Monday, May 27, 2013


I was told last week that I have "no patriotism in my soul whatsoever".

Perhaps that is so.

While I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been born in the U.S. of A., and I'm aware of the many privileges that come with my status, I am not often proud of my country.

And while I'll probably always identify as American, I often don't identify with Americans. I have a lot of beefs with my homeland. I find its claims to superiority in many ways laughable, and I think we have a long way to go before we can honestly boast of "liberty and justice for all".

Confronted with this bumper sticker on the rusting backside of the old Suburban in front of me, I feel out of place, as if my countrymen would rather have our state to themselves. His flag doesn't offend me, but his attitude does. I want to apologize for him to everyone else waiting at  the red light. Parting company with the old Chevy, I return home and spend the afternoon fixing carnitas with corn tortillas and black beans while listening to Estelle Parsons read Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge", a story of racial integration and prejudice. I wonder if my friend-of-the-flag enjoys tacos.

When I think of patriotism, I think of dead and wounded soldiers, and that makes me sad. I can't stop with remembering them; my mind instantly jumps to the unwitting casualties of war--the ones who never intended or expected to be in harm's way. The spouses and parents and brothers and sisters and children whose worlds were upended when they lost those they loved and depended on. The families who suffered because of their loved one's unnamed and untreated PTSD, or their own. The loss of limbs, the brain injuries. The men, and women, who were "never the same after the war", and the people who cared about them. The former valedictorian who wandered the town mumbling to himself when he returned. The neighbor kid who watched and wondered, or hid.

Today I listened to author Thomas Childers while I prepared our Memorial Day picnic feast. If he has patriotism in his soul, then maybe my soul is not devoid of it. I can identify with his sense of war's awful aftermath, its horrible untold price. Listening to his stories of his father cleaning splattered American brains off a warplane seemed more appropriate for Memorial Day than moments of silence or parades.

Perhaps I am too morbid these days to celebrate holidays. Perhaps my own fight with PTSD makes me sympathize too much with those who crumple under the trauma of conflict.

Before post-traumatic stress disorder, the best diagnosis was "psychoneurosis" or shell-shock, and many, many of our veterans were affected in the first half of the 20th century. Willard Waller wrote in 1944,
"According to current estimates, the armed services were discharging psychoneurotic veterans at the rate of 10,000 cases a month in late 1943 and in early 1944. The army alone has discharged 216,000 veterans for psychoneurosis at the time of writing. By the end of the war this figure will probably be increased by many hundreds of thousands. Neuro-psychiatric breakdowns constitute about thirty per cent of all casualties, but the rate varies from one theatre of war and one military organization to another. If our experience of World War I is repeated, great numbers of psychoneurotic cases will be added to the rolls in the post-war years....
"Our past experience with such cases has been discouraging. Of the 67,000 beds in Veterans Administration hospitals, almost half are still occupied by the psychoneurotics of World War I." 
Source: The Veteran Comes Back 

Such sacrifices are essential to our freedom, I'm told. But some days I am skeptical.

Maybe growing up in an isolated religious subculture gave me unreasonably high expectations of the America that existed on the outside. Like an immigrant, I knew the claims of America before actually experiencing it for myself. And I confess to being disappointed. Freedom is a terribly relative term.
Merriam-Webster defines FREEDOM thusly:
     1: the quality or state of being free: as
         a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
         b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence
         c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous

I wonder what escapees like Carolyn Jessop would say about this definition. Or the African-Americans who are imprisoned for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites (though five times as many whites are using drugs). We must be talking about a different kind of freedom.

Here is President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlining "the four freedoms" in his State of the Union message in 1941:
"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation."
Noble aspirations, but even with all the human sacrifices we have yet to achieve this in the United States, let alone "everywhere in the world".

Superiority is more than industry, economy, power. In today's world, the most superior nation is the one that places the greatest value on human rights, treating its citizens fairly while being a good neighbor to everyone else on the planet.

It's a tall order, and that's why I am not always proud of my homeland.

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