Girgenti: America’s false patriotism

R. Colin Fly

A few weeks ago, I stopped by my local CVS to pick up a pair of fingernail clippers. I wandered around the store for a little while before I saw a bucket near the cash register labeled “nail clippers.” As I reached into the bucket, I recoiled in disgust and horror: all of the fingernail clippers were decorated with the American flag. I have nothing against the flag, and in fact, see the flag as an important symbol of America. I would even say that I love the flag; that is why it pains me to see it so abused.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the American flag was everywhere. It was meant to indicate the solidarity of all Americans, to show that even though we had been attacked, we would remain strong. For the last year, however, the flag and the attacks have been on the news night after night, hour after hour. The flag is being turned into a symbol of America’s new values: greed and killing. Our flag is being used as a marketing tool to promote violence in the name of “patriotism.”

Patriotism, to me, means loving your country, but at the same time realizing that it is not perfect, and could stand to be improved. Unfortunately, patriotism has been used for the past year to mean blind and unwavering support for the government. This definition is patently ridiculous, since the United States was founded on dissent and the assumption that an informed populace is necessary for a government to be legitimate. Thus, blind patriotism is an oxymoron.

Yet our government continually insists that we need to just trust that it will make the proper decisions on our behalf; it insists that we immerse ourselves in consumerism, and forget that we have a right to know certain things about how our government works.

How does the government get away with this? By wrapping itself in the American flag, and saying that we must sacrifice certain of our rights in order to protect that flag. But who is benefiting from the government’s attempts to keep us, the American people, uninformed? President Bush. The less we know, the more he can get away with. The “war on terrorism” and “national security” are used as excuses to avoid telling the American people, and, in fact, Congress, the facts we all need in order to come to intelligent conclusions about what is going on. How can Congress vote on a resolution to allow Bush to go to war with Iraq if the members of Congress are only told that Hussein is a threat, without being shown any evidence of that threat? How can we, the American people, come to informed conclusions about whether or not that threat is real if we are not shown any evidence? The Bush administration telling us that Hussein is a threat is not, itself, evidence of a threat. There must be some facts that Bush can share with us to prove this threat without risking national security. After all, if American spy satellites have shown Hussein building weapons of mass destruction, then why not share those photos with us? Kennedy showed the American people spy satellite photographs of missiles in Cuba to prove a threat during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

American values are not money or war. American values are freedom and democracy. It is time for us to force the government to return to these values, and give up on the false values of greed and murder. As Americans, we have a right to know what our government is up to and why.

It is time to tear away the façade of “national security” to find out what the government has been keeping from us that we need to know. It is time for us to reclaim America.