“My country right or wrong, my country!” may sound like a patriot’s credo. The actual quote is from a toast given by Stephen Decatur around 1819: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Various other forms of this quote have evolved since.
I feel that I am a patriot though others may not agree due to my numerous critical comments about our government, our laws, our economy, and our lack of environmental and social justice. I feel that it is a fool who sees no wrong or an apathetic fool who seeing a wrong but does absolutely nothing about it. I see my relationship with this country a little like my relationship with my children or others I love. My love for my loved ones is without question as is my love of my country. If I see my loved ones doing something I strongly disapprove of I will let them know in no uncertain terms and tell them my reasons. The same goes for my country. If I see something I feel is wrong I will express my feeling on this blog and elsewhere and write my Congregational representatives, which I do frequently, and vote for candidates and propositions which I feel best represent my point of view. I haven’t missed a single election in over 30 years and have taught my family to vote as soon as they could register. It is one of the most effective ways to influence your government. I do other things as well to promote my sense of social justice for a better government and society. I doubt if many will disagree with me that this government has much to be desired.
I feel that a true Patriot is one who loves their country enough to go outside their comfort zone to try to make it better. I can even imagine Edward Snowden considering himself a Patriot by trying to get the government’s attention about its secret wrongdoings and after getting no satisfaction through proper channels disclosing U.S. secrets at great risk to himself (read post Traitor or Patriot). I think that Snowden went too far in his actions as he likewise put our nation at risk as well but I feel his motives were not as much to harm his nation as to try to make the government correct some of the wrongs he saw. Most certainly he had little if nothing to gain and is far worst off now than had he done absolutely nothing like others before him with the same knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the giving away of national secrets. But what I am saying is that Snowden did this out of altruistic frustration after getting nowhere when going through normal channels to call attention to problems he saw. I’m sure that he regrets the trouble he has caused himself. But he did it for selfless reason and is suffering the consequences of his actions.
President Obama said that he would champion Transparency when elected President during the 2008 campaign. Yet he is as opaque as all earlier presidents. So who is in spirit the true Patriot? One who sacrifices ones career and freedom to make a point or one who doesn’t live up to his promise and joins the ranks of his predecessors out of convenience? President Obama was even against any kind of government whistle blowing (read post Whistle Blowing). Where is the transparency he promised to voters in order to get elected?
So Patriotism isn’t simply about what one does. It is about motives, why one acted as they did, just as sin is not about what you do as much as it is about why you did it. Can one be a traitor yet be a patriot? Edward Snowden’s actions are considered by many traitorous. He did violate the law and take State secretes and give them to the world. But he did not covertly give them to a hostile country, so in that sense he is not a Traitor.
During the Vietnam war Jane Fonda went to North Vietnam to show her solidarity with them in protest against the Vietnam war. This could be considered a traitorous action, colluding with the enemy. I’m sure that she felt herself a Patriot and did such an extreme act in order to draw attention to how evil she felt the war to be. She drew much criticism for her actions but her motives were not to help the North Vietnam government as much as to try to stop U.S. involvement it this ugly war that killed so many Americans. She later said that she regretted doing what she did but her motives were to try to stop U.S. aggression. There were many acts of defiance during the Vietnam War in protest against the war which those partaking felt were Patriotic actions to try to stop an immoral war.
So Patriotism is often about taking actions out of love of one’s country sometimes at great risk to one’s safety or freedom. Such acts may not be in the best interest of the political status quo government and in fact often acts against those interest. For this reason Patriots are often viewed as traitors. But a traitor is a person who has a love other than their country and acts to destroy or place the nation at a disadvantage out of hate, disdain, or greed. Patriotism is all about acting out of love for one’s country and often involves doing thing outside of one’s comfort zone in order to try to right a wrong.