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Walter Rodgers

The right wing's perversion of patriotism

Today's conservatives often use a jingoistic brand of patriotism to criticize rivals.

By Walter Rodgers / July 19, 2010



East Otis, Mass.

It once was a given that you did not discuss religion or politics in polite company. To this list, I would add “patriotism.” It has become the new secular American religion, so mercurial that we cannot even agree about what it is.

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It is regrettable that a once healthy American patriotism has morphed into intolerant jingoism. Love of country has been hijacked.

It was not always thus. As a boy in New England, just after World War II, I was schooled in patriotism quite unlike what’s out there today. The week before Thanksgiving, public schools taught us the Pilgrims’ vision of religious liberty. On Memorial Day, Cub Scouts marched up to Pine Hill Cemetery and laid flowers on the graves of Civil War veterans, who we learned had fought and died to preserve the Union.

In Massachusetts, patriotism had special currency because it earned us an extra holiday that schoolchildren in most other states didn’t have, Patriots’ Day. It commemorated the “midnight ride of Paul Revere,” who warned our forebears that detested British soldiers, “lobster-backs,” were marching on their hamlets.

In classrooms we memorized the Gettysburg Address, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.

Massachusetts was and is arguably the most liberal state in the Union and yet it drilled patriotism into its schoolchildren for generations.

So where do America’s conservatives get the fatuous idea that they are the only true red, white, and blue patriots?

How did a quiet “love of country” morph into an aggressive right-wing, warlike chauvinism?

There was something McCarthyesque about the megaphones of the Bush-Cheney-Rove administration propagating the myth that they had cornered the market on patriotism and civic virtue.

Check my wallet. I still carry my frayed Selective Service System card that says I registered for the draft July 9, 1958. Although I always suspected Vietnam was a wrongheaded war, if drafted, I would have served. Years later, as a war correspondent, I saw more combat than many US soldiers.

Compare that with chest-thumping Republican hawks like former Vice President Dick Cheney, who received multiple draft deferments and never served in Vietnam.

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