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I Once Wrote Something About Veteran's Day...

| 61 Comments | 12 TrackBacks
...over at Armed Liberal. Here's what I wrote in 'I Started To Write About Veteran's Day...':
...and to thank the veterans alive and dead for protecting me and mine. And worried that what I wrote kept coming out sounding either too qualified or would be interpreted as being too nationalistic. And I realized something about my own thinking, a basic principle I'll set out as a guiding point for the Democrats and the Left in general as they try and figure out the next act in this drama we are in. First, you have to love America. This isn't a perfect country. I think it's the best county; I've debated this with commenters before, and I'll point out that while people worldwide tend to vote with their feet, there may be other (economic) attractions that pull them. But there are virtues here which far outweigh any sins. And I'll start with the virtue of hope. The hope of the immigrants, abandoning their farms and security for a new place here. The hope of the settlers, walking across Death Valley, burying their dead as they went. The hope of the 'folks' who moved to California after the war. The hope of the two Latino kids doing their Computer Science homework at Starbucks. I love this country, my country, my people. And those who attack her...from guerilla cells, boardrooms, or their comfy chairs in expensive restaurants... better watch out. I don't get a clear sense that my fellow liberals feel the same way. And if so, why should 'the folks' follow them? Why are we worthy of the support of a nation that we don't support? So let me suggest an axiom for the New Model Democrats: America is a great goddamn country, and we're going to both defend it from those who attack it and fight to make it better.
And for everyone who is going to comment and remind me that 'all liberals already do that' ... no they don't. Not when the chancellor has to intervene at U.C. Berkeley to get 'permission' for American flags to be flown and red-white-and-blue ribbons to be worn. Not when the strongest voices in liberalism give only lip service to responding to an attack on our own soil. Loving this country isn't the same thing as jingoism; it isn't the same thing as imperialism; it isn't the same thing as blind support of the worst traits of our government or our people. It starts with recognizing the best traits, and there are a hell of a lot of them. They were worth defending in my father's time, and they are worth defending today. So thanks, veterans. Thanks soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen. Thanks for doing your jobs and I hope you all come home hale and whole, every one of you.
It's been a year since I wrote that, and a lot has happened, close to me and far away. We've gone to war, and are facing a difficult, bloody, and uncertain time, brought even closer to me by the fact that my oldest son has committed to join the military. Many of my liberal friends took me to task for writing the piece above, feeling that I had ignored their real and deeply felt patriotism. I think in many cases it's true, but I also think that in the cosmopolitanism at the core of contemporary liberal thought is the germ of something that finds patriotism atavistic, that sees it as of a piece with extreme nationalism, and that hopes that it can gently be put out to pasture. I've talked a bit about what patriotism isn't:
I'll define patriotism as "love of country". Both the parents above (all three of them, actually) claim to "love" their children. But to blindly smile and clean up when your child smashes plates on the floor is not an act of love. And blindly smiling and waving flags when your country does something wrong is not an act of patriotism. But...there is a point where criticism, even offered in the guise of love, moves past the point of correction and to the point of destruction. It's a subtle line, but it exists. And my friend (who is less of a friend because I can't begin to deal with her fundamentally abusive parenting) is destroying her child. And there are liberals who have adopted an uncritically critical view of America. Who believe it to have been founded in genocide and theft, made wealthy on slave labor and mercantilist expropriation, to be a destroyer of minorities, women, the environment and ultimately they argue, itself. I'm sorry but their profession of love for America is as hollow to me as that mother's profession of love for her son. Are those things true? As facts, they are an incomplete account of this country's history. As a worldview, they are destructive and self-consuming.
I believe that a clear rediscovery of liberal patriotism - the reconnection between progressive politics and a love of the American ideal - is the key to rebuilding a liberalism that can both serve American interests and compete effectively with corporate conservatism. I've referenced my old professor John Schaar's great essay 'The Case for Patriotism' before. It's available (excerpted) here, and I want to use it to talk a bit about what I mean by patriotism. When I knew him, Schaar was a true New Leftie; he stood far to my left on a number of issues. But he was also a true patriot, and he had a unique and useful vision of American patriotism that I want to talk about here:
"Patriotism is unwelcome in many quarters of the land today, and unknown in many others. There is virtually no thoughtful discussion of the subject, for the word has settled, in most people's minds, deep into a brackish pond of sentiment where thought cannot reach. Politicians and members of patriotic associations praise it, of course, but official and professional patriotism too often sounds like nationalism, patriotism's bloody brother. On the other hand, patriotism has a bad name among many thoughtful people, who see it as a horror at worst, a vestigial passion largely confined to the thoughtless at best: as enlightenment advances, patriotism recedes. The intellectuals are virtually required to repudiate it as a condition of class membership. The radical and dropout young loathe it. Most troublesome of all, for one who would make the argument I intend to make, is the face that both the groups that hate and those that glorify patriotism largely agree that it and nationalism are the same thing. I hope to show that they are different things--related, but separable. Opponents of patriotism might agree that if the two could be separated then patriotism would look fairly attractive. But the opinion is widespread, almost atmospheric, that the separation is impossible, that with the triumph of the nation-state nation. Nationalism has indelibly stained patriotism: the two are warp and woof. The argument against patriotism goes on to say that, psychologically considered, patriot and nationalist are the same: both are characterized by exaggerated love for one's own collectivity combined with more or less contempt and hostility toward outsiders. In addition, advanced political opinion holds that positive, new ideas and forces--e.g., internationalism, universalism; humanism, economic interdependence, socialist solidarity--are healthier bonds of unity, and more to be encouraged than the ties of patriotism. These are genuine objections, and they are held by many thoughtful people."
I think that Schaar exactly targets the weaknesses of patriotism that I criticize above; on one hand, those who embrace it would use it as a basis for blind love of one's collectivity combined with equally blind contempt for others'. On the other, having 'moved past' patriotism is almost a core requirement for inclusion in the modern, NPR-driven thinking class here in the U.S. as well as abroad. The EU, for instance, is explicitly trying to break down old patriotisms into a new, unified, one. Why is patriotism important? Is it because a love of place matters? Schaar talks about love of one's home or one's city as the two forms of traditional patriotism, and he also talks about why patriotism matters to me:
"To be a patriot is to have a patrimony; or, perhaps more accurately, the patriot is one who is grateful for a legacy and recognizes that the legacy makes him a debtor. There is a whole way of being in the world, captured best by the word reverence, which defines life by its debts; one is what one owes, what one acknowledges as a rightful debt or obligation. The patriot moves within that mentality. The gift of land, people, language, gods memories, and customs, which is the patrimony of the patriot, defines what he or she is. Patrimony is mixed with person; the two are barely separable. The very tone and rhythm of a life, the shapes of perception, the texture of its homes and fears come from membership in a territorially rooted group. The conscious patriot is one who feels deeply indebted for these gifts, grateful to the people and places through which they come, and determined to defend the legacy against enemies and pass it unspoiled to those who will come after. But such primary experiences are nearly inaccessible to us. We are not taught to define our lives by our debts and legacies, but by our rights and opportunities. Robert Frost's stark line, "This land was ours, before we were the land's." condenses the whole story of American patriotism. We do not and cannot love the land the way the Greek and Navaho loved theirs. The graves of some of our ancestors are here, to be sure, but most of us would be hard pressed to find them: name and locate the graves of your great-grandparents."
Despite our disconnection from our ancestry and ancestral places, Schaar and I believe that we can be 'reverent' as Americans. How? He tells us:
"But if instinctive patriotism and the patriotism of the city cannot be ours, what can be? Is there a type of patriotism peculiarly American: if so, is it anything more than patriotism's violent relative nationalism? Abraham Lincoln, the supreme authority on this subject, thought there was a patriotism unique to America. Americans, a motley gathering of various races and cultures, were bonded together not by blood or religion, not by tradition or territory, not by the calls and traditions of a city, but by a political idea. We are a nation formed by a covenant, by dedication to a set of principles, and by an exchange of promises to uphold and advance certain commitments among ourselves and throughout the world. Those principles and commitments are the core of American identity, the soul of the body politic. They make the American nation unique, and uniquely valuable among and to the other nations. But the other side of this conception contains a warning very like the warnings spoken by the prophets to Israel: if we fail in our promises to each other, and lose the principles of the covenant, then we lose everything, for they are we." [emphasis added]
We are American patriots because we have consciously decided to share the principles that make America - the principles most essentially set out in our founding documents, and over time spread within America to those who had been excluded at the founding. It is our devotion to liberty and our self-conception as citizens that makes us Americans, not an accident of birth or race. My neighbors to the south are a couple born in Iran. My neighbors to the north were born in Mexico. And each of them is absolutely and completely American. Our patriotism is an inclusive one, which does not define us as a 'people' by where we live or the ancestral symbols that we worship (that's part of why I can be tolerant of those who fly the Confederate Flag), but by the principles to which we adhere. Our patriotism is hopeful, because it is tied to the future - but it must also be reverent in tying us to our past. That is a patriotism we can define, and defend. Schaar talks about what Lincoln once said:
"One more statement, this time from the young Lincoln. Again the occasion is significant. Lincoln had just been elected to the Illinois legislature, and he accepted an invitation to address the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield: an occasion of beginning, then, like the speech in Independence Hall. Lincoln chose as his theme, "the perpetuation of our political institutions." He opened the discourse by reminding his listeners that the men of the Revolution had fought to found a polity dedicated to liberty and self-government. Those principles were safe while the founders lived for they knew the price that had been paid for them. The scenes and memories of the struggle were visible to their eyes and lively to their memories. Many individuals and families treasured and retold the stories of sacrifice and danger. But now these scenes are distant. We who came after the struggle and had no part in it cannot see it in the scars on our bodies, cannot even relive it through the eyes and voices of the actors. Being distant, we easily forget why those others fought and died, and we cannot justly value the gift they gave to us. Our forgetting opens the path to talented persons of great ambition who, if they cannot gain fame by preserving the principles of the founding, will gain fame by wrecking them. Only if the founding principles are kept alive and pure in the minds and hearts of the citizenry shall we be safe from perverted ambition--or, indeed, safe from ourselves. We must, then, see as the chief task of political life the task of political education: inculcate respect or valid laws as a "political religion"; retell on every possible occasion the story of the struggle; teach tirelessly the principles of the founding. The only guardian of the compact is an informed citizenry, and the first task of leadership is the formation of such a citizenry. This is a conception of patriotic devotion that fits a nation large and heterogeneous as our own. It sets a mission and provides a standard of judgment. It tells us when we are acting just- and it does not confuse martial fervor with dedication to country. Lincoln also reminded us that the covenant is not a static legacy, a gift outright, but a burden and a promise. The nation consists only in repeated acts of remembrance and renewal of the covenant through changing circumstances. Patriotism here is more than a frame of mind. It is also activity guided by and directed toward the mission established in the founding covenant. This conception of political membership also decisively transcends the parochial and primitive fraternities of blood and race, for it calls kin all who accept the authority of the covenant. And finally, this covenanted patriotism assigns America a teaching mission among the nations, rather than a superiority over a hostility toward them. This patriotism is compatible with the most generous humanism."
Defined. Defended. As it should be. We don't need to battle the forces of the Islamists because they are Muslim, or because they are foreign. We need to battle them because they explicitly intend to attack the foundation of what makes us Americans, and because they mean to take the things which others in the world want to learn from America - liberty, justice, equality - and smash them. We need to battle them in the arena of politics and ideas most of all. But the space for that battle must be created on the ground, through a contest of will and weapons. Which brings me back to Veteran's Day this Tuesday, and my appreciation for the men and women who have, are, and will defend our covenant, our American ideal. I said it last year, and I'll say it every year from now on: So thanks, veterans. Thanks soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen. Thanks for doing your jobs and I hope you all come home hale and whole, every one of you. --- UPDATES --- * Guest blogger Rob Lyman follows up with The Moral Duty of Tribal Patriotism, exploring the meaning and scope of the duty we have as citizens to ensure each other's safety and security. * Armed Liberal's Selectve Service post picks up on one of the responses to Rob's essay, and on a blog post on Crooked Timber. He sees them as excellent examples of an 'opt-out' mentality that seeks the benefits of modern liberal society without getting its hands dirty, and values moral purity and self-satisfaction above all.

