Lauren Beck | Friday, March 26, 2004
One of my favorite South Bend establishments, The Linebacker, closes down each night with the song “Proud to be an American.”
It’s something I assume the bar chose as a show of support for U.S. troops serving in Iraq. But regardless of my support for the men and women in the Armed Forces, regardless of my utmost grief for the victims of terrorism, it’s something that bothers me every time 3 a.m. rolls around at the ‘Backer.
To me, this song epitomizes the unquestioning, so-called “patriotism” that seems to be all too popular these days.
This week, people around the world have remembered the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. While I no doubt appreciate the opportunities this nation affords me, I find it difficult to pronounce my nationality with pride at such a somber time.
“Proud.” It’s such a strong term, with many connotations: pleased, satisfied, honored, even arrogant …
I am not pleased to be an American when our government flouts international law and just war principles.
I am not satisfied with my country when it abandons the responsibilities it has elsewhere – namely, Afghanistan – in favor of its own war of choice in Iraq.
I am not honored to be an American when our leaders hubristically espouse unilateralism.
I am not arrogant about my nationality when I discover how many other countries detest mine.
While studying abroad in London last year, the disgust the world had for our country hit home when three men, who recognized me as an American, followed me on the street. They shoved a newspaper bearing photographs of the devastation in Iraq at me, taunting, “Why are you doing this?”
I certainly wasn’t proud to be an American then. Embarrassed, ashamed, angry – but not proud.
Sure, I could console myself all I wanted by thinking this was the government’s fault. But as long as I failed to and demand changes, then it was my fault as well.
I worry that, post-Sept. 11, Americans assume that protesting or criticizing the government is somehow unpatriotic. Quite the contrary, I believe holding our government to higher standards through protest and criticism is one of the most patriotic things we can do. Patriotism is a call to action, not blind loyalty.
When I think of true patriots, I think of the founding fathers, women’s suffragists, civil rights activists, war protesters – all those who improved our country by demanding change.
Indeed, we should celebrate our freedoms and mourn the loss of our troops abroad. But it is equally our duty to criticize government policy.
The Backer’s last song ends with a variation on George W. Bush’s most beloved phrase: “God bless the U.S.A.”
Until, however, we begin to adopt policies to the tune of “God bless the whole world,” I cannot be fully proud to be an American.