The New Patriotism
There's a sign outside a business near where I live that reads "Our country and our troops need support not criticism." This sign sums up very succinctly the new definition of patriotism under this administration: if you're not for us, you're against us. Imagine what might have happened had King George hung a sign like that at Boston Harbor from the mast of the ship where the colonists (and first revolutionaries) threw the cargo of tea overboard in protest of the unfair taxation. If the colonists had defined patriotism the way most Americans are now defining it, we'd still be having tea and crumpets each afternoon and singing "God Save the Queen" before each sporting event.
I'm at a loss to pinpoint exactly where in our history "conformity" became synonymous with "patriotic", but it appears to be a fairly recent event. My guess is that it started during WWII, when Americans of Japanese descent were rounded up and put in concentration camps within the US borders. Why? Simply because they looked different and Americans, for the first time within the minds of anyone living, felt threatened by another nation with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The internment of Asian-Americans during WWII set a dangerous precedent: it was okay to violate civil rights when the nation was threatened. The move toward conformity can be seen in the suburban neighborhoods that grew up in the aftermath of WWII: house after house that has the same look, the same layout, distinguishable from its neighbor only by the color of the paint/siding or they type of car in the driveway. It can be seen too in the "uniformity" of life in the US. We all laughed at Archie Bunker because we all KNEW at least one Archie Bunker.
But dissent was still alive and well. The beginnings of the civil rights movement, the protests against the war in Viet Nam, the beginnings of the feminist movement, Stonewall— all were movements in which individuals voiced their difference of opinion regarding the issues of the day. They were also movements which had, as their aim, equality for all citizens of the US or for a change in US foreign policy. Protestors against the US war in Viet Nam said we had no business interfering in another country's right to self-determination. There was some talk about how the war was a testing ground for new weapons and new technologies and indeed, we saw the use of Agent Orange (chemical warfare, although it wasn't called that at the time) and napalm and new types of weapons and bombs. (If one reads the novels/stories about Viet Nam, one learns that many of these new weapons caused a lot of injuries to US troops because they failed to function as designed under combat conditions.) There was more talk about how this war was nothing but a means to move up the promotion ladder in the military— and the term REMF (rear echelon mother f***er— applied to officers and support staff behind the lines who had no real idea how things "worked" in the field) became quite popular among the actual combat troops.
And in the end, these differences of opinion helped to shape the laws and policies of the 60's and 70's. The government seemed to be working as it was designed: the people spoke and the government responded. But no one paid any attention to an ultra-conservative Christian who founded a television network in 1960 called CBN. That man was Pat Robertson and through his connections in the Washington political scene (his father was an elected representative in both the House and the Senate for 34 years), he became a political powerhouse, although he stayed mostly behind the scenes until the formation of the Christian Coalition in 1989 as a political action committee and, a year later, the American Center for Law and Justice. (I found it a bit strange that while researching the actual dates that on Mr. Robertson's official home page (PatRobertson.com) there is no mention in his official biography of his association with the Christian Coalition.)
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming Mr. Robertson for all that's wrong in this country. But every spear has a point and, in my humble opinion, Mr. Robertson has been the point of the spearhead movement back to conformity. Where Mr. Robertson focuses his attention, the rest of the conservative world follows. In a propaganda tract entitled something like 10 Things about Pat Robertson You Need to Combat the Liberal Left, it comes right out and says that Mr. Robertson's goal is to return us to the kind of society we had in the 1950's under Ike. Mr. Robertson seems to forget that while that time of our history was great for straight white Christian males, it pretty much sucked for everyone else. Public lynchings of blacks, gays being forced to live in the closet, children being abused and molested and having no rights or no advocates trying to protect them, domestic violence was not talked about and it was legally impossible for a man to rape his wife.
Once America was out of Viet Nam, Americans began to feel the effects of the new freedoms that came with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and with the changes in the law that made discrimination based on gender illegal and with changes in laws regarding domestic violence and child abuse and with more and more gays coming out of the closet. There were no real threats to American society from anywhere and when the technological revolution hit, America got a new burst of "American pride", much as they had during the space race, but in this case, our "opponent" was the Japanese. Along with the collapse of the US steel industry because of cheaper imported steel from Japan, there arose an almost isolationist mentality. In addition to the urgings of such conservatives as Mr. Robertson (usually associated with the Republican party), we also had the urgings of the other side: the laborers and union members (who are typically Democrats) urged people to "Buy American" and those who did not were viewed with some disdain. But even at this point in time, the last crucial ingredient was missing: the feeling of being threatened.