12 TrackBacks

Tracked: November 10, 2003 12:22 AM
Patriotism: not a dirty word from Inoperable Terran
Excerpt: Armed Liberal has an amazing post up at Winds of Change. Go read it. Now....
Tracked: November 10, 2003 1:02 AM
Veterans Day from Flame Turns Blue
Excerpt: One of our good friends, a Captain in the Army, is deploying to Iraq today as part of the inagural Stryker Brigade. He's the second of our close friends to be deployed to the region; the first flew Marine F-16s...
Tracked: November 10, 2003 3:49 AM
Michael Moore's Decline from Michael J. Totten
Excerpt: From Michael Moore’s latest screed against Americans in Germany’s Die Zeit: (Via Jeff Jarvis.)Should such an ignorant people lead the world? How did it come to this in the first place? 82 percent of us don't even have a passport!...
Tracked: November 10, 2003 4:03 PM
Veterans' Day from porphyrogenitus.net
Excerpt: "we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground." - Abraham Lincoln I'm at best hit and miss on expressing what I feel on days like today. Today I do not believe I could well
Tracked: November 12, 2003 2:52 PM
A patriot and a gentleman. from inappropriate response
Excerpt: If you haven't already seen it, Armed Liberal had one of the best of the Veterans Day essays over at...
Tracked: November 12, 2003 3:43 PM
Excerpt: on liberals and patriotism. If I hear Ann Coulter try to tell me that I hate America one more time, I'll probably break my television. So fucking insulting. Like Noam Chomsky, I happen to think this is the greatest country...
Tracked: November 12, 2003 4:39 PM
Excerpt: "I believe that a clear rediscovery of liberal patriotism - the reconnection between progressive politics and a love of the American ideal - is the key to rebuilding a liberalism that can both serve American interests and compete effectively with...
Tracked: November 12, 2003 4:39 PM
Excerpt: "I believe that a clear rediscovery of liberal patriotism - the reconnection between progressive politics and a love of the American ideal - is the key to rebuilding a liberalism that can both serve American interests and compete effectively with...
Tracked: January 4, 2004 12:48 AM
Untitled Entry from University Blog
Excerpt: Here is my Veterans Day entry from last year, archived at my second weblog. (That blog consis...
Tracked: January 7, 2004 6:11 PM
Messy from Slyblog
Excerpt: I wandered by Fables of the Reconstruction an hour or so ago and got caught up on this inane debate about whether Jeff Jarvis is, actually, a liberal. Jarvis says he is. Oliver Willis and others say he's not. Michael...
Tracked: February 16, 2004 1:07 AM
Veterans Day from Stryker Brigade News
Excerpt: One of our good friends, a Captain in the Army, is deploying to Iraq today as part of the inaugural Stryker Brigade. He's the second of our close friends to be deployed to the region; the first flew Marine F-16s...
Tracked: November 12, 2005 12:10 AM
The Left's Patriotism Gap from Ace of Spades HQ
Excerpt: Gap? How about "gulf"? How about "yawning chasm"? How about "fathomless abyss to rival the void in Helen Thomas' head"? Winds of Change reposts an article from last year: I Started To Write About Veteran's Day... ...and to thank the...

