Nationalism, Militarism, Patriotism, Government, and a Social Market Economy

The United States faces a crisis of conscience in the coming years. Our turn toward isolationist policies lacking any consideration for global impact places us in a precarious position. We lost much of our international influence by exchanging it for almost total dependence on overwhelming military superiority.

While the ability to defend oneself is critical, the use of such strength as a bludgeon against both allies and enemies to bend to our will is a near-sighted policy. The rallying cry of the “patriot” is often the first step towards disaster.

We are smarter than that.

This confluence of “isms” in the US culminated with the election of Donald Trump and a sharp turn away from what this country once represented; strength wielded with compassion. While labels can only go so far in defining individuals and policies, they are generally used in a derogatory way or, when meant as a positive attribute, often absent a full understanding of their meaning.

It is important to know what one is promoting before embracing a myth.

Nationalism: identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. (Oxford Dictionary definition)

Militarism: the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests. (Oxford Dictionary definition)

Patriotism: the quality of being patriotic; devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country. (Oxford Dictionary definition)

64 Best Patriotism Quotes And Sayings Of All Time

Former Commandant of the United States Marine Corps and Medal of Honor recipient for Gallantry during the Battle of Tarawa in World War II, General David Monroe Shoup, had this to say about such philosophies.

“The battle successes and heroic exploits of America’s fine young fighting men have added to the military’s traditions which extol service, bravery, and sacrifice, and so it has somehow become unpatriotic to question our military strategy and tactics or the motives of military leaders.”

He went on to say about the growing American involvement in Vietnam,

 “militarism in America is in full bloom and promises a future of vigorous self-pollination — unless the blight of Vietnam reveals that militarism is more a poisonous weed than a glorious blossom.”

One can easily see how those prescient words were both correct about our involvement in Vietnam (which Shoup opposed) and about our situation today.

The most mystifying thing about it is how a man like Mr. Trump, who avoided the draft, ridiculed those who serve, and denigrated those who died in the service of their country, became the poster child for all three, nationalism, militarism, and patriotism.

While each has a place in building and securing a nation, they also pose a danger when left uncontrolled by reason, rational policies, and compassion for our global society.

It is time for Americans to take a long, hard look at themselves before they lockstep off a cliff singing God Bless America in pursuit of a greatness that is a sham.

Then there are labels like socialism which are often thrown out as a threat to our capitalist system. A more thorough examination of the American form of government, one which reveals the true genius of the founding fathers, shows our government and economy are not pure capitalism.

Much of our success came from governmental intervention into the excesses of capitalism. Labor laws, workplace safety laws, collective bargaining, product liability, antitrust laws, all had a negative impact on profits for the higher purpose of protecting workers, consumers, and the environment.

The words “collective” bargaining itself carries socialist tendencies since it levels the playing field between the wealthy business owners and those whose labor makes the companies successful.

Social Security, Unemployment benefits, Disability benefits all provide support derived from the profits of a capitalist economy which otherwise would have been denied.

Our economy, like it or not, is a blend of capitalism and socialism. And Democratic Socialism–a philosophy that seeks to balance the downsides of a free market economy with fair treatment of labor–is not opposed to capitalism. It opposes excesses and provides a balance.

Here’s how the Oxford Dictionary and other sources describe it.

A social market economy is a free-market or mixed-market capitalist system, sometimes classified as a coordinated market economy, where government intervention in price formation is kept to a minimum, but the state provides significant services in areas such as social security, health care, unemployment benefits and the recognition of labor rights through national collective bargaining arrangements.

The social market economy refrains from attempts to plan and guide production, the workforce, or sales, but it does support planned efforts to influence the economy through the organic means of a comprehensive economic policy coupled with flexible adaptation to market studies. Combining monetary, credit, trade, tax, customs, investment and social policies as well as other measures, this type of economic policy aims to create an economy that serves the welfare and needs of the entire population, thereby fulfilling its ultimate goal (http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/docpage.cfm?docpage_id=3415)

The fact is there are many countries who enjoy higher standards of living, better educational opportunities, better access to medical care, lower infant mortality (which relates to access to health care), and other benefits through social democratic reforms.

Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand are just a few examples.

The American Experiment, an appropriate analogy since experiments adjust to new evidence, faces a critical moment. Do we revert to the harshness of a government that turns a blind eye to abuse of labor? Do we ignore the health needs of Americans because of pressures from those who place profits over people? Do we let the paroxysms of nationalism and militarisms mask the true nature of the American soul? Do we ignore the scientific evidence of climate change for the sake of profiteering from the demise of our world?

It is time for Americans to take a long, hard look at themselves before they lockstep off a cliff singing God Bless America in pursuit of a greatness that is a sham.

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Heel, don’t Kneel

The First Amendment protects us from government restrictions on the free expression of one’s personal and political views. It is different within the private sector.

Employers may limit the exercise of free speech when it directly affects their business.

No one can argue this. To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“An employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”

Aside from the legal arguments, there is a more significant issue at stake with the NFL ban on players taking a knee during the National Anthem.

While most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, freely stand during the National Anthem in gratitude for those who fought to preserve our way of life, implicit in that sacrifice is the right to do otherwise.

I often chafe at the inattentive, text-addicted, hats still on idiots who either stand because everyone else is or sit drinking beer when the anthem is played before a game. But it is their right to do so.

Ignorant, rude, or just downright asinine as it may be.

But I wouldn’t want to see uniformed police officers roaming through the crowd and hauling them off for it either. (I might find it momentarily amusing, aside from the serious constitutional issue.)

The NFL situation is different on two levels.

First, if this was an intrinsic element of the game, then the owners have every right to insist players comply.

It is not. It is a moment at most public venues where we pay homage to this nation. Which implies the right to express a different political opinion.

Second, and more critical, this wailing and gnashing of teeth that the constitutional guarantee of free speech has limitations in the private sector and players must comply with a workplace requirement is all a smokescreen to the real issue.

Americans do not like the very public reminder of the persistence of bigotry and prejudice. They do not like their sacred sports game marred by such a divisive issue. They prefer to keep it in the closet on game day, and then ignore it for the rest of the week.

To further illustrate the point, the protest must be working in raising the issue otherwise no one would care.

Which makes the restrictions put in place by the NFL, albeit legitimate under the most common interpretation of the Constitution, more troubling.

While the NFL owners have much latitude in controlling the players when they are “working,” to insist they can regulate free speech, during a ceremony that honors free speech, for the benefit of their bottom line, is troubling.

If it is that important an issue, fire them.

Remember, the first act of American patriotism was to challenge the King’s government for the right of freedom of expression.

Do we seek to return to the times of pledging loyalty to the government as a condition of being an American? Is it that some people miss the days when the government would ask “Are you, or have you ever been, a communist?”

While the NFL issue is minor in the big scheme of things, it is the conglomeration of little things, chipping away at liberties, that cause real damage. This issue may be nothing but a single termite, but termites are never alone.

Let the players take a knee, do backflips, or whatever. When the anthem plays, focus all the cameras on the Stars and Stripes flapping in the breeze above the flag-draped Bud Light advertisements.

Born in the USA: The Bright Shining Lie of Uninformed Patriotism

Last night we went to the first of six Pawtucket Red Sox games which feature a themed firework display after the game. (I know this may seem like heresy from a Yankee fan, but it is a nice place to watch a game despite the Red Sox aura.)

For the Memorial Day Weekend, the theme was a patriotic one. Commemorating the lives of those who served in the military and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, defending the freedom of this country and others around the world.

There is much for which this country should be proud. We’ve been willing to sacrifice our young men and women for our ideals.  In the words of President John F. Kennedy, we’ve been willing to,

“pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

We survived and thrived because we valued dedication, intelligence, and determination in pursuit of these ideals. We haven’t always been perfect, no nation or people are, but we have always been willing to learn from our mistakes.

I wonder where that brilliance has gone.

One song chosen to accompany the spectacular and inspiring display was the Bruce Springsteen song, “Born in America.”

Odd how an anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex song critical of the way we treat veterans has somehow become a rousing “hurray for America” theme. It strikes me as an indictment of our inability to think things through anymore. Our failure to find solutions to problems. Favoring slogans to rouse emotions over doing the difficult things.