Throughout the late 70's, then the 80's and 90's, Americans did not feel any sense of imminent danger (at least most didn't— by this time, the activities of the Christian Coalition already had me worried.) There was no "outside" threat to the "American way of life". But more foreboding, there was also no protests when America invaded Grenada and the Philippines and very little outcry when the Reagan administration got caught in the Iran-Contra scandal. Americans were becoming complacent and, with the ever increasing pace of technology, our lives became more hectic and so our attention spans were becoming shorter and shorter as we had less time to actually sit around and talk about the issues. We were too busy playing "keep up with the Joneses"— which is in itself a type of conformity. Due to time constraints, we started getting our "information" from the evening news sound bites. Politicians (and PACs) began to notice that, if you presented what you were trying to get passed in terms of "protecting the American way of life", you were likely to get the votes you needed— or at the very least, no negative backlash. During the era of Newt Gingrich, during which the first Bush was in office and during which Mr. Robertson founded both the CC and ACLJ, doublespeak, whereby the language used was so confusing that when the speaker was finished you had no idea whether he was for or against a proposed measure, rose to new heights.
Then an event that no human alive can take credit for loomed on the horizon: the changing of the millennium. Biblical literalists, like Mr. Robertson, began talking about Armageddon. These literalists believe the earth is roughly six thousand years old (a figure they arrive at by using a literal 24 hour day and by assuming that when the Bible said that someone lived to be hundreds of seasons" old they meant years.) They then began making comparisons between the six "days" of creation and a statement in the Bible that says something like "A thousand years is like unto a day to God". We'd already lived our six days— now came the seventh— the day of rest. A day when God would come into his own and all the end time prophecies would come true. These views were shown on CBN on shows like the 700 Club as well as in the mainstream press. People were urged to stock up on stores they'd need, like fresh water, electric generators, canned food, batteries, first aid supplies, etc. A virtual panic gripped many parts of the country. My own sons (against my wishes) accompanied their father and his new wife to a church outing that taught them how to aim and shoot a gun and they went target shooting at a church members' farm— all in preparation for the "second coming" and the hard times that were to follow. But the millennium came and went without the predicted and, for some, long awaited Armageddon. And fear began to lessen. And with the lessening fear, the grip on the "heart" of the country that the far right had gained (as witnessed by the "election" of George Bush) began to lessen as well. Then came 9/11.
My views on who was really behind 9/11 are given elsewhere in these articles and I won't repeat them here. But 9/11 did what it was supposed to do: regardless of who actually planned and carried it out. It struck fear into the hearts of virtually every American. And Bush wasted no time in driving home the "Conform or else" message with his speech in which he told the world that anyone who wasn't with us was against us. Patriotism now was measured in how much support you gave to the president's plans and how much you ignored the loss of freedom and civil liberties. Those who dared to voice concern for the ever-increasing pace at which the current administration was (and is) dismantling the US Constitution were branded as "un-American" and "traitors". Our loyalty to our country was called into question and those who questioned that loyalty seemed to forget history: that this country was created by a revolution against the then existent government.
In fact, those that question the right of others to dissent are, in my humble opinion, the ones who are being unAmerican. The demand for conformity, for "America right or wrong", for unquestioning loyalty to a political leader sound more like something spoken by the members of Hitler's SS than American citizens. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William Smith in 1797, wrote, "...God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion [referring to Shay's rebellion in Massachusetts]. The people cannot be all ways, and always, well informed. The past which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive; if they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty....What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure." This administration has demonstrated time and again its willingness to misrepresent the facts— and Americans are, for the most part, refusing to question those facts. And true to Jefferson's warning, the lethargy of the American people is indeed leading to the loss of public liberty. Let's hope that those who consider us protestors to be "unpatriotic" wake up before it's too late.
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