61 Comments

Dear A.L.,

Jesus, but that was a good piece.

But isn't part of the problem with the Left these days that you have to write an essay such as this at all?

Whatever the case, it is good that you remind us of the difference between American patriotism, which is founded on a fidelity to a set of ideas, and nationalism, which reminds one of blut and soil.

Be Seeing You,

Chris

Nice post.

Let me pose another dichotomy:

Is it possible to be patriotic, and yet to dispute the notion of American exceptionalism?

Say I were a Swedish citizen...I could still love Sweden as a patriot, but reject the idea that Sweden held some sort of special place in the world, other than to myself and my fellow Swedes.

To me, this ahistorical notion of American exceptionalism is what strikes me as so dangerous.

There are other societal models out there, and many of them are also quite successful (indeed, by some measures, some societies are more successful than ours). I wouldn't trade many of our institutions (our civil liberties, for instance) for anyone else's, but there are some great ideas out there that we should feel proud to steal--we did it with the industrial revolution.

I, for one, am quite capable of at once loving America because it is my country and yet seeing no need that America always be described in hyperbolic terms.

My word, what an outstanding work. As a veteran, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Very thought provoking and insightful.

praktike -

Actually, Schaar was certainly a believer in American exceptionalism and so am I.

We are the first country I know of not founded on a sense of nation based in blut or volk.

The societies you'd point to as possibly more successful than ours would most likely be one of the Social Democratic European states; and to be honest they are all struggling with this issue as immigration begins to make non-Swedes (or Danes or Norwegians or Dutch) more than a charming oddity.

I have no problem being a progressive (meaning I support welfare, environment, sexual and racial equality, and oppose corporate power) and being hyperbolic in describing the United States.

A.L.

We do not and cannot love the land the way the Greek and Navaho loved theirs. The graves of some of our ancestors are here, to be sure, but most of us would be hard pressed to find them: name and locate the graves of your great-grandparents.

This is horse crap. I have an ancestor who came to this country in 1636 and I know where he is buried. That's only a couple of hundred years after the Navajo Indians migrated down to the Southwest from Canada, slaughtering many from other tribes as they did so.

We white folks have as much right to be here, and as much right to love the land, as did any of the other invading Indian tribes in the days before Columbus. The liberal conceit of peaceful savages living in brotherhood and harmony with the land is a steaming crock of politically-correct sh*t.

AL,

I went back and read your post again, and thought some more. Again, I think it's a great post.

I can accept the idea that America's founding rests on a certain set of ideals (rather than a shared ethnic history), and that we've generally worked towards these ideals throughout our history, with fits and starts along the way.

I think it's certainly patriotic to kick America in the ass when it isn't living up to these values.

So I cringe when people unquestioningly use the "America is the greatest country in the world" line as a bludgeon against principled, patriotic dissent, or as an argument against reform.

I guess what I'm saying here is that I can accept the notion of American exceptionalism when it comes to our basic ideals and the intent of the founders.

What I can't accept is blanket statements about American superiority in areas where it just isn't true. Sometimes it is exactly this "empirical exceptionalism" that prevents us from continuing on the path of progress.

What I'm struggling with, and I think many liberals struggle with, is the sort of "manifest destiny" appeals that pervade neoconservatism.

On the one hand, I strongly believe that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should be the bedrock foundations of any social contract. I also feel like we've come a long way since our founding, and have lots of great progressive institutions worth sharing.

On the other hand, I question the assumption that we can actually force these ideals on others. Sometimes, it seems to backfire. Maybe it's best if we let the values speak for themselves.

If they're the right values, they will eventually triumph on their own, right?

I'm not sure, and that's why I'm so torn every time I read one of your posts, AL. Keep up the good work.

Thank you AL.

I was born in England and grew up both there and in Switzerland, two of the most civilized and pleasant places to live on the face of the planet. I have lived in the US for 12 years now and am a citizen. While I appreciate the countries of my youth for what they have to offer, I love this country. It is in part because of exactly what Schaar says. The US stands for principles that are universal and inspiring, that are embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If Europe appears disunited and morally adrift today in comparison with the US it is, I believe, in part because they lack this formalized set of principles that permeates US culture. In a sense it is our national religion.

Another factor for me is that I believe the US today does a better job of putting these principles (which are in fact shared in Europe) into practice. For example, in Europe there is still a sense of stratified society, of the establishment looking sternly down their noses at you. It is a recipe that can quickly disenchant those not destined to be successful and lead to greater socialism. Here I feel that, despite vast differences in wealth in the populace, the US is a more open society that welcomes and encourages people from all backgrounds to contribute and be successful. I believe you are more likely to get a fair meritocratic shake here than in most European countries.

A final point is that the US is serious about defending its principles against attack. Europe, no doubt with the best of intentions, pours almost all its efforts into social welfare and little into defense, thereby endangering the goose that laid the golden egg. This seems short sighted and does not encourage responsibility at the national or individual level. I do not believe an entitlement mentality is congruent with love of ones country. Rather an instilled sense of gratitude for what you have and sense of responsibility to give back is the sort of thing that helps bind people and nations together. It works as long as those people share the same basic values and feel that they are a welcome and contributing part of the system. In large part in the US I think this is the sentiment, although no doubt it could be improved upon.

With regard to veterans I can only express my deepest gratitude for the sacrifices they have made that allow us to live in peace and pursue our happiness. More than any other book, Stephen Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers" brought it home to me what this sacrifice means and I feel deeply humbled and grateful by these accounts and others. While some may cringe at this type of sentiment, I think you only have to remember the stories that come out of Iraq to realize that there is nothing trite here. I read one recently where a mother was dragged out on the street and with her head pulled back, beheaded in front of her children because her husband had done something to displease the regime. Ultimately it is our veterans, standing in the front lines, that prevent the possibility of that sort of thing becoming a reality here.

A fine tribute to our country and its veterans, past, present and future.

Our veterans deserve our thanks and support despite the politicization of "patriotism" that seems to have come to a head since 9-11 and Iraq. It's sad that patriotism has become almost a politically incorrect term, kind of like "confederate flag-waiver."

But it's hard not to attach political motivations to the Left on this. After all, FDR, Eisenhower and JFK were idolized as patriots by Democrats and were supported through 2 world wars, the Korean War and the Cold War. Patriotism was cool and the American GI was idolized. Even Hollywood gleefully got on board.

But thanks to a generation shaped in large part by Vietnam, LBJ, and Nixon, the anti-war boomers forced us to question authority, the military and all that. Patriotism seems to have taken quite a hit, especially in our culture and our media, not least of which some the websites dominated by the left wing of the "democratic wing of the Democratic party."

