Dedicated to three American combat veterans: John Brown, Harriet Tubman and Crazy Horse. They disobeyed.
When I was approached about doing this commentary, it was because I am a veteran.
In fact, I made a career of the military. That career took me from the cynical and genocidal invasion of Vietnam to the equally cynical invasion of Haiti, with quite a few imperial stops along the way.
For this Independence Day commentary, I was asked to explore the “relationship between soldiers and civilians, and the ways that they experience patriotic holidays.” There was at least the suggestion that the civilians experience something called “symbolic patriotism,” while we vets experience something altogether differentmore authentic and “material.”
This presumption of authenticity is why, when the tocsins started to sound immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, antiwar veterans like me were suddenly and highly valued. We inoculated the people who opposed invasion as a response to those attacks. Military veterans could protect the germinating movement against charges of being unpatriotic.
It wasn’t long, of course, before we started the “Peace is Patriotic” phrase-mongering in the movement as part of the same protective coloration.
No offense, but that claim sticks in my throat. Patriotism is symbolic, mystical even, because it has no basis in material reality. George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Patriotism is the belief that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it.” In an imperial country, “patriots” are the last thing we need.
Soldierssome soldiersexperience patriotism differently because we are indoctrinated to salute flags and music (surely these are symbolic) and some of us desperately need to cling to any excuse we can find for what some of us are asked to do.
I’m going to blow a lot of covers here by saying that veterans get a lot of unearned esteem from our militaristic culture by simply putting on a uniform and obeyingan act that any fool can perform. When people in public thank me for my “service,” I want to ask them, “Is that thanks for firing into crowds, or for killing people’s livestock; or is that thanks for burning down people’s homes?”
I don’t want the unearned esteem any longer. I was an obedient fool. I don’t need esteem. I need forgiveness.
Patriotism is nationalism, imperial nationalism here, and gendered nationalism at that. The term patria, the authoritarian father to whom we owe our obedience, is the root of the word patriotism (as well as patriarchy). Patriotism is a nasty little loyalty oath that gets trotted out only when there is talk of war.
“Peace is Patriotic” is the perfect oxymoron. We shouldn’t adopt slogans that tell lies.
Obedience is what nations demand. They are coercive institutions, after all, with arbitrary geographic boundaries, written in blood and patrolled by armed guards. To gain our willing and grateful obedience, we are infected with the fear of dark threats from beyond the border … then soldiers are sent to make this nightmare a reality by provoking everyone on the planet.
If Independence Day is to mean anything to us now, it needs to remind us that we are already living in America’s post-“independence” dystopiaas debt slaves scrabbling after money, selecting our commodified identities like brands from a supermarket shelf, our lives enclosed within a trademarked matrix requiring the blood of people far, far away to support our toxic illusions.
What we desperately need these days is disobediance.
Stan Goff lives and writes in Raleigh. His commentaries appear on Huffingtonpost.com, and his most recent book is Energy War: Exterminism for the 21st Century. Goff co-operates www.insurgentamerican.net.