In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Americans are showing their patriotism with fervor comparable to that seen after the attack on Pearl Harbor sixty years ago. Children once again recite the Pledge of Allegiance in their classrooms. People fly the American flag on their automobiles and sing the Star Spangled Banner at public events with heightened passion.
Such acts of patriotism date back to this country's founding. Americans have displayed their flag ever since the Continental Congress certified its initial design, with thirteen stars, in June 1777. Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics for the Star-Spangled Banner in 1814 to celebrate America's victory against the British in a battle at Baltimore in the War of 1812. He penned these lyrics to what was then a popular pub song, written in 1770 by John Smith. (Congress passed an act in 1931 making it, with Key's lyrics, the national anthem.)
The United States has gone through three stages in its 225-year history. They started out as a republic (1776-1864). When the South lost the Civil War it became a nation (1865-1916); and when President Wilson sent American troops overseas to fight in the Great War in Europe the United States became an empire (1917-the present). Patriotism in America has also gone through various phases, like the country it honors.
America's first patriots included the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. In this declaration they mutually pledged to each other "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" in their decision to secede from British rule. All of the signers, except one, were wealthy landowners and thus had a lot to lose. These patriots were willing to sacrifice their lives and property to establish a republic that was based on classical liberal ideas of individual liberty, the rule of law, personal responsibility, and constitutionally limited government.
The American republic lasted 84 years. It came to an end when Abraham Lincoln initiated a Civil War against the southern states that had seceded from the Union and, victorious, turned the country into a nation. People no longer called the country these United States but instead, the United States in a singular tense. Lincoln also laid the foundations for the U.S. to be an empire, a subject I address in another article.
In the nation stage, a more nationalistic kind of patriotism arose. The southern states were back in the Union, conquered and subdued. Millions of immigrants were streaming into the northern states to work in factories and build railroads. Americans embraced new patriotic slogans like the one displayed at a Grand Army of the Republic encampment in 1897, which proclaimed, "One country, one flag, one people, one destiny." Immigrants should not continue to hold attachments to their former country and have divided loyalties; and Southerners must accept the fact that the United Stated is now a nation ruled by the central government in Washington, D.C., to which they owe their allegiance. Patriotic organizations like the Grand Army of the Republic, the Women's Relief Corps, and the United Confederate Veterans worked in concert to promote national unity.
In the 1890s educators and opinion makers realized that public schools could serve as a "mighty engine for the inculcation of patriotism," as the author of Methods of Teaching Patriotism in Public Schools (1890), George Balch, put it. Government began using the public schools to instill patriotism in their students. Balch wrote the first Pledge of Allegiance in 1887, one that went, "We give our hearts to our country. One country, one language, one flag." But the Pledge written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister in Boston, in 1892, won out. It said, "I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all." (Flag "of the United States" was added in 1923, and one nation "under God" by an Act of Congress in 1954.) Americans recite this pledge, with its emphasis on the nation being "indivisible," a rebuff to Confederate pretensions to secession; and "Justice for all," which presaged the current-day American Marxist's concept of "social justice." (Francis Bellamy was a first cousin of Edward Bellamy, author of the utopian socialist novel Looking Backward; and he shared his cousin's belief that an enlightened centrally planned economy would bring social and economic equality for all.)
President Woodrow Wilson transformed the American nation into an empire by sending U.S. troops to France to come to the aid of Britain, France, Russia, and their allies in their war against the German Hohenzollern Empire and its allies. By 1917, this war between European empires, one that had no bearing on American national interests, had reached a stalemate. American intervention in what is now called World War I had disastrous consequences. The Wilson-inspired Treaty of Versailles destroyed Germany as an economically and politically viable nation, resulting in the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, and making it too weak to thwart the Bolshevik takeover of Russia and thus prevent the rise of Stalin.
Franklin Roosevelt steered our country into World War II, joining forces with Stalin, who he called "Uncle Joe." Worse than Hitler, who killed 20 million people, Stalin killed, in the name of socialism, more than 40 million people, by starvation, exposure, and executions; and his Soviet apparatchiks tortured millions of innocent men, women, and children. Roosevelt told his soldiers that they were fighting for freedom and democracy. But the truth of the matter is that World War II resulted in Roosevelt delivering ten Christian European nations to his Soviet "ally" to do with as he pleased. Stalin and the rulers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics who followed him occupied and brutally suppressed these countries for the next 45 years, until the Soviet Empire itself collapsed in 1989. And after World War II rulers of the USSR threatened our country with nuclear annihilation.
The American Empire's record in the Middle East is no better. It has supported and help establish corrupt dictatorships throughout the region, most notably in Iran, where American aid brought the Shah to power in 1953. Our empire has trained and supported terrorists that now attack us Osama bin Laden, to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; and Saddam Hussein, to carry out a war against Iran. Even worse, the United States government countenanced Iraq's use of chemical weapons of mass destruction in its war against Iran. Imperial American presidents impose their will on Mideast countries by bombing them and by imposing crippling economic sanctions. The economic sanctions that our empire has enforced on Iraq over the last ten years have killed 1.4 million civilians, 400,000 of them children.
Stephen Decatur, U.S. Navy hero of the Barbary Wars of 1801-05 and 1815 against pirates in Tripoli, said, "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong." Our country, right or wrong is the motto for modern-day patriotism in imperial America. A patriotic American in 2001 does not question the government's judgment in its conduct of foreign affairs.
In addition to displaying the American Flag, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, singing the National Anthem, and not questioning our government's actions in the running of its empire, government officials and opinion molders in the media encourage a new kind of patriotism. Americans need to get out and go shopping and buy new cars, refrigerators, and VCRs to keep the economy strong; and they should buy stocks to help support U.S. financial markets. It is now "unpatriotic" to save. Americans need to get out there and SPEND.
