Decline of patriotism in America

Published 10:02am Friday, November 9, 2012

To the editor:

It seems that, within a week, America will be recovering from a post-election hangover even as it pauses to remember veterans on Nov. 11.

Yet if this last Memorial Day and Fourth of July are examples, the celebration will be more muted and less spirited than at any time since 9/11. Here in the ultra-patriotic South, fewer vehicles and trucks appear to display proud bumper stickers, American flags and, most ubiquitous of all, Marine symbols.

While Tea Party loyalists and others reflexively and indignantly will object, patriotism nonetheless seems to be trending in the wrong direction. It all started long before the first presidential debate.  Something fundamental has changed in America, but what?

First, Americans are war weary.

After all, we’ve been fighting a “war on terror” for more than a decade now, and, with no clearly definable goals, low-intensity conflicts like those in Afghanistan seem to grind on forever. Moreover, the very nature of warfare has changed. Why go to war?

We increasingly engage in “wars of choice,” and that puts nations like Iran squarely in our gun sights. How do we measure success? By the number of Al Qaeda chieftains killed? By the restoration of electricity in Kabul? By increased oil production in Iraq? By meaningless puppet elections that insure nothing? By training a large surrogate army? All or none of these?

America now operates under the illusion that through remote and sophisticated battlefield technology like drones, we have become insulated against the realities of warfare. That threatens to sabotage our ability to withstand emerging threats from even more radical Islamist states, from China, and from a newly nationalistic Russia.  Additionally, who fights for us now? With no draft and an endless recession, we now have a professional army drawn mostly from the lower classes, a force that distances itself from the interlocking of war and society through a common cause. Our military thus has become an increasingly privatized force run by career professional officers, an enterprise paid for by career politicians and used as their blunt instrument.

Then, too, military representation in Congress and elsewhere might be at a historic low. John McCain stands out in that capacity as he did in a military one. The two presidential candidates never put on a uniform. In fact, three generations of Romney’s, all eligible for the draft or for duty in major conflicts ranging from the Gulf War to Afghanistan, never served. No chance of a film called Saving Private Romney from that commitment to sacrifice.

Most of today’s political leadership, both Republican and Democratic, haven’t sent a single son or daughter to fight or even serve in the nation’s military. A rare exception like the Biden’s only underscores the point.

Lastly, the rise of nativism and the infusion of racism into politics has only made patriotism seem a redder, whiter and now bluer affair. As we have narrowed our concept of what it means to be an American, we also might have made patriotism more exclusive as well. The “birther” controversy really is about that restricted idea of American-ness.

Yet in so doing, we also have promoted the decline of patriotism and love of country for the many even as we enhance and enlarge it for the few.

- Milton Ready, Tryon

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