America: You Keep Using That Word… continues to spread like bird flu across the web.
It’s been ten days now since the post went up, and interest in the article shows no sign whatsoever of slacking off. The hit counts have nearly doubled each day and continue to rise.
Thanks for that.
Only a small percentage of the responses currently clogging the Stonekettle Station inbox like undigested jelly donuts in Rush Limbaugh’s large intestine are negative. While some do border on outright psychosis, I still haven’t gotten any actual death threats – though a number of self-described Christians claim to be praying for my immediate immolation and condemnation to fiery torment for all eternity (which as I’m sure you know, is exactly what Jesus would do. Nobody could lay down the hate like Jesus. I apparently made some church’s email list. Again. Sigh). I have been aggressively policing the comments under the post and I will continue to do so. And folks, really, read the commenting rules first, before you make a comment. I’m getting tired of having to delete personal attacks. You are allowed to disagree with the post, you are allowed to hate it even, and you are allowed to say so. Politely. However, if your rebuttal consists of a personal attack against me or other folks here, I will either sic the dogs on you or I will delete your comment. Period. I don’t care if you don’t like it – it’s my site, I pay the rent on it, and I damned well don’t have to put up with jerks. Again, you can disagree, but you can do it without being a tool about it.
The general response remains overwhelmingly positive – the story appears to have struck deeply at something bothering a lot of people. And I mean a lot. And that, my friends, is something we should all think about, me included, because that chord, that one right there, is really the only thing truly wrong with the United States of America.
We’ll come back to that.
The previous post, America: Explained, is my rebuttal to criticism directed at the original piece. You should take the time to read it, if you haven’t already, it covers most all of the general complaints. All but one.
I left something out.
I left out the biggest criticism, the one I’ve gotten most in many forms, to wit: Why do you hate America so much?
I get this a lot, and have even before I published America: You Keep Using That Word…
Why do I hate America?
That’s it, huh? That’s the best you can come up with? Why do I hate America?
Folks, I don’t hate America. In point of fact, I spent almost all of my adult life in uniform defending it and why would I do that if I hated my country? Really, please explain that to me. I salute the flag out of respect for all that it represents. I stand at attention for the National Anthem and sing along as best I’m able – and, hell, like any good initiated Chief I even know all the verses. Do you? I’ve lived in and travelled this country from one end to the other, literally, from Florida to Maine to California, Hawaii, and Alaska, thousands of miles across the continent and over the seas through every single state in the Union and every one of her territories except Puerto Rico. Have you? I’ve hiked America’s national parks and stood awestruck before her monuments from the Washington Mall to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse all the way out to the American Japanese War Memorial on distant Attu Island. Have you? I’ve visited her museums and her festivals and strolled the streets of her cities. And I’ve stood upon her battlefields, I’ve walked America’s military graveyards, at home and abroad, with my hand on those cold granite headstones and gave thanks to the men and women entombed there, for their sacrifice so that we may be free – and even now the mere thought of those places and their endless rows of stark white markers brings a lump to my throat. I know some of those men, I served with them, I was trained by them, and I led their sons and daughters into war. They were my brothers in arms and I miss them.
Does that make me a better American than you?
No, of course not.
So, tell me again, how I must hate America.
I love the United States and always have, but my love is not uncritical.
Uncritical love is not love at all but rather infatuated obsession. That’s what blind patriotism is, infatuated obsessive self-love. Blind patriotism is masturbation, it isn’t about loving your country, it’s about loving yourself. Blind patriotism does not make you a better American than your neighbors, it just makes you blind. Like true religious faith, true patriotism isn’t a competition, you don’t get a prize for being better at it, or louder, or more militant, than those around you. That kind of patriotism is a lot like those parents who think their kid is the most beautiful, perfect, special, wonderful, smart, funny, charming, exceptional, and talented kid in the whole wide world and who can do no wrong – and the kid is really a spoiled rotten stupid jerk who will one day grow up into a spoiled rotten stupid jerk of an adult.
The original post, America, was inspired by a bumper sticker, here’s another one, one that sums up the blind patriot succinctly: America, Love It or Leave It.
That’s it? Those are my only two choices? STFU or GTFO?