Maybe it'll take a new generation, shaped by the 9-11 experience, to reverse some of the almost 40 year old downward trend of patriotism. Posts like these are as good a way as any, but I hope it doesn't take that long.

Great work A.L.

shadow -

You're misreading the quote.

His point is that few of us in America can point to our ancestor's graves, and that the kind of connection to place that people tied to a location once had.

This changes the kind of patriotism that is available to us.

A.L.

praktike -

"I'm not sure, and that's why I'm so torn every time I read one of your posts,"

...well I must be doing something right, then!

A.L.

AL,
Great post. As one of the younger generation, I find this sort of thoughtful examination quite refreshing. While I am what one could reasonably call a conservative or right-leaning libertarian, I know that the best thing for America is a viable competition of ideas. The more shrill the left gets, and the more the Democrats get dragged toward them, the worse off America will be. In a system like ours there's always room for reasonable people to disagree, and I'd like to see a much stronger Democratic field in 2004, even if I didn't end up casting my vote that way. Hopefully, you and other thoughtful, reasonable liberals will be able to salvage the Democrats...you do that and I promise to get the VRWC on shutting up Anne Coulter.

Well put, A.L.

I am a conservative. I would like to say thanks.

May all of my political adversaries be like you.

Thank you,
You are what I wish the 'left' was. I can probably state, with some certainty, that you and I agree on very little concerning a lot of issues, but on this topic we certainly do. Because of your beautifully expressed sentiments, I can can also state that, as conservative (liberal in the classical sense of the word) as I am, I'm proud the share the name 'American Citizen' with you. Sadly, I'm now convinced that you are in the minority within the 'liberal' camp. I wish it weren't so, because, as has been so eloquently stated here and elsewhere, we need a viable, coherent, and 'Loyal' opposition in this country to get the most out of our political system. We have been deprived of this since the opposition party decided America is too flawed to love anymore. I'm not sure where that leaves us now, but we are poorer for it. Here's hoping, but not expecting, a miracle to occur and that the Democratic party starts loving America again.

An astonishing post, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Schaar's masterful connection of patriotism with our cultural patrimony supports not only a clear distinction between patriotism and nationalism, but the ready extension of patriotism to the defense of our broader civilization.

Praktike, you say:

"If they're the right values, they will eventually triumph on their own, right?"

No, not necessarily. In fact, not even likely. "Eventually" isn't soon enough, for example, for the 300,000 or so people in mass graves in Iraq. Or the tens of millions of victims of communism in the 20th century alone.

Saddam begets Uday and Qusay. Assad begets Assad.
Kim begets Kim. When is eventually?

It may be evident to the general populace in countries like Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, or Iran what the "right values" might be, but that doesn't necesarily get them any closer to the "triumph" of those values, while they "live" another set of values at the point of a dictator's gun. How many millions of people in this world would you consign to a life of oppression because you're uncomfortable with the notion that there's anything "exceptional" about the American ideal that we might promote and attempt to export? Yes, even if that means forcibly deposing a murderous tyrant. After all, we're not trying to influence the political systems of Sweden or Denmark.

Yours seems to me rather a "head-in-the-sand" approach, and a naive one at that.

Great post. It's a keeper for sure!

Beautiful commentary. My father was killed in Vietnam and my family has never been anything other than lower-middle class. One would think I am a perfect member Democratic Party. But its hatred of America, the principles of America, is what keeps me voting for the Republicans or not voting at all. Thank you for showing that love of country is not an intellectual cop-out. Keep writing.

I wonder how the folks over at the democratic underground feel about veteran's day....

Universally blanketing the "liberal left" as a country hating collective of unpatriotic, self serving, self indulgent people lucky enough to be benefactors of native birth is myopic at best and totally wrong at worse.

If the classic tenants of a social concern for the condition of the poor, the powerless and the effectively disenfranchied of our citizens is considered wrong, then I must identify myself as unpatriotic if not a hater of America, despite being a disabled Vietnam vet.

This country, as many of you have eloquently stated,is a place that guarantees a fair and unfettered opportunity to express our opinions without fear of recrimination. Does this include the voices of everyone or anyone left of the "middleline" of demarkation always under the control of the righteous right? If so, than can that inclusion manage to find it's way to even the farthest reaches of the left? If not, does this include the farther reaches of the extreme, conservative right?

I guess what Iwant to know is how far to the left can I go to remain in the acceptably patriotic category and how far to the right can you go in the same respect?

So, if my point is made at all, I hope you see that the simple labeling of "liberal left" or "conservative right" and their relative extremes is an oversimplified and all-too-handy way of putting people in boxes for having divergent views from our own. To do so is to declare unpatriotic many members of our Congress, our judiciary, our educational system, your neighbors and many men and women who have served and who are now in the uniformed service of our country.

Let us all try to live up to those tenants that describe what we all hold up to be the best describers of our way of life in America.

Marcel,

Thank you. For what you did then, and for what you've done since. I don't give a damn whether I agree with you or not.

A Vietnam-era vet
(you know how little that can mean),

A poster wrote: "If the classic tenants of a social concern for the condition of the poor, the powerless and the effectively disenfranchied of our citizens ..."

But that's not liberalism. Never has been.

At best its humanism (in the political sense, not the religious sense); and worst it's socialism.

It is also a bit of a straw man because it implies that conservatives are unconcerned with the plight of the poor, do not value social concerns and believe in disenfranchizing segaments of the society. That is an untenible position.

What A.L. writes about, consistantly, is classic liberalism, which is about the values of an open society, which creates equality of opportunity, freedom and stable institutions of the people. In this respect, barebones conservativism and classic liberalsim intersect. All of the rest is a quibble over details (not to put words in A.L.'s mouth, but I've talked with him enough and read him enough to know we're not far apart politically ... and he calls himself a liberal and I call myself a conservative, but we agree more than we disagree).

As for patriotism ... In one respect, I consider myself a patriot. I fly a flag. I served in the military. I'm proud of my country. But in another respect, I consider this country just a chimera of time and place. The United States need not carry on forever, as far as I'm concerned -- but what must carry on forever, what we must fight and die for if necessary, is freedom, is the open society, is the rule of law, is free enterprise -- all of the things that make a man lord of his own destiny, and not subserviant to any master, whether the state or the bondsman. It is the ideal, more than the reality that matters most. So when I wave the flag, I am not waving it for 200 years of history, or a piece of parchment, or a political party, or as a symbol of exceptionalism. I am waving it because I believe in freedom -- with all my heart, with all my strength, with all of my faith, I believe in freedom. May it never parish from this earth.

One last idea I want to address, and one that I detest -- the idea, as that class of liberals who most often argue against spreading freedom put it, "we cannot impose democracy."

This is a true statement, as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. Not far at all.

Nobody is trying to impose democracy anywhere. Certainly not Bush. Certainly not in Iraq.

All we can do, as all we have done, is remove the immediments to freedom. All we can do is try to provide a blueprint for the essential foundation of democracy -- an open society and the rule of law. Whether democracy takes root, whether freedom flourishes, is entirely up to the people in those other lands. It is self evident that we cannot impose freedom, but if freedom is something that is natural to all people, as I believe, than it cannot be imposed for another more obvious reason -- it is already there. All we can do, and what we must do, is make it possible for freedom to breathe.

Ah the joys of mixed metaphors (last graph on my post!)

Howard,

And what socialists don't ever seem to realize is that even with literally divine authority, collective economics CANNOT be made to work.

