I was on the road a lot for this year’s Memorial Day holiday. While I was driving along paying close attention, as I do, to the bumper stickers that people put on their cars, I started to notice something. Between all the “I’m cool because I like this or that brand of shoes, clothing, or whatever” stickers, there are cars proudly making one of two political statements. What’s interesting is the clear division between the two: Patriotism…
These two statements of character are represented by one of two stickers: an American flag or a peace symbol. It’s very rare to see both of these on the same car, and this sort of agrees with what I see on the sidewalk as well. People are either, “pro America” or “pro-peace”. And, if you are pro-America, you are anti-peace, or pro-peace and anti-America – at least that’s what some people would have you think.
What a weird thing this is. How the heck did we get to this? What tweaks me the most is that these concepts, patriotism and peace, would appear to be not only mutually exclusive, but in opposition to each other.
The people who wave the flag think that the people who want peace would roll over and play dead if the Red Army stormed across the Pacific, while the people who want peace think that the flag-wavers will support a president (at least a republican president) who decides we should bomb Canada.
The flag sticker asks, “Why can’t you be a patriot? Why can’t you support our country and our wars?” The peace sticker asks, “Why is war patriotic? Defending yourself is one thing, but why do we have to go and look for asses to kick and people to kill?
Flag-wavers often seem to think that peace-mongers live in a dream-world where they can dance around, dropping daisies on the ground and Russia, China, Israel, Palestine, Iran, and everybody else will just join the love-in. That there is just never any justification for war or military action at all. Peace-lovers seem to think patriots just want all of our enemies bombed until they are dead, and our enemy is anybody who doesn’t serve our empirical aspirations.
Although closer to the peace side, I’m kind of stuck between these two groups. I think the U.S. has (especially recently) taken war to the business level in order for war-based corporations (that have a lot of influence on our government) to profit big. However, some wars MUST be fought. Iraq and World War II could not be more different, for example. Just looking at the European “theater”, as it was called, in WWII. Hitler had unleashed a massive killing machine on that part of the world, with no sign of stopping there. Diplomacy wasn’t going to get us anywhere. We had to fight and fight hard.
It’s probably true that, once we got going, we might have gone a little too far – in fire-bombing Dresden at a VERY late stage, for example. But our heavy, military involvement in WWII was clearly necessary.
But even I must admit I feel a sort of tension in my gut when I see a flag on someone’s car. I pre-judge on an emotional level, of which I am somewhat ashamed. I sometimes think, “There goes a dumb redneck who will vote us into more wars, more killing, more military spending, and then blame the resulting financial ruin on public employee’s unions or something.” I’m certainly not the only one who is so judgmental, but all that just from a flag sticker? Wow.
OK, so I’ve proven to myself and to all of you that I can be as much of a judgmental jerk as the next guy. But what I really want to ask is: Why is it unpatriotic to want peace? Why can’t peace and patriotism go together? Patriots often argue that peace or freedom “isn’t free.” But why do people, the people who love to chant: “Freedom isn’t free,” assume that the cost of freedom or peace is war? As I’ve said, sometimes war is inevitable and necessary. But can anyone think that the only way, or even the best way, is to strong-arm our so-called enemies and scare everyone else?
I have some ideas, but I’m interested in what people think. Can you come up with some ideas that, except in the extreme cases, might promote peace, prevent war, or make for sustainable, good relationships with our neighbors on this planet? Can we find reasons to be proud of our country other than its hegemony? Please tell us what you think!
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.
Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com