I wouldn’t call myself a patriot. Don’t know if it’s the mega huge flags waving out of the big-ass pickup trucks where I live or flags saluting from so many houses year round, but I am more than burned out on the whole patriotism trend. It was one thing when flag waving was reserved for certain days of the year, but now it seems like every day is flag day. I know there is a lot more to patriotism than the flag, but the gesture of wearing or flying a flag seems to have come to embody the contemporary conception of patriotism. It is this contemporary version that bothers me in particular-the one touted by Bush and co where patriotism is defined as being pro-war, as in “you’re either with us or you’re against us.” As the button on my jean coat questions, “Since when did blind allegiance to corporate interests become patriotic?” To be fair though, my dislike of patriotism far precedes the whole flag fest of the post 9/11 era. I wasn’t a fan of the Pledge of Allegiance as a kid. Justice for all? Yeah, right.
It seems to me patriotism and its sidekick, nationalism, are, for the most part, a way to celebrate disdain and oppression. The whole “my country is the greatest country on earth” rings of extreme egotism to me. Do I love my country? Well, there are lots of things about the USA that are wonderful — lots of people, traditions, cultures, natural beauty, and attitudes that I love. But, there are many things I do not love about the USA as well. Am I proud to be an American? Well, no, not really. I don’t think pride in accomplishments has to do with one’s country, but with one’s actions, attitudes, and beliefs. I am proud of many people who are American – but not because they are American. Do I love my country? Well, I don’t consider it “mine.” I was born within these borders and raised within this culture by luck of birth. This country is no more “mine” than is the planet. Do I think this is the “greatest country on earth”? Hell no. While many of us may have it very good within the confines of our militarily maintained US borders, this comes at the expense of others labor, land, freedom, etc. I think our imperialist, capitalist, white supremacist, Zionist agendas disqualify us to be in the running for “greatest country on earth.”
Then again, perhaps my aversion to nat/patriotism is due to my femaleness. The Webster’s dictionary defines a patriot as “one who loves and defends his country.” Maybe as I am not a him, I don’t get the whole patriotic mindset. Women are not really coded as full citizens or “true patriots”–women are not meant to be active citizens but symbolic one’s. They are supposed to symbolize patriotism through the birthing of future citizens, through revering national law, and through acquiescing to the mandates of the (male-run) nation state. As symbols of nationalism, they are to function like Lady Liberty or Lady Justice–as beautiful, inert icons representing the nation’s ideals-but not, goddess forbid, as peace activists or truth seekers (otherwise known as conspiracy theorists).
I wish instead of all the flag-waving and singing of lyrics such as “we’ll put a boot in your ass it’s the american way…” the 4th could be a matriotic holiday. Cindy Sheehan uses this term to redefine patriotism/nationalism into a “new paradigm for true and lasting peace in the world.” Sheehan argues “A true Matriot would never drop an atomic bomb or bombs filled with white phosphorous, carpet-bomb cities and villages, or control drones from thousands of miles away to kill innocent men, women, and children.” I like Sheehan’s conception of matriotism because it implicitly emphasizes the need to personalize the political-to realize, for example, that the bombs we drop from afar have very real, personal consequences on individual bodies. Unlike patriotism, matriotism emphasizes individual embodiment and inter-humanity rather than the depersonalized allegiance to a nation-state that patriotism calls for.
In her meditation on the implications of the word matriotism, Sheehan calls upon the mothers of the world to “never send her child or another mother’s child to fight nonsense wars,” and, in so doing, she turns the power over ideology of patriotism into a solidarity with paradigm for peace. Sheehan reveals a profound understanding that in order to change the world, we must change not only the words we use but also the ideologies they represent and perpetuate. Her birthing of the word matriotism coincides with much contemporary activist mothering wherein women are delivering the radical message that allegiance to any nation-state is problematic and that not only sons, but also daughters, lovers, animals, and the planet itself deserve protection. Sheehan’s concept of matriotism calls for action rather than compliance, for being critical of the government rather than reverential, and for actively protesting societal wrongs. Now, that’s an idea I can be proud of.
On a similar note, I was relieved the other day when Obama said “I will never question the patriotism of others,” as this gives me hope that he, unlike Bush and co., does not define patriotism as blind obedience. Perhaps his more complex understanding of patriotism and its limits comes from the fact so many have questioned his patriotism. Putting the racism and anti-Muslim sentiment of these attacks to the side (this post is already too long!), the questioning of patriotism serves all to easily as a catchall way to discredit someone. For me though, this has the opposite effect-those that question/complicate mindless worship of a nation/flag goes up in my estimation, not down. So, thank you Obama for refusing to wear that flag pin in the run up to the invasion of Iraq! (For more on the attack against Obama’s patriotism, see Keith Olbermann’s “Questioning Obama’s Patriotism” here.)
So, on the 4th, as I watch fireworks from afar (can’t stand to be amongst throngs of people decked out in red, white, and blue or the inevitable pro-America music), I will take pride in the work of people like Cindy Sheehan and give thanks for the many matriot activists that are trying to make the globe a better place for everyone – not just for Americans. I will also hope that perhaps we might see someone as president next time around that understands patriotism should not be used to justify US imperialism.
Happy 4th to all you peace-loving, anti-imperialist matriots out there!