I wasn't going to write anything here. After all, too much has already been said and done in direct response to the terrible events two years ago. But a thought struck me, as I read Jet-Poop's write-up here. He mentioned that the President had been making use of those events 'for less-than-American purposes' for two years. And the thought that struck me was this:
What has the morality of the President's action got to do with Americanness?
That's not very well expressed. This certainly isn't meant to be picking on Jet-Poop, whose sentiments I wholeheartedly share. It's the usage that intrigued me. Why less-than-American instead of (say) less-than-moral or less than seemly? When Tony Blair makes dishonest use of the imagery and political context of the attacks in the USA, is he Unamerican? I find it very hard to appreciate this connection between nationality and morality. Learning about McCarthyism as a teenager, I found it very curious that the enquiry had borne the title 'House Un-American Activities Committee'. The ideas of being American, being a spy, and being a communist, seemed almost completely unconnected in my mind. Studying The Crucible in English Literature classes gave me an insight into the mindsets underlying the sorry incidents referenced both in the main text and the subtext of the play. But I still didn't understand the linguistic peculiarity that, in a democracy, political belief was referred to in explicitly national terms.
Today is Patriot Day. By order. The word 'patriot', these days, makes my blood run cold. Once, when I was younger and more naïve, I thought of myself as a patriot. I stood for God Save the Queen, and I felt that truly, this was the happiest of lands. In these later days, 'patriot', along with 'American', has so frequently the connotation of politically orthodox, from an occidental right-wing perspective, that I wish I had some other way of describing my now much-muted enthusiasm for my own country. Patriot Day, a mean-sounding, nebulous term, certainly not to be confused with Patriot's Day, is followed by the Patriot Act. This name turns out to be an acronym for an ungainly phrase about anti-terrorist measures. Patriotism, therefore, is to be interpreted as willingness to sacrifice your constitutional rights, indeed your fundamental rights as defined by convention, in order to help the American government achieve a strategic military end. It is a form of conscription from which there is no conscientious objection. And all this, despite the bombings in Bali and elsewhere, is an explicitly, exclusively, uniquely United States patriotism.
I would ask each of you, especially United States citizens, one question. Do you seriously believe that your nation has an unique and positive moral character that justifies the use of words like 'American' and 'Patriot' in the partisan, political context of a government or administration's agenda?