The ultimate sacrifice a patriot can make, of course, is to give his life for his country. For what reason? For a geopolitical interest? For oil at $20 a barrel? To maintain the U.S. empire or to repel an invasion of our country? American soldiers fought in Vietnam and 55,000 died. Why were American soldiers fighting a war in Southeast Asia? Was it for a reason worth my life or your life? Richard Maybury, author of Early Warning Report, speaks for many of us when he writes:
The only thing I would be willing to die for is my home and family; I would do whatever it takes to repel an invader, to protect my homeland. When I am deciding what I think of a U.S. military operation in some far off corner of the world, I always ask the question, would this be worth my life? If the answer is no, then I don't think it would be worth anyone else's life either.
Asking questions like this fall on deaf ears in the current political climate. Those on the Left, with their collectivist bias, like the writers at The New York Times, advocate an empire-type form of global governance. And with regard to causalities incurred in the realization of this goal, as old French proverb puts it, "You can't make an omelet with breaking eggs." Those on the Right, like the writers at The Weekly Standard and National Review, want to maintain and strengthen the existing American Empire (particularly if they are in charge and don't have to be on the front lines fighting for it). A true patriot will risk his life for his country, but only for the right reason.
America should follow the example of Switzerland, a country that engages in trade with all nations but maintains neutrality in international disputes. Fundamentalist guerillas may detest freedom and democracy, but not to the point where they will mount an attack on a country like Switzerland, which is a bastion of these virtues. People hate America because the United States intervenes in their affairs. America should adopt a noninterventionist foreign policy and become a Switzerland writ large. With chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, the price an empire must now pay to be the policeman of the planet is too high.
In the worst-case scenario, terrorists will use portable nuclear weapons and the variola (smallpox) virus to kill large numbers of Americans on their home soil. A nuclear weapon with the power of the one the United States dropped on Hiroshima in the Second World War now weighs less than 100 pounds and can fit inside a suitcase. FedEx will ship suitcases weighing 100 pounds, overnight delivery, anywhere in the world, for $700.
The last case of smallpox in the world occurred in 1977; and in 1979 the World Health Organization declared that vaccination had eradicated this disease in humans (but not the virus itself, which investigators study in several laboratories). This organization, however, discounted the possibility that some states would stockpile the virus and might one day use it as a biological weapon most notably the USSR, which before its breakup controlled vast quantities of the virus, some of it stored in warheads on missiles targeted at American cities. Routine vaccination for smallpox was halted in the U.S. thirty years ago; and in people vaccinated before 1972, the vaccine, being effective for only ten to twenty years, no longer provides any immunity. The disease has a 30% mortality rate in unvaccinated people, and antibiotics don't help antibiotics are useless against viruses. Smallpox is highly contagious: it is transmitted person-to-person by skin contact, contact with contaminated clothing and bed linen, and in the air (virus particles in the mouth become airborne when an infected person talks). The U.S. government's Center for Disease Control (in Atlanta) currently controls enough well preserved vaccine to vaccinate 7 to 15 million people, in a population of 300 million. The Black Death in the 14th century caused by bubonic plague, a bacterial disease susceptible to antibiotics, killed 40% of the population of Europe. In the urban and widely traveled 21st century, a well-planned and ruthless terrorist attack with variola virus could produce a Black Death from smallpox that could kill as many as 50-100 million Americans. (In the 20th century alone, with vaccination employed on a mass scale, smallpox killed 300 million people worldwide before the disease was eradicated in the 1970s.)
Homeland security measures will not entirely stop determined terrorists. Even if the country becomes a full-fledged police state that requires national ID cards and travel permits, imposes martial law and curfews, engages in phone/email/internet surveillance, and has soldiers with automatic weapons manning check-points on the nation's highways, terrorist attacks will still occur. No homeland security measures can stop a guerilla that is willing to sacrifice himself in his effort to kill other people. The only policy that will stop terrorism completely on our home soil is for our country to bring its troops back home and dismantle its empire.
In my article, "A Fourteen Point Plan for a Post-Wilsonian America," the first five points, from a foreign policy standpoint, are: 1) End the United States' worldwide military presence and bring American troops home; 2) Place no economic sanctions on other countries; 3) Engage in unrestricted trade with all nations; 4) Declare principled neutrality in all foreign disputes and wars; and 5) Withdraw from the United Nations. We should do this irrespective of its salutary effect on terrorism. America needs to return to a foreign policy of "peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; [but] entangling alliances with none," as Thomas Jefferson put it.
What should we do we do about the terrorists, and those who have supported them, who have killed and maimed our loved ones and fellow citizens? Use a remedy that the Constitution provides for punishing pirates. Issue Letters of Marque, with substantial monetary rewards from the United States government added, to anyone who can deliver, dead or alive, the perpetrators of these attacks, beginning with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
Mark Twain, in the closing pages of a notebook he used from 1905-1908, wrote:
In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.
As the third stage in our country's history soldiers on to a bad end, America desperately needs patriots like those who signed the Declaration of Independence announcing the American Colonies' secession from the British Empire. We need the kind of patriots now that America had then. It will require very courageous people to effect this country's change from the world's sole superpower, with troops stationed in 106 countries supported by influential special interests that profit from their presence abroad, to a Switzerland writ large from an empire to a republic. America needs brave and true patriots, ones like Congressman Ron Paul, that can help to bring this about, who will stand up to the United States Empire and free America from its grip. The stakes involved are freedom, liberty, and prosperity.
October 30, 2001