Read the Book of Acts. In the days immediately after Pentecost, Peter and the other disciples set up their community in Jerusalem. Yes, they spent a lot of time preaching to the multitudes. But the essential economics of their community was that each believer would contribute what he had and receive what he (or she) needed to live and carry out the mission. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need...."

It failed. Utterly. Bear in mind that these were a group of people who had seen the miracles and heard the teaching of Jesus the Christ within recent memory. They had seen all the events surrounding the Crucificion and Ressurection. They had seen continuing miracles (Pentecost, the martyrdom of Stephen, the miracles performed through the disciples themselves). They had seen the head of their government (Peter) demonstrate literally perfect knowledge of their affairs and demonstrate the power to instantly and totally punish in the deaths of Annanias and Sephoriah.

And despite that, they would not stick with that model. Indeed, you had Paul saying that not only should the congregation be working individually, but even the ministers should be working at their regular trades in addition to preaching.

Individual effort over collectivism. Individual rewards and responsibility. As Kipling pointed out in "The Peace of Dives", the merchant may succeed where the prophet fails.

I still hear in Mr. Owens' commentary the belief in the righteousness of the right and the wrongness of the left.

Of course I don't believe for a minute that there aren't conservatives that have social concerns. Some have recently started describing themselves as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal". I can imagine how the traditionally conservative label them.

My impression of the conservatives'concern for social programs is that their cost is out of proportion to their worth and that the taxpayer shouldn't have to pay more than what they consider the "fair" price for this unfortunate necessity. Many deny the necessity at all; that a man deserves only what he earns, himself; and assistance should be reserved for responding to natural disasters, not ones related to human causes.

Where is the hue and cry over what many on both sides consider a vastly overweight military/industrial budget burden that is self feeding on the conservative view that enough military is never enough military and business is what makes this country great; the great impediment to such is the intolerable, plaintive demands upon the haves by the have nots. After all these pople are constant and irritable reminders that we still don't live in a perfect society; one in which every man and woman has learned to use all the resources around them to be self sufficient in this land of opportunity and plenty.

So if most of us share more philosophy in common than in opposition, why are we constantly debating the differences and never discussing the commonalities? Could it really be that there is a wider schism than we think?

I have never labled myself as either a liberal or conservative because these labels are used by people to differentiate themselves from others whom they feel have less proximity to the truth than they do. I don't know which side is right. I think that if we all were to let down our defensive barriers, we can easily see that neither side wishes harm to the other and that this country is great because of the dynamic, yet peaceful mix of different ideas within a common society.

Great post AL. But Marcel, I'm pretty sure the Left (see AlterNet or Indymedia) is certain that they are correct to hate Bush, and if Bush supports Iraq liberation, that means booting Saddam was bad.

The reason there is so little real debate on the details of pig trough mil. ind. complex is that the Left can't accept that booting Saddam was good. If it's good, then it's reasonable to discuss, argue, examine the cost structures and alternatives of robot predator planes w/ sensors, etc. If it's bad, then there's no need for discussion, just get out. The Left's "Bush bad" broken record dominates most substantive debate ... about Iran, No. Korea, Zimbabwe, Liberia.

Just because almost all Americans don't want to impose regime change/ freedom hope EVERYWHERE; doesn't mean it's bad when done somewhere.

Dan, please read my post again:

If they're the right values, they will eventually triumph on their own, right?

I'm not sure, and that's why I'm so torn every time I read one of your posts, AL.

I asked the question, and then I said I wasn't sure. I do know Eastern Europe and it eventually opened up, rejected collectivism, and democratized.

Did we invade Eastern Europe and rollback communism? No. Did we oppose communism on every shore and with a wide variety of tools, mainly soft power? Yes.

I guess my position is that democracy and capitalism are historical inevitabilities. To the degree that we can speed up history, that's a good thing. Is it always best to speed up history by military might? I say no. Is it sometimes best? Yes.

Marcel -

You're arguing against a straw man; I don't believe that dissent is unpatriotic in its nature at all. Schaar, who was a true radical, certainly didn't take that position. But I do believe that many liberal and radical critiques of America come from a view that deeply challenges the legitimacy of America, and practically, would as soon have us under the supervision of the 'adults' in the UN or EU as not. And that's one of the reason why the progressives in this country keep coming up with dry holes. If you tied progressive beliefs to a deep and genuine love of what America has been and is, and fought for them from that point of view, you might actually win some elections, and get to deliver on some of your progressive hopes.

A.L.

praktike -

When you ask "Did we invade Eastern Europe and rollback communism? No. Did we oppose communism on every shore and with a wide variety of tools, mainly soft power? Yes." you're missing a simple and obvious point.

We were able to use 'soft power', diplomacy and patience because we had the military power - and demonstrated willingness to use it - to keep the Communists from winning militarily, which they would have been happy to do.

As I put it in my post, "We need to battle them in the arena of politics and ideas most of all. But the space for that battle must be created on the ground, through a contest of will and weapons. Nothing you say in your comment above contradicts that.

A.L.

Tom:

You simply can't make the cause-and-effect connection in your "hate Bush-love Saddam" corolary. That is not what this discussion is all about. If you really think it is then there isn't enough common understanding from which to discuss the issues, upon which the right and the left find themselves at odds.

Some folks try to over simplify the differences with absolutes like "left, ergo socialist, ergo communist"; "right, ergo reactionary, ergo fascist". We can't begin any discussion with those underlying qualifiers.

I have heard too much polemic from the right that tries to make a case for the "hate Bush - hate America" corolary as an umbrella identification for anyone in disagreement with Bush Administration policies.

That is the only reason I am in this discussion at all. Conservatives seem to have the loudest, most aggressive voices in these blog sites. I just felt that the discussions could be more productive if other voices (ones without dogma guiding their comments) chimed in.

AL, I wasn't responding to you, really. I was defending myself against Dan's straw man attacks.

But to continue with the comparison between the War on Terror and the Cold War:

Yes, demonstrated military might was an essential part of winning the Cold War. It's certainly helps in negotiating with people who have much to lose if you have a military capable of making them lose it.

Which is why terrorists are different. They have nothing to lose. Osama is crazy enough to live in a cave for years because he fervently believes in the rightness of his cause, and that his actions will be rewarded, insh'allah, in heaven.

Now, there are those who say that the most important thing is to hold rogue states accountable for their support of these guys. And they've got plenty of arguments on their side.

But that's where it gets tough. Who was supporting Ali la Pointe in Algeria? Who was supporting the Islamic Revolution in 1979? (It's possible that they got money and/or arms from Saudi Arabian sheiks or something like that. I have no idea.)

I think it has been demonstrated time and time again that we can take down any regime via military force. We did so recently in Afghanistan. So why did we need to show this again in Iraq?

What will really prove to be the death knell for terrorism is if we can prove that it doesn't work. So far, we haven't done that.

It's going to take a loooonng time and a lot of casualties. Which means that we start bringing not just Islamic fundamentalism, but also the forces of nationalism and pan-Arabism to play against us. Which is what happened in Algeria, Iran, and Lebanon.

The point at which will succeed is the point at which democracy and capitalism are not seen as in conflict with Arab pride and nationalism. To the extent that we can harness these forces in our favor, we'll be successful. But right now, they seem to be a heavy drag on what we're trying to do.

praktike -

Let me ask a clarifying question:

If the other side is driven by folks who, as you say, are "crazy enough to live in a cave for years because he fervently believes in the rightness of his cause, and that his actions will be rewarded, insh'allah, in heaven." How do we deal with them?