What if parenting was like that? If your child isn’t perfect, always, you bail? Turn it around, what if a child’s love for a parent was like that? Unquestioning, uncritical at first, but as you grow and learn you realize that your parents aren’t perfect. So then what? Leave and never look back? Screw them, is that it? That’s how you define love? You're only proud of them if they’re perfect and without flaw? What kind of pride is that?
Think about it. No really think about that for a minute.
Love it or leave it is a logical fallacy, one of false dichotomy, one that far too many Americans indulge themselves in these days. Remember what I said, you’ll go blind.
Love it or leave it are not the only two choices.
If they were, the United States Constitution would be a far, far shorter and less ambiguous document.
Uncritical love, blind patriotism, and logical fallacies do neither your country nor your children any good whatsoever.
America: You Keep Using That Word… wasn’t about one flag or another. It wasn’t about a Dodge RAM or a Toyota Prius. It wasn’t about black diesel smoke or white diesel smoke. It wasn’t about some silly bumper stickers. It wasn’t about the North or the South. It wasn’t about liberals or conservatives, democrats or republicans. It was about Americans of any and all stripes who claim to love this country, but seem to hate everything about it. I never described the driver at all, yet thousands saw themselves in the driver’s seat or saw someone they knew sitting there. All of us know the person inferred in America. America was about those people, those Americans who see only two stark choices, love it or leave it, us or them, freedom or tyranny. And for some, that was just a little too close for comfort.
In America, I asked two simple questions:
What, exactly, are you proud of?
What, exactly, do you love about America?
Immediately I began receiving letters, lists of things people love about America.
A counterpoint to America is being passed around and posted here and there, mostly on conservative orientated forums. I’ve received a hundred or more copies. I find it odd that many folks love America so darned much, but can’t take time to articulate their own reasons why so instead they forward something they found on the internet penned by somebody else. Seems to me, if you love America that much, you ought to be able to say why in your own words.
Regardless, the very first thing listed in nearly every single one of those letters is military strength.
I love America for her military might. I’m proud that America can kick ass. I’m proud that we have the mightiest warships and the fastest fighter planes and the biggest tanks. I’m proud that we’ve got all the nuclear bombs. America, hell ya!
This puzzles me. What happens if somebody else builds a bigger aircraft carrier? A faster fighter? A tank with a bigger gun? Will you be less proud of America then?
I’ll tell you what I love about America’s military strength, I’ll tell you what makes me proud of my country.
Ten years now we’ve been fighting two highly unpopular wars. Ten years. A decade now, and more. And today, as I write this, we’ve embarked on yet another one. This generation, these eighteen, nineteen, twenty year old kids, with their goofy haircuts and their tattoos with the rings through their eyebrows and studs through their tongues? Yes, that generation, the Me Generation, the one we call selfish and lazy and fat and self-involved and long, long removed from the Greatest Generation of all, yes that generation. Well, Sir, they come of their own free will to join the unpopular fight. There are few recruiting commercials on TV, no posters in the train stations, no draft – certainly nothing like in previous conflicts. And still they come. They’re hard and they’re smart and they are out there right now, in the dark and dangerous corners of the world fighting under the Stars and Stripes and some have gone back four and five times and more. And still they come, rallying to the banner of our nation and the trumpet call of duty. Our forces are engaged across the globe, they are tired and sore used. And still they come, these proud young people. We are stretched thin, bruised and bloodied. And still they come, every day there they are in the recruiting stations signing the instruments of enlistment. We are hardfought and hardened and weary beyond belief. And still they come, knowing that they may never return. Their comrades in arms, their brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, their friends, have been killed, maimed, blinded, disfigured, and still they come, risking all to stand between hearth and that desolate shore.
I’m not proud of some airplane, some ship, some bit of technology, or some fucking war – I’m proud of them.
I’m proud of those kids, who of their own free will stand into harm’s way each every single goddamned day, again and again and again, and when they fall others take their place. Not all of them are Americans, not yet, but they all serve America freely and of their own volition. I’m proud of their shear raw courage, their guts and determination, their commitment, their belief, and the fact that America still produces men and women of such resolute character in boundless surplus. I was proud and humbled to lead them, and I’m proud that they will lead the next generation.
