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PATRIOTISM AND THE FOURTH OF JULY, by Howard Zinn

 

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    By Howard Zinn
    AlterNet.org
    Tuesday, 4 July 2006
    [Copyright (c) 2006 in the
    U.S.A. and Internationally
    by AlterNet(.org)
    and/or Howard Zinn.
    All rights reserved.]

 

    The Declaration of Independence gives us the true meaning of a patriot, someone who supports a country’s ideals, not necessarily its government.

    In celebration of the Fourth of July there will be many speeches about the young people who “died for their country.” But those who gave their lives did not, as they were led to believe, die for their country; they died for their government. The distinction between country and government is at the heart of the Declaration of Independence, which will be referred to again and again on July 4, but without attention to its meaning.

    The Declaration of Independence is the fundamental document of democracy. It says governments are artificial creations, established by the people, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and charged by the people to ensure the equal right of all to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Furthermore, as the Declaration says, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” It is the country that is primary—the people, the ideals of the sanctity of human life and the promotion of liberty.

    When a government recklessly expends the lives of its young for crass motives of profit and power, while claiming that its motives are pure and moral, (“Operation Just Cause” was the invasion of Panama and “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in the present instance), it is violating its promise to the country. War is almost always a breaking of that promise. It does not enable the pursuit of happiness but brings despair and grief.

    Mark Twain, having been called a “traitor” for criticizing the U.S. invasion of the Philippines, derided what he called “monarchical patriotism.” He said: “The gospel of the monarchical patriotism is: ‘The King can do no wrong.’ We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had — the individual’s right to oppose both flag and country when he believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it, all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism.”


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