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Patriotism: What Do I Owe my Country?

I like to think of myself as a patriot, but then there are times when I shy away from the term because of some things that are done in the name of patriotism. I served my country in uniform, even while disagreeing with many of the policies of my government. Despite any disagreements, I carried out those policies to the best of my capability.

I’m an opponent of the war in Iraq, but what would I do if I were still in the military? Would I be protesting? Would I be speaking publicly against the war? No. I would vote my conscience, I would speak privately to friends and relatives, but I would carry out my duties again to the best of my ability. Note that this would not include what I would view as illegal orders–torture, for example. But for the vast majority of those in the military those particular questions do not occur. In the military, I owed it to my country to carry out its policies to the best of my ability.

We live in a republic in which power resides ultimately with the people. I think the primary requirement for patriotism for those not in the military (or similarly sworn to carry out politically determined policies) under those circumstances is involvement. There are things one can do that are disloyal, such as desertion from the military, providing information to enemies, or actively working to destroy the country. But the primary responsibility of the citizen is to be heard.

Some seem to believe that patriotism involves supporting your country’s policies, once made, no matter what. There is a sort of reverence when they refer to the actions of the commander-in-chief. But even though I voted against the current resident of the White House, I participated in making him commander-in-chief, and I get to participate in choosing the next president and seeing him leave.

Would it be patriotism for me to support the current war just because my president got it started? I think it would, in fact, be precisely the opposite. The war is a bad move in what appears to be a bad ad hoc strategy, and it will result in no good for the country that I love. Given that I believe that, could I possibly be a patriot and a person of integrity if I didn’t say it? I would suggest the opposite, that I would be the worst sort of lying traitor in those circumstances.

That doesn’t mean that the honest supporter of the war is less of a patriot. In fact, such a person would be a lying traitor if he or she does not act in support of those positions. We each owe our country our best arguments and our vote.

Patriotism, in my view, is not the support of a set of policies, but rather that one gives one’s best in all areas, including one’s mind and judgment to one’s country and does so with integrity.

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