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Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Patriotism, part three
Earlier this week, I suggested that the overweening patriotism, demonstrated by nearly every American one meets, has very unpleasant consequences. That, with the rush-to-judgement attitude that seems to be part of the American psyche, has led America into trouble and it is doing so again.
Dan Rather of CBS recently interviewed Saddam Hussein and his comments after the interview were more significant than anything he said to Mr Shitface. Last spring, he said in a BBC Newsnight interview:
What we are talking about here - whether one wants to recognise it or not, or call it by its proper name or not - is a form of self-censorship...It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself. It carries through with a certain knowledge that the country as a whole - and for all the right reasons - felt and continues to feel this surge of patriotism within themselves. And one finds oneself saying: 'I know the right question, but you know what? This is not exactly the right time to ask it.After the recent Saddam interview, Dan Rather reiterated the point. But, if there ever is a time when self-censorship is appropriate, it is not now - when the war has started, it's too late.
Criticism of an administration is always unpopular, especially with the administration and its acolytes. When despite the pressures to stay silent, such criticism is voiced, it is immediately shouted down as being "unpatriotic" and/or "unAmerican". This is what is happening now and it isn't just the left that is being silenced. Apparently,
the mainstream American media has been reluctant to give coverage to the anti-war movement and the cable news channels are overwhelmingly pro-war.More here about some of the features of the struggle.
When Americans keep their pertinent criticisms to themselves, they collude with those who do not want a proper discussion. The dread of being branded as "unAmerican" or "unpatriotic" is a frightful constraint. It is this extreme patriotism, allied to simplistic judgements applied by unscrupulous demagogues that gave rise to McCarthyism - funny if it weren't so tragic. The previous manifestation was largely a domestic American affair; this time, it affects the whole World.
Is the "freest press in the World" unduly inhibited by fear of the consequences like the opponents of McCarthy? Whatever the rights and wrongs of the anti-war argument, it is going by default because the other side's accusations of unAmericanism and lack of patriotism work. These two silly notions are sufficiently important "over there" to have an effect, even (especially) among Congresspersons. As I remarked a few days ago, there wasn't a trace of that sort of nonsense in the House of Commons debate. And anyone who wrapped himself in the flag in this way would have been treated with derision.
Is there any possibility of getting the argument across? After all, while public opinion is not necessarily the only criterion to consider, there is a large part of the American public deeply suspicious of the current road to war. And if, despite the need to be circumspect, the populace in general is uneasy, it ought to be heard.
Why, the US Hebrew Gog, that pillar of Christian moral rectitude even misquotes scripture, saying, in effect, "If you're not for us, you're against us." Absolute bollocks. The real quote, by Jesus, is from Mark v. 40 (Revised Version): "For he that is not against us is for us".
I have upbraided our politicians for knowingly lying to us (e.g. for telling us the previous weapons inspectors were expelled when they were withdrawn). Where are (were) the howls of rage at this perversion of an unambiguous quote? Or did I miss them?
I suggested a day or so ago that Americans are too much "in your face" and that they often choose the wrong target against which to be confrontational. Well, here's something against which they should let rip: the crooked appropriation of fine feelings for one's country. Otherwise, by default, they allow only the scoundrels to call themselves "patriotic".
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