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Happy July 9th (minus 5)!

July 9, 2013

Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance.  It is also owed to justice and to humanity.  Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong. – James Bryce

Alas, I am a day or two  or five late (depending on which time zone you hold me to) in getting this post up. I patriotic-americanthink since the 4th fell on a Thursday this year, and Thursday is almost Friday, and Friday is basically the weekend, this extends the festivities and turns the 4th of July into a weekend-long celebration + a few days of the next week. You with me?

I’ve spent about half a dozen 4ths of July abroad, but the last three have been the only ones where I’ve lived near a military base while abroad and have benefited from the adjacent fireworks show. The monsoon season has officially started here and there were a few hours of downpour followed by some very thick (fog? pollution? steam?) that somewhat muted the splendor of the colored explosions.

On this 4th of July I did something very American, which was sit on my ass and watch a lot of TV. The Hatfields & McCoys miniseries, to be exact. It seemed highly fitting to be watching two American families feud in the setting of our nascent nation that was just recovering from the Civil War.

Feuding, over things both important and trivial, is as American as apple pie. Thankfully, in general, feuds are not longer settled with guns and knives and fire the way they were between the Hatfields and the McCoys. These days we fight with our words. The words we tweet, the words we post on Facebook, the words printed on our bumper stickers. Sometimes, occasionally, we still even talk face-to-face, but that is becoming rarer and rarer. Most Americans count themselves very fortunate indeed to be citizens of a country that protects the freedom of speech, and values both expression and respectful debate.

Of course, it gets ugly sometimes. One only need turn on Fox “News” or MSNBC to see both sides of the political spectrum hurling insults and putting spin on anything and everything said by the opposite side. Respectful debate is actually a bit scarce these days.

I love a good old fashioned debate myself, hard to come by as they may be. I don’t argue just for the sake of arguing, though, because, god, I hate that shit. Besides, a distinction must be made between arguing, fighting, and debating. For a fight or an argument, both people generally come to the table positive that they are right. (Which is why all televised political “debates” should instead be called “fights”) I think that to debate well you have to listen and try to understand the viewpoint of the other person. If you don’t know where they’re coming from, how will you ever sway them anyway? (or be swayed yourself?)

A few months ago, while discussing the war in Iraq, among other things, I was accused of being unpatriotic. The phrase “America-hater” was thrown around. This because I questioned the willingness of my government to engage in an illegal war under false pretenses; a war in which my then-future-husband fought. My views on the Iraq war are not radical. I am among the millions of Americans who feel that it was wrong to sidestep the UN and invade a country that had not attacked us. And yet, here I was, in my own home, expressing myself in a way that was articulate and in no way unkind or cruel, and being called names. (I was also likened to the people who threw garbage  and yelled “baby-killer” at veterans returning from Vietnam)

The experience was incredibly unpleasant and a bit shocking, really.  Though I was aware that there are people who feel that expressing any dissent at all is unpatriotic, I wasn’t aware that I knew any of them personally. The shock subsided and I started feeling angry, which I soon realized was just masking the hurt I felt at being so misunderstood. Me, unpatriotic?

A few years ago I don’t think it would have bothered me at all to have been called unpatriotic, but I was really bothered by it now. What’s changed? Well, I’m an aging human, so lots. But specifically, I’ve had a child. My child was not born in the US and has never lived there but will someday soon. America has now gone from the country of my birth to the country where my child will be raised. And guess what? It’s not good enough. Don’t get me wrong – I know it’s better than a lot of other places – but it’s simply not good enough for my child or for anybody else’s. And the reason it’s not good enough is not because of it’s failing education system or it’s consumerist society or it’s devil-may-care attitude towards global warming. It’s not good enough because it’s not living up to it’s full potential.

I object greatly to the “greatest country in the world” bullshit. That is nationalism, not patriotism, and I do not support nationalism at all. America is better than  lot of places, but calling any country the best is a bit ridiculous. America does have a lot going for it and it should be using every advantage it has to live up to the vision of its founders and to the ideals that it so loudly preaches. Right now, it’s just not.

I’m grateful to have been born in a country that protects the freedom of speech, among others. I’m proud to come from a country that ranks in the top 5 of charitable giving in the world. And I want my country to constantly improve and be the absolute best country it can be. I want less bullshit and more transparency. I want a better education system and better healthcare. I want to know that our country’s leaders will not be willing to sacrifice the lives of our men and women in uniform for reasons that will not stand the test of time.

One of the undeniably great things about the United States is our well-established democracy. It’s not perfect, but it gives us a voice. It provides us opportunity to express our dissent, to stand up for what we believe in, and to effect change. But we have to use that voice! Blind devotion does not improve anything! Insisting that your country be “righteous as well as strong” is, to me, what being a patriot is all about.

So, ‘merica, let’s get our shit together, okay? If we devote ourselves as a nation to serving humanity we will be great.

Happy belated 4th!

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