Today's conservatives often use a jingoistic brand of patriotism
to criticize rivals.
It once was a given that you did not discuss religion or politics
in polite company. To this list, I would add "patriotism." It has
become the new secular American religion, so mercurial that we
cannot even agree about what it is.
It is regrettable that a once healthy American patriotism has
morphed into intolerant jingoism. Love of country has been hijacked.
It was not always thus. As a boy in New England, just after World
War II, I was schooled in patriotism quite unlike what's out there
today. The week before Thanksgiving, public schools taught us the
Pilgrims' vision of religious liberty. On Memorial Day, Cub Scouts
marched up to Pine Hill Cemetery and laid flowers on the graves of
Civil War veterans, who we learned had fought and died to preserve
In Massachusetts, patriotism had special currency because it
earned us an extra holiday that schoolchildren in most other states
didn't have, Patriots' Day. It commemorated the "midnight ride of
Paul Revere," who warned our forebears that detested British
soldiers, "lobster-backs," were marching on their hamlets.
In classrooms we memorized the Gettysburg Address, sang "The Star-
Spangled Banner," and recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.
Massachusetts was and is arguably the most liberal state in the
Union and yet it drilled patriotism into its schoolchildren for
So where do America's conservatives get the fatuous idea that
they are the only true red, white, and blue patriots?
How did a quiet "love of country" morph into an aggressive right-
wing, warlike chauvinism?
There was something McCarthyesque about the megaphones of the
Bush-Cheney-Rove administration propagating the myth that they had
cornered the market on patriotism and civic virtue.
Check my wallet. I still carry my frayed Selective Service System
card that says I registered for the draft July 9, 1958. Although I
always suspected Vietnam was a wrongheaded war, if drafted, I would
have served. Years later, as a war correspondent, I saw more combat
than many US soldiers.
Compare that with chest-thumping Republican hawks like former
Vice President Dick Cheney, who received multiple draft deferments
and never served in Vietnam.
How did Americans arrive at the obscene point where people
routinely say, "If you don't agree with me you aren't a real
Christian" or a "real American," or a "genuine patriot"? By what
measure of chutzpah did the Republican right challenge the
patriotism of those who disagreed with their Iraq policy during the
Bush years? …