tightly to Christian social values such as peacemaking, social justice, and the inherent value of all people? Therefore, if our nation (which claims to be Christian) is taking action that runs against such Christian teachings, do not all patriots have the duty to speak out?
In a country where we have freedom of speech, Beck and others certainly have the right to question the patriotism of liberals. But we have both the right and the duty to question his definitions.
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