Negotiation is mistaken for weakness, which means we should be attacked.

Ending negotiation is seen as humiliating, which means we should be attacked.

etc.

I'm genuinely curious.

A.L.

A. L.

The fact that virtually half the nation (we don't know for sure whether it is more or less because of the dismally low voter turnout)is fighting a "straw dog". Latest polls indicate a growing disfavor with Mr. Bush's policies reagarding Iraq, the economy and the President's very own overall job performance. Are you familiar with the one claiming that 49% of those polled would not vote for Mr. Bush's reelection?

"Love for nation" being measured by my reading of your standard is as dubiously measured as is the factuality of my "straw dog".

I volunteered for duty in Vietnam because I believed the line of the day calling for the defense of democratic principles everywhere. Somehow, we also got caught up in the inevitable corollative- therefore, we must protect America from Communism.

I think we are all too experienced by now (after so many military ventures abroad after Vietnam)to blindly follow anyone's lead; especially when it comes to intervening in the affairs of soveirgn nations; and who's popular support of democratic goals is not strong enough to be self sustaining.

I, too, believe in the rightness of our democratic principles but believe, as many leading voices in non-democratic nations do, that democracy has to come from within a nation. Sometimes we seem to be overly impatient for this to happen. This is probably due (in great part)to the immediacy of news reported electronically, today, that can bring reports of the horrendous acts of dictatorial regimes into our livingrooms literally moments after they occur.

Placing a reliance on winning elections to achieve progressive goals is not a viable way to go. You cannot depend on the fickle winds of fate to define your direction. Otherwise, we will be constantly reevaluating our values and principles based on a support or non support of the winners of elections. "Progressive" goals, I believe, should be everyone's goals.

By the way, my interpretation of "progressive" agrees with the dictionary definition .. "onward, forward moving, advancing". Sounds positive to me.

A. L.

Sorry for the incorrect use of "straw dog". Of course I meant "straw man". I had a TV veterinarian program on in the background and now firmly believe in subliminal messageing. Just happened to be a piece on dog training.

AL,

To answer your question:

We should never negotiate with terrorists. We should kill them and destroy their networks.

This means massively upgrading our humint, working closely with allies on shutting down their bank accounts, rooting out terror cells, etc.

Meanwhile, we should strengthen the economic, social, and political situations in which they operate.

We should pull the rug out from under them through massive support directed at moderates and reformers throughout the Arab world.

Read Fareed on this, the long, hard slog.

What worked about Afghanistan and in the Kurdish no-fly-zone was that we enabled folks to take control of their own destinies. As such, there was no systematic humiliation of Arabs in general, just a humiliation of the Taliban and of Saddam.

My point about the value of "intimidation" as a deterrent is that terrorism cannot be "deterred" in the same way that international communism was deterred. The only way to defeat terrorism is to prove that it doesn't work, while changing the conditions under which it functions. And we didn't need to make Iraq a test case for that. In fact, Iraq is proving to be quite a bad test case indeed.

Now, you might say that Iraq was necessary in order to say to these autocrats that unless they reform, we'll do it for them. I maintain that Afghanistan accomplished this objective.

I think we were doing the right things military-wise until Iraq somehow became "the central front." I think our soft-power efforts totally sucked, because this administration was more interested in declaring terrorists "evil" than in addressing the conditions under which they arose. Now they seem to have changed courses. As I've said, we'll wait and see whether their words mean anything.

Marcel:

None of the goals you've set out here strike me as unpatriotic. There are a lot of ways I'd describe some of them, including wrong, misleading, impractical, utopian, etc., but not "unpatriotic". (And let's not get into specifics here; that isn't my purpose.)

But this does worry me:

Placing a reliance on winning elections to achieve progressive goals is not a viable way to go. You cannot depend on the fickle winds of fate to define your direction. Otherwise, we will be constantly reevaluating our values and principles based on a support or non support of the winners of elections. "Progressive" goals, I believe, should be everyone's goals.

Which brings up the question: how, if not by free choice of the electorate, should progressive goals be advanced?

The implication: progressive goals should be imposed by force on the less "enlightened", not freely chosen by the electorate. The specific set of goals here is unimportant: the elitism and, well, totalitarianism implicit in this statement is what's unpatriotic.

Of course, this is all implied. I am well prepared to accept that I'm reading too much into this statement. But I do think I'd like a clarification.

"Placing a reliance on winning elections to achieve progressive goals is not a viable way to go..."

So what, exactly, is the correct way to advance one's beliefs? If you believe in democracy, then winning elections is the only way to get to your goals. If you think that your goals are too important to let little things like elections get in the way, well, that just isn't a morally acceptable position. That way lies Pol Pot and all the rest.

'"Progressive" goals, I believe, should be everyone's goals.'

If I disagree with you, where do I fit in to your political worldview? How do we decides whose goals get implemented if you don't like elections? Why, exactly, should you get to decide what my goals "should" be?

'By the way, my interpretation of "progressive" agrees with the dictionary definition .. "onward, forward moving, advancing". Sounds positive to me. '

Of course, that's not exactly a political platform, is it? There's a lot of room for utterly contradictory content to be poured into "forward moving." Both invading Iraq and not invading Iraq could easily be construed as "progressive" policies.

I have to say I'm with AL here. It's one thing to think that Iraq is a bad idea--waste of blood and treasure, likely to inflame terrorists and make us less safe, etc.--but it's quite another to think that the U.S. is so morally bankrupt that we can't topple Saddam because our governance of Iraq will be worse than his. That is the view of many on the far left, and it is that belief at which AL is striking.

I guess I am indeed battling a "straw Man". My detractors are always offering absolutes to judge the positions I am alluding to. "Extreme left" is abhorrent to me, also; just as is "extreme right".

Would anyone care to enlighten me on the conservative view of that end of the spectrum? Is there no fear of the positions of right-wing zealots? Or are they just a a minor fringe that you just wish would be a little more quiet?

Of course I don't dismiss the importance of elections as significant messages from the electorate. My position is based on the changing message reflected over our recent history as indicated by removal of the representative of one party line and his replacement by the other.

In all honesty, the dichotemy in the two great philosophical/political positions is rudely boiled down to Republican vs. Democrat; an expediency that blurs the entire dialogue.

Marcel, first of all, I'm not sure that any of us have "detractors"; we're essentially having a coffee-table discussion and some of us agree and disagree in different proportions.

And yes, I'm deeply concerned about both the corporate and religious Right, and want to build a counterforce to their very real power.

That's why I'm so pissed off at the mainstream liberals, and why I'm fighting so hard to build an effective liberal poloitics.

A.L.

A. L.:

Thank you for this discussion opportunity. I am totally new to your name and, thusly, pretty uninformed about your political philosophy.

I'll follow you more closely to learn more as you seem to inspire animated and knowledgable interchange amongst a number of holders of different views.

If anyone wonders why I blog, is to , as Marcel put it, "...seem to inspire animated and knowledgable interchange amongst a number of holders of different views."

That's one of the biggest compliments I've gotten, and I'll gladly take it.

I'm looking for "animated and knowledeable interchange" just like that; that's the only way I ever seem to learn stuff.

A.L.

Mr Perez, you write, "So if most of us share more philosophy in common than in opposition, why are we constantly debating the differences and never discussing the commonalities?"

