On September 11, 2001, I was working in an office only two blocks from the White House. We did not turn on the television until a friend of mine (now my wife) called to alert me that "something's happening in New York." I tuned in just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center. The rest of the day is a flash of memories as the capital braced for attacks and the Pentagon was hit. The image that remains most vivid, however, came that evening, when I was finally on my way home. A large pickup truck came roaring down the Fairfax County Parkway. The driver was blowing his horn and waving a large American flag from his cab. Other drivers (including me) hit their horns in reply. The tragic day had not broken the country's spirit, it had aroused it! Americans felt united and saw their neighbors as fellow citizens for whom they had affection and concern. And we hit back in ways no terrorist group could ever hope to match.
But in recent years, that feeling has evaporated. Politics has become more bitter as the sense of common ground has waned. The antithesis of patriotism and national cohesion has become predominant. There has been a left-wing resurgence of class warfare reinforced by a crude and odious racism meant to turn alienation into revolution. While such sentiments have always existed, even on 9/12, it has come out of the fever swamps and into the mainstream media as the "politically correct" posture. Protesters who burn the flag rather than wave it are hailed as the vanguard of a new enlightenment. Rioting is justified as "provoked" by those advocating policies that put American security and prosperity first. Demonstrators wave foreign flags.
The classic statement of nationalism comes from French historian Ernst Renan in 1882, "To have had glorious moments in common in the past, a common will in the present, to have done great things together and to wish to do more, those are the essential conditions for a people." Yet, there is a growing chorus claiming they do not "wish to do more" because the American cause is illegitimate; its "glorious moments" have been crimes. It is a culture of disloyalty far more dangerous than the mere socialism so many myopic conservatives focus upon. It is easier to change economic policies than to rebuild a society that has disintegrated.
Consider the sentiments of Chris Eresto, an "anti-war" activist involved with the "Occupy" movement who writes for OpEdNews; a random voice of hatred for the country in which he lives. Commenting on the protest by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Ernesto rejected the legitimacy of the United States as a nation to which anyone should feel allegiance. Kaepernick's rant about "bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder" was an attack on police based on the false narrative that has dominated the media since Ferguson. But that's the point; mobs run on emotion, not charts and data. "I haven't stood up for the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance in years." wrote Ernesto, "In my mind, glorifying the military is like glorifying cops."
Just like Kaepernick, my refusal to stand for the anthem is based on my belief that I have to stand up for people who are oppressed, inside and outside of the U.S. When I hear the national anthem I think about the people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Palestine, Syria and much of Latin America who have been brutally oppressed by the U.S. military for years, if not decades. There's no chance I stand up and honor that concept.
Yet, who has the U.S. been fighting in the lands listed? Tyrants (Hussein, Assad), terrorists (Al-Qaeda, Taliban, PLO, Hamas, Al-Shabaab, Islamic State), drug cartels, and Iran-backed insurgents (Hezbollah, Houthi). Not a single one of these enemies merit any respect or empathy; they are among the most vile and brutish actors on the planet. Their only appeal is that they hate America. Yet, as dangerous as they are in their desire to do our people harm; the greater threat they expose is at home: the intellectual rot that has subverted the natural, mutual allegiance that makes living together in a healthy society the ideal we should strive for.
Renan had been a typical cosmopolitan liberal until his country was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War. He was jolted back to reality just as most Americans were by 9/11. But over the last fifteen years, our sense of national identity and integral values has been eroded even as new threats have emerged. Nothing could be more devastating than for the promoters of civil strife to prevail over the champions of national purpose.
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.
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