Blind patriotism is almost as dangerous as blind faith. They both lead to useless and avoidable wars. The only difference is that one is fought in the name of so-called freedom, while the other is fought in the name of God. More often than not, neither accomplishes anything.
In 1991, when we were ensconced in Dessert Storm, my Sunday Jew School decided to have a Parents' Day. We (both parents and 10 through 13-year-old students) were broken up into three groups. We were told to design a campaign platform and commercial for one of three candidates, who were running for US President. The three candidates were Hillel, Maimonides, and Judah Maccabee.
Maccabee's campaigners likened him to then-President George Bush, putting forth a wartime platform. During a campaign Q&A session, Maccabee's lead guy (a Jew School teacher who could not have been much older than 23) stated that Maccabee would be a strong leader, yet loving and compassionate as he spread freedom, much like Bush was spreading freedom to the Kuwaitis.
Though she had been exercising amazing self restraint up until that moment, my mother could no longer take it. Her hand shot up and Maccabee's Main Man called on her. "That's a bunch of bullshit," she exclaimed. A hush fell over the children. Yes, someone's mother had just used the word "bullshit" up against Warrior Maccabee. "Complete and total bullshit. We're not there helping to spread peace among the Kuwaitis. Bush could give a shit about the Kuwaitis. We're there for oil. It's about money, not freedom, peace, justice and the American Way."
And Mom was right. It was never about freedom for the Kuwaitis. Yet the spin doctors spin at they must to get the general population on board and keep approval ratings and morale up. It's one thing to fight in the name of freedom. But no one ever wants to admit when we're warring over money and oil: necessary commodities for us to continue living the lifestyle in which we have become accustomed.
(Ed note: Judah Maccabee won the election. I did not vote for him. Ever the precocious child, I submitted a write-in vote for Mario Cuomo.)
So when the Fourth of July rolls around and people start flag-waving and partaking in blind patriotism, I get annoyed. There is much talk of freedom, and thanks for our servicemen and women. And while I appreciate our armed forces and the people who dedicate their lives to working for said armed forces, I recognize that we've not fought a war since WWII that has anything to do with our freedom, or even with the imperial notion of spreading freedom to other places.
I am not the only one who thinks this way, either. Military Policy Analyst Andre Bacevich has argued that American foreign policy and American military policy is geared towards Americans having the ability to buy lots of stuff (i.e., the freedom to live comfortable lives as compared to the rest of the world) without having to make great sacrifice. And by "great sacrifice," he speaks about our armed forces.
It's interesting that we go on and on about how much we support or troops and efforts abroad. However, if you were to look at the racial and economic makeup of our enlisted men, you would find it tends to mimic our prison population: There is a disparate number of minority poor who serve in our military. And why? Because joining the military is what someone does when faced with no more appealing options (like college). Thus, we have an all-volunteer force comprised of uneducated people of the lower classes. Bonus: No political backlash when we do send troops abroad, as we can claim that they're all volunteering to begin with.
Don't believe me? Look at the numbers. In 2002, of enlisted men and women ages 18-25, the military was made of up 61.2% whites, as compared to 68.8% in the US population. African Americans in the military made up 21.8%, as compared to 13.1% of the US population. Hispanics made up 10% of the military as compared to 13.3% of the US population (interestingly, this group is under-represented in the military; I don't have enough data to extrapolate much from this). And "Other" made up 7% of the military as compared to 4.8% of the US population.
What is probably the most telling to me, however, is Congress. Congress is the only branch of government that is empowered to declare war. And from 1951 to 1992, at least half of Congress were military veterans. Not so today. As of 2007, only one-third of Congress were veterans. As for your Congressmen and women telling you that the understand the toll war takes on our children? Yeah, not so much. The rich don't go to war, folks. In 2007, only 9 of our 535 members of Congress had any children who had served in a war.
Blind patriotism is -- to use my mother's word -- bullshit. It's been a long time since we fought for anyone's freedom. We fight, rather, to keep ourselves free to live the way we want to leave, to keep the little guys down, and to ensure that we remain the premier Superpower in the world.