Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What does it mean to hate America?

"There is much I could say about America. There really is such a thing as freedom here and a strong feeling among many people that one cannot live without freedom. The republic is not a vapid illusion, and the fact that there is no national state and no truly national tradition creates an atmosphere of freedom or at least one not pervaded by fanatacism ... Then, too, people here feel themselves responsible for public life to an extent that I have never seen in any European country. For example, when all Americans of Japanese descent were locked up willy-nilly in concentration camps at the beginning of the war, a genuine storm of protest that can still be felt today went through the country. I was visiting with an American family in New England at the time. They were thoroughly average people - what would have been called 'petty bourgeouisie' in Germany - and they had, I'm sure, never laid eyes on a Japanese in their lives. As I later learned, they and many of their friends wrote immediately and spontaneously to their congressmen, insisted on the constitutional rights of all Americans regardless of national background, and declared that if something like that could happen, they no longer felt safe themselves (these people were of Anglo-Saxon background, and their families had been in this country for generations), etc." - Hannah Arendt, from a letter to Karl Jaspers, Jan. 29, 1946

Hannah Arendt came to the US after having fled Nazi Germany in 1933, fearing the persecution from the Nazis that would soon follow.

I find it very moving to consider that upon writing back to her mentor and friend Karl Jaspers, that she gave as an example of what is good about America individuals protesting the internment of Japanese-Americans. Those Americans who spoke out, who said to the government unequivocally, "what you are doing is wrong" are the ones that make me proud to be an American. I imagine those protesters Arendt spoke of wrote those letters of protest, not because they hated America, not because they wanted to undermine the war effort, not because they wanted Japan to defeat the United States, but because they loved America, and did not like what was being done in its name. They spoke out because they believed what was happening was wrong, and that it was their civic duty to say so. It took courage to speak out against these actions in a nation swept up by anti-Japanese sentiment, but looking back, we see that these brave Americans deserve our thanks for preserving the good name of America, and for defending the principles that we hold dear.

If you are starting to suspect a point to this then you are correct. Today when we speak out about some injustice or wrong that we feel has been committed by the government we are accused of hating America. We are accused of being traitors or are told we are guilty of treason. We are accused of undermining the war effort. But we do not hate America. Patriotism is not now, nor never have been, blind allegiance to people or policy. Patriotism is loyalty to an ideal - to principle. And when we feel that our ideals or principles have been betrayed, it is our civic duty to speak out in defense of them. We speak out to preserve what we feel is great. We speak out because of what we love about our country, not out of hate.

Those who seek to silence their fellow Americans, deport them, or kill them - that call us seditious for speaking the conviction of our conscience, are the ones I would argue who hate America. They hate America because they betray the principles that this country stands for. Their patriotism is a false allegiance. Their courage is a coward's courage. They are but "a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity."

So when our country kidnaps and tortures people and then asserts the right to do so, speaking out against it is not hating America. When we see the fundamental values of this nation being assaulted, when we see our moral authority slipping away, hating America is not speaking out. Hating America is remaining silent. Hating America is defending and excusing such actions.

Do not let anyone tell you otherwise, and do not be discouraged, nor intimidated. It's time for patriots who love their country to speak out.

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." - Thomas Paine


Paul Dirks said...

Great post.
After getting into it with davidbyron over whether "patriotism" is evil, its refreshing to see it defined in its proper light.

Lex said...


There's a simple test. If you support the Constitution and the rule of law, you're American, at least in spirit, and you love America, at least in spirit.

If you look on the Constitution as something to be ignored or evaded, you're un-American. It really is that simple.

SadButTrue said...

"Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils,
were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that
of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man."
-- Thomas Paine
Paine spoke against George II, the king of England who's 'sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish' manners can so easily be compared to the current George, Bush. In his unprincipled attempt to subvert everything that defines your country he has made considerable progress towards establishing a new form of government that I have dubbed Moronarchy.
But my aim is not to play dueling Paine quotes, nor merely to praise your praiseworthy effort (which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way.) I extend an invitation to my most recent post at Friendly Neighbour, regarding the crisis brought up by Sunday's Boston Globe article on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and their move towards inclusion of Iran, India, Mongolia and Pakistan as members.
Friendly Neighbour

Anonymous said...

Here, here.

Very well said.