One word: Competition. Second word, like the first: Partisanship.

Political dialogue in this country is driven by the competition of the two leading political parties. Each party wants to demonize the other. The first rule of BRANDING is to differentiate yourself from your competitor. You can't do that if you are talking about commonality. You can only do that if you are talking about differences. That's why when one party begins to take the lead on an issue most closely associated with the other party, as Clinton did on budget deficits and welfare reform, or Bush has done on ending support of corrupt regimes, the opposition party changes the subject or minimizes the accomplishment, or tries to convince us something is wrong.

We never achieve commonality because we're too busy to win the next election. Our political parties put partisanship ahead of principal and patriotism, which is why I'm not a registered member of any political party.

"And yes, I'm deeply concerned about both the corporate and religious Right, and want to build a counterforce to their very real power."

I should point out that I'm a corporate-friendly conservative who thinks that religion is very important, but I'm hoping AL is successful here.

A credible opposition is essential to a sensible dialogue, especially in politics, where, as Howard notes, the system is entirely adversarial.

AL:

I not only re-read this very thoughtful piece twice - I'm a Writer myself and it was so well-written it was pleasurable to just read good writing - I also sent it to every other "armed liberal" in my address book.

I do actually know where my great-great grandparents are buried, and also the others going back to the great-great-great-great-grandparent who founded the town of Catawissa Pennsylvania after he found his money "wasn't worth a Continental" when he was paid out of the Continental Army. I enjoy knowing that, knowing he was a Quaker who went and fought becauswe he believed in the Revolution and came back to being a Quaker, whose great-great-grandson had to make the same choice in 1862 - which he went to fight as someone whose family had been part of the Underground Railroad. I admire all of my Liberal ancestors who had no problem "when free men must stand/between their loved homes and the war's desolation." It's good to see someone else talking about this tradition, which was all around to be seen throughout society as late as 1945.

I nearly give in to the urge to kill when I hear some far-right talibonehead say "there are Americans, and liberals."

I'm glad I've run across you, and I know I'll be back.

Tom Cleaver
Certified gun-shooting, chardonnay-swilling, brie-eating Hollywierdo

Marcel,

Good grief, don't apologize for "straw dog"--that's a wonderful phrase, regardless of what it might or might not mean! :-)

> Where is the hue and cry over what many on both sides consider
> a vastly overweight military/industrial budget burden

What many are you talking about? Defense as a percentage of the total economy is at a historically moderate level. It's smaller then during Vietnam, and so much smaller than during our last real war (WWII) that it hardly bears mentioning, much less worrying about. Go ahead and worry about military spending for what it represents, but as an economic concern? Fuggedaboudit!

Here is what is wrong with the Left. If you claim that you are a patriot, even as a person of the Left, a person of the Right will never call you a stooge of propaganda or remind you that Nazis were very patriotic, too.

A.L.
YOUR FINAL SENTENCE SAYS IT ALL BEING A VET I STILL THANK ALL THOSE WHO HAVE GONE IN HARM'S WAY BEFORE AND AFTER ME. MY UNCLE LOU,INVASION NORMANDY AND BATTLE OF THE BULGE AND MY NEPHEW GEORGE,INVASION OF GANADA AND LEBANON WHERE HE WAS KILLED. ALL BEFORE HE WAS OLD ENOUGH TO VOTE OR EVEN CARE ABOUT THE RIGHT OR LEFT WING.THANKS AGAIN TO ALL THOSE SERVING.

Thank you for this majestic expression of the American idea. As a fellow liberal, enthralled with this country and willing to defend it, I applaud you.

My dad moved to Washington, DC in 1950. I asked him once if living in a Jim Crow city had ever bothered his conscience, and he said yes, the one time it bothered him the most was during the Korean War, he was eating dinner in a Hot Shoppes (the first chain of J. W. Marriott), and a black soldier entered in uniform, and they wouldn't serve him.

Now this doesn't seem remarkable, except my dad was a conscientious objector from the Korean War and had trouble being admitted to the bar because of it.

He was also a vehement opponent of the Vietnam War. That didn't stop him from buying an American flag after 9/11 (and putting outside the house). And supporting military action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

When Rob Lyman writes
It's one thing to think that Iraq is a bad idea--waste of blood and treasure, likely to inflame terrorists and make us less safe, etc.--but it's quite another to think that the U.S. is so morally bankrupt that we can't topple Saddam because our governance of Iraq will be worse than his. That is the view of many on the far left, and it is that belief at which AL is striking.
I think he's making a vey useful distinction. I would add only that you can also tell these extremists by their justification of the 9/11 attacks (or their refusal to retaliate), and not all of the extremists obsessed with America as immoral live on the far left.

Andrew raises a good point--which is why Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were two of the inspirations for the word "idiotarian."

But I think there is a subtle distinction to be made here: Idiotarian rightists think that America used to be the best and most moral country on Earth and has lost its way. They want to see us "clean house" instead of going abroad.

Idiotarian leftists think that the US has always been deeply immoral (because we are capitalists, or whatever) and that we are actively harming Iraqis. They want to see us invite foreigners in to make us more like them.

AL-

Thanks so much for your Veterans Day post. It is right up there with some of Bill Whittle's work in the last year, IMHO. The sentiments you express, in the face of hostility from your fellow Liberals, are what distinguish you from the likes of the IndyMedia crowd.

For all the readers of this site, consider this veterans story, if you will. I have a friend named Vincent, who is in his 80s. I got to know Vincent through the Vietnam vet friend who was the best man at my wedding. Vincent served in the Army, and was at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. I'm sure you've seen the grainy footage of the heavily laden GIs crossing that strip of sand, being gunned down the Nazi machine guns. Well, Vincent was one of the few guys who made it to the low concrete barrier on the beach that day in the first wave. He was 18 when all this happened.

A couple of years ago I had Thanksgiving dinner with my Vietnam vet friend and with Vincent. We got to talking about the post 9/11 world, and I commented to Vincent that it must be hard for him to listen to all the snide, anti-American comments coming from protestors who weren't even half his age and hadn't seen, personally, that freedom is never free. He surprised me by saying that he was just glad that "the kids" today didn't have to go through what he had to go through as he slogged across western Europe (then Nazi occupied western Europe) on his way to VE Day. When I said that if I were he, the America bashing would really make me angry, he smiled and replied, "Well, that's America, isn't it? They get to have their opinions about something and to express them, and I get to have mine."

I felt humbled by his answer, because of course, he was right. To me, Veterans Day is the time, if one takes no other time during the year, to remember and honor all those who did what it took, including dying, to secure for you and me the right and opportunity we have today, among other things, to participate in this discussion on AL's website. I am particularly grateful that I had the chance to get to know Vincent, to shake his hand and to thank him personally for what he did years before I was even born, efforts multiplied by millions of other individual veterans, that secured the political and economic freedoms that my family and I enjoy today. Perhaps if you are blessed with meeting a veteran of our armed forces, regardless of his or her type or years of service, and regardless of your views on current political and social issues of the day, you might want to consider doing the same.

JonM.

In place of offering incisive commentary on this post (I'm still wading through all of the comments), I'll just say this:

A.L., I wonder if you have read Richard Rorty's "Acheiving Our Country"? If not, I suggest you should pick it up sometime. I hear echoes of Rorty in your post.

Personally, my opinion on this issue tend to lean closer to Praktike's. Regardless, a well-written post.