To quote the lines I found most troubling amid the applause and cheers of the crowd,

“Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the yellow man”

I couldn’t help but notice the families of many Southeast Asians in the crowd. I wonder what they’d think if they knew the lyrics?

This underscores the rising rampant dangerous nationalism within this country that screams for a “target of opportunity.”  Today’s target is Islam.

But our failing to even bother to understand the meaning of these songs we use as a soundtrack to patriotic displays underscores our failure to understand the nature of warfare today.

In World War I and II we helped defeat a military-supported government seeking to impose themselves on others. One can debate the many reasons behind how these wars started, but the goal was clear.

Today is a different world.  Today is a world of asymmetric warfare requiring asymmetric thinking. We face any enemy of ideas, not divisions and tanks.

We must fight the genesis of these concepts of twisted jihad with intelligence and thoughtful policies, not B-1 stealth bombers and cruise missiles.

Weapons such as these have their purpose, make no doubt about it, but we could double the stockpile of weapons and it would have no effect on the enemy. Calling for the leveling of Mecca or Medina may make for rousing sound bites but would be a wasteful, inhumane, and ineffective policy.

Perhaps we should think about the ideas behind Springsteen’s lyrics.

Wars are started by ambitious politicians but fought by young men and women.

Wars are won and lost by these same politicians. (See Vietnam as an example.)

Our enemies today are enemies of everyone who opposes their ideas. We must bring the world together to fight these insidious twisted 14th-century concepts, not push ourselves into an America first isolationism.

Before entering into both World Wars, we sought to stay out of the “European” problem. That was the world where most people never traveled more than fifty miles from where they were born. Where communications between countries took weeks.

That is not today’s world.

The time of unleashing “Ole’ Blood and Guts” military leaders of Patton, Eisenhower, Marshall, and MacArthur is over. Now, more than ever, we need intelligent policies that utilize the selective application of military power to compliment our once formidable determination.

It is the only way to change the conditions that breed these terrorists.

We have the big stick, we need to remember to walk softly.

I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime, but I hope for a day when we celebrate the passing of the last veteran. For when that day comes, all the sacrifices of every veteran will be worth it.

Those Opposed to Displaying the Flag

I came upon a troubling story out of California, the University of California at Irvine to be specific.  The story concerned a proposal by six members of the University’s Legislative Council (Student Government) to prohibit the display of the American Flag in the lobby of the Student Government building.

Even more troubling was a letter, signed by a number of professors and other academics, in support of the resolution. (http://redalertpolitics.com/2015/03/11/uc-irvine-professors-sign-online-letter-support-campus-flag-ban/).

The line that caught my eye was this one.

“The resolution recognized that nationalism, including U.S. nationalism, often contributes to racism and xenophobia, and that the paraphernalia of nationalism is in fact often used to intimidate.”

These professors claim that nationalism, including US nationalism, contributes to racism and xenophobia.

They are correct and, sadly, they still miss the point.

What they miss is the Constitution of this country guarantees the freedom to express these opinions. A Constitution supported and defended at a high cost; one symbolized by that same flag.

The problem is not the flag or other symbols; the problem stems from the meaning and values we assign to them. That some attribute any semblance of xenophobia or racism to the American flag means they have never read, or understood, the Constitution and the ideals the flag represents.

When I see the flag, when I stand during the National Anthem, when I watch a flag draped coffin coming home, I am thankful I live in a country where some of us are willing to die to support and protect those that may hold a different opinion.

In this country, freedom of expression is the key to everything.  Those six members of the legislative council, as well as the professors signing the letter in support, are entitled to their opinions and every opportunity to express them.

Instead of proposing a ban on displaying the flag, perhaps they should focus on the underlying issues that do need to be addressed.  Xenophobia, racism, and discrimination are alive and well in this country.  Focus on addressing the causes of those attitudes. Do not attack a symbol that, for most Americans and those that want to become part of this great society, represents the best of this country, our guarantee of freedom of expression.

That symbolism, represented by the flag, is worth keeping on display as a reminder to us all that this freedom comes at a cost.