But you know what else I’m proud of? I’m proud of the ones who didn’t go. The ones that protested the wars. The ones who demanded peace and railed against the wasting of their countrymen. The ones that stood firm in their conviction and gave voice to their dissent. I’m proud of their passion and their willingness to stick up for their beliefs. Their courage and determination and commitment are no less than that of their warrior brothers.
No nation made up purely of soldiers can survive, when there are no more enemies, it will turn upon itself like a crazed badger clawing out its own guts.
No nation of pacifists can long survive either.
America must have both the warriors and the peacemakers if she is to be truly great, and both are equally important.
One letter said, I love America because we won the Cold War. We won the Cold War? Won? We didn’t win, the Soviets forfeited. Nobody won the Cold War, least of all the human race. Thousands died, and for what? We spent trillions, and for what? We laid waste to vast swathes of the Earth, and for what? We built weapons that could destroy the world a thousand times over and which we still live in fear of, and for that you’re proud? We could have had colonies on the moon and Mars by now, we could have been halfway to the nearest star, pushing the boundaries of the human spirit and ensuring the survival of the entire race. We could have fed the world forever, we could have ended hunger and poverty and disease and remade our planet into a paradise for all of mankind. These self-righteous sons of bitches who speak to me of my divine judgment – I wonder what their defense will be when asked why they could have changed the world, and didn’t.
No, I’m not proud that we “won” the Cold War.
But I’ll tell you what I am proud of, I’m proud that when the wall finally did come down, when the Soviet Union did finally crumble into dust, we extended the hand of friendship to our erstwhile enemies. Sixty years of hate and fear, of mistrust, of suspicion, won’t vanish overnight. But with every single day that passes we move further from the brink, and despite the hatemongers and the warhawks and the fearful pundits who would gleefully reignite the Cold War in all its mad insanity, one day friendship will be the only thing our children remember. I spent much of my life staring down the loaded gun barrels of Soviet battle cruisers, my son will fly free to the stars with Russian shipmates.
Universally, the letters spoke of American Exceptionalism. Well you got me there, I hate that word. Word, hell, exceptionalism isn’t even a word. America isn’t exceptional. Oh save your fake outrage. Espousing Exceptionalism isn’t patriotism, it isn’t love of country, it’s arrogance. It’s saying I’m better than you because I’m special and you’re not. Exceptionalism is what that spoiled rotten stupid jerk of kid up above uses as an excuse to act like an ass.
No, I don’t love American exceptionalism.
I’ll tell you what I do love though, I love that there was a time when America was exceptional. Back when America was founded it was a republic different from all that had gone before. A beacon of light and liberty the likes of which the world had never seen. That is no longer so. Not because we’ve lost something, but because other nations have become our equal – many through our help. Democracy, freedom, liberty, equality, justice, these are not finite resources, they exist in unlimited supply forged in the fire of the human spirit. You don’t get less freedom if someone else gets more, no, in fact for every person on this planet who becomes free, that finds life, liberty, and justice, all of us gain just that much more. I love that I live in a country that is one beacon among many. I love that I live in a nation that is no longer alone. To claim exceptionalism is to spit into the eye of all that we’ve accomplished.
There was more, people wrote to say they were proud of American’s mountains, its vast forests, its rivers and lakes and beaches. Why? They didn’t make those things. America isn’t a rock or a tree or a basin full of dirty water. A country isn’t land, a country is people. America is made up of Americans, black and brown, yellow and red and white. Gay and Straight. Young and old. Truck drivers and Prius owners. Cowboys and tofu eaters. Conservatives and Liberals. Democrats, Republicans, and yes even TEA Partiers. All of us, each and every one, we are America. There are those who deplore multiculturalism. Ha. Look around you. America is many cultures, many languages, many beliefs, many people. E Pluribus Enum, from many, one nation.
That’s America and I’m damned proud of her.
This generation, the one fighting for America right now, they understand that better than any other before them.
This generation of Americans, more than any other, is what I’m proud of.
They give me hope for our country and for the world, someday history will call them the Greatest Generation.
Now, tell me again why I hate America.