-Phil

JonM:

Thank you for sharing your story. My father served in the US Navy just after WW1 as a teen aged mess steward. This is how he gained entrance into this country. He then served on active reserve in WW2 and during the Korean Conflict. When he retired from federal civil service he had served our country for 49 years. This record is for a man born 103 years ago in a remote barrio in the Philppines,who left home to strike out on his own at the age of 16 and earned enough money to immigrate to the land of opportunity.

He didn't realize he wouldn't be eligible for U.S. citizenship until he had already been in this country for 30 years because a special law had to be written to allow Filipinos full citizen rights.

He was extremely proud of both his military and and civilian service to our country. His fondest wish was for me to be a naval officer; but I joined the Army. No comlaints from him - I was still in uniform.

Nearly all the adults in my family have served in uniform and/or worked in federal civil service in support of our great military. All of our military service was served as voluntary enlistees.

The combined total of our federal service is 171 years and still going for two of my siblings still in federal employment.

I don't formally identify with the Democratic Party although I am left leaning. There has never been a registered Republican in my family; and all, except myself, vote a strict party ballot. We are tough minded on crime; believe in the right to bear arms; vote conservatively in fiscal matters; support religeous belief and practice as part of everyone's rights; and fully support our military members overseas.

So, I hope that this indicates to anyone reading that you can be liberally minded, even a Democrat, and still support your country with actual service and with unquestioned patriotic zeal. I guess we just try to represent what's good about America, realizing that after more than 200 years, our nation is still trying to find a collective identity while honoring the rights of all to dissent and debate, peacefully.

Happy Veteran's Day to all Americans.

JonM:

Thank you for sharing your story. My father served in the US Navy just after WW1 as a teen aged mess steward. This is how he gained entrance into this country. He then served on active reserve in WW2 and during the Korean Conflict. When he retired from federal civil service he had served our country for 49 years. This record is for a man born 103 years ago in a remote barrio in the Philppines,who left home to strike out on his own at the age of 16 and earned enough money to immigrate to the land of opportunity.

He didn't realize he wouldn't be eligible for U.S. citizenship until he had already been in this country for 30 years because a special law had to be written to allow Filipinos full citizen rights.

He was extremely proud of both his military and and civilian service to our country. His fondest wish was for me to be a naval officer; but I joined the Army. No comlaints from him - I was still in uniform.

Nearly all the adults in my family have served in uniform and/or worked in federal civil service in support of our great military. All of our military service was served as voluntary enlistees.

The combined total of our federal service is 171 years and still going for two of my siblings still in federal employment.

I don't formally identify with the Democratic Party although I am left leaning. There has never been a registered Republican in my family; and all, except myself, vote a strict party ballot. We are tough minded on crime; believe in the right to bear arms; vote conservatively in fiscal matters; support religeous belief and practice as part of everyone's rights; and fully support our military members overseas.

So, I hope that this indicates to anyone reading that you can be liberally minded, even a Democrat, and still support your country with actual service and with unquestioned patriotic zeal. I guess we just try to represent what's good about America, realizing that after more than 200 years, our nation is still trying to find a collective identity while honoring the rights of all to dissent and debate, peacefully.

Happy Veteran's Day to all Americans.

Marcel, you do a good job on most of what you address.
However, you miss what conservatives think of social programs.
For example, nobody ever said that welfare reform was necessary in order to save money. It was to stop the growth of a dependent way of life where, as long as you didn't get caught committing honest employment, you could stay on the dole.
Conservatives oppose social programs they think are bad for people, no matter how many warm&fuzzy titles the liberals think up for their vote-buying.
The cost is secondary. Conservatives know, for example, that welfare recipients spend their money (they have to, to survive) and so it isn't "gone". It's misplaced and damaging to people and to the nation, which is the worst part.
The same thinking is true of other issues.

Phil -

No, wasn't familiar with it, but as I just got an Amazon gift certificate today, now I know something to spend it on!

A.L.

I am so sorry for the double entry. It was done totally by accident.

I'm still learning this computer stuff. I hope it was not perceived as bad computer etiquette.

A.L.

It is interesting that you speak of telling and retelling the stories of past sacrifices as a way to educate our children and impress upon them the importance of patriotism.

The other night, the movie "We Were Soldiers" was playing on cable, and I watched it for the first time with my 13-year old son. My wife was turned off by the graphic scenes and went to bed. And as we watched it, I did just what you said.

My family were among the original English settlers coming here as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (now Boston) in 1630 ten years after the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. I can count several prominent Americans in our family history.

As we watched the movie, I began to tell him, as my parents did for me, of the sacrifices his ancestors and his family had made so that he could enjoy his freedom. My stories combined with the pictures of sacrifice in the movie we were watching had an obvious moving effect on him.

I told him,

"This is who you are. You are a young man of honor. And you and I both owe a debt of honor to those who came before us to both defend the freedom they fought for, and use that freedom properly. You don't have to try to 'do' something. You only have to remember who you are and be yourself.

For you are an American. And you are a young man of honor. And if one day, you want to join the military, I'll be behind you. I don't want to ever see you killed, but others in our family have paid that price. And we must be prepared to pay it as well.

Son, if you ever feel any gratitude toward me for being your father, and raising you to become what you now are, a young man of honor, this is how you repay me. Raise your son to be a young man of honor as well.

The Bible says that children's children are a man's reward. In other words, you are not my reward, you are my responsibility. Your children are my reward. And if one day, your son becomes a young man of honor, then that will be my reward. Because if you are able to raise your son to be a young man of honor, then I will know that I have fulfilled my responsibility with you.

And also teach your son that the way to repay you is for him to raise his children to be people of honor. And teach your daughters to raise young men of honor. Don't ever think you can repay me directly. The way you repay your parents is to raise your own children the right way. And never forget to be who you are. You are a young man of honor."

It was one of those special moments that a father gets to have with his son. I have other special moments with my daughters, but this was a uniquely masculine moment, and I could tell it made an impact on him. I hope he internalizes it and comes to love this country as I do.

George Orwell wrote:

"By 'nationalism' I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled "good" or "bad." But secondly -- and this is much more important -- I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By "patriotism" I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseperable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality."

I don't agree with everything said in this quote, but I think this is the fear that we liberals have deep down inside of us... that in every nation there is a Hitler or a Stalin dying to get out. If we stop questioning authority, if we stop asking tough questions, will we allow the next tragedy to slip by. Many of the things championed by Bush do not sit well with me because of this view: the 'torture' thing, the 'crusade' comment. Added to this are the growing comments on the far, deep right that the muslim culture is a stain on the world. I'm not saying Bush is Hitler, but I worry that these views will engender themselves into a american view that is prejudiced with the world.

By no means do I spread this fear of pollitical leaders to the armed forces. They are doing their duty out of devotion to this country. And even though I may not agree with the mission, I am grateful that they would put their life on the line for what they feel is right. And in great contrast, I think it's a shame that the goverment is not doing more to provide for veterans. For example, the threat of reviewing PTSD conditions on veterans, or allowing large amounts of beaurocracy to get in the way of serving those who served us.

This also brings me (rather disjointedly) to the idea of how to use American power to help the world. If anyone's missed it, both sides are covered very well in an issue of the new yorker, written by Jeffrey Goldberg. and linked here:

http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/051031fa_fact2

Correction: the article is on IF we should use american power to change the world

that's so true. i'm a vietnamese and came to this site because i'm doing a research on veterans day essays.

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