Like most American kids, I was raised to believe I was born in the best country in the whole world, the only truly free place on earth, and that the United States military were our heroes, because it was because of them that we are free. I learned quickly that one of the reasons America was so great was because we all got to vote. We had mock voting booths and elections every Election Day in all schools I went to. We said the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning in elementary school, at least for the first few years, and I didn't think much of it. Actually, what I remember most from saying the Pledge was being afraid to put my hand directly over my heart, because I was afraid that I'd discover it wasn't actually beating. (I don't know, I was a weird kid.)
When 9/11 happened, I had just turned 18, and had just graduated high school. I was talking with Army and National Guard recruiters about joining, just before the attack happened, because I had always entertained a sort of secret interest in joining the military, and was ready to take it a little further. I thought "the discipline would be good for me," and of course, the college benefits. I didn't have any college plans, and I wasn't interested in working a low-paying retail job forever. I was also interested in serving my country, and traveling. A lot of my desire to join, though, came from a sense of pride that I felt when I thought about my dad and uncle and other members of my family who had served in various branches of the military. I wanted to have that sense of pride for myself.
I'm glad I didn't join, for a multitude of reasons, but it's got me thinking about what patriotism really means, and my relationship to it.
When I hear patriotic songs -- especially when I hear people singing them live -- like the Star Spangled Banner, or even the cheesier ones like Proud to be an American, I still feel chills and tear up. I still feel this way when I see military formations and think about things like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. [edited to add: although, it is incredibly unsettling to see a giant military plane fly low over your townhouse complex on 9/11... I mean, goodness, my heart is still racing.] And it's very strange, because it's directly contradictory to the way that I feel about these things intellectually. I am not "proud" to be an American. I don't believe it makes sense to be proud of being accidentally born somewhere, and I don't believe that glorifying the military in the blind and uncritical way that we are wont to do in this country is wise or beneficial. I see it for what it is: nationalist propaganda and pulling the wool over our eyes. To be proud of our country and participate in the kind of patriotism that is encouraged here means I would be affiliating myself with the kind of disgusting barbarians who cheer when it's mentioned that Rick Perry has enthusiastically allowed for the murder of the most Texan prisoners ever during his governorship. It means I have to be connected to the kind of people who really love and identify with one of the most disgusting displays of "patriotism" ever heard in a song, that awful one by Toby Keith about putting boots in the asses of innocent Iraqi civilians.
Of course, people don't have to be patriotic in the same way as other people. But you know what, I'm just not interested in "patriotism" at all. Not one bit. I'm not interested in the divisive mentality that arises from the mistaken and patently false notion that we are "the best country on earth"; I don't even know what that's supposed to mean anymore. Politicians from all stripes claim to have pride in our country; it's like a requirement to be taken seriously as a candidate, to utter such meaningless statements like they're going out of style (I'd actually argue that they are going out of style).
To bring my convoluted point home, I've been dreading today. My Facebook news feed is littered with pictures of crying eagles flying over the Twin Towers and American flags galore, not to mentioned blubbering tributes to all of our heroes (without a mention that they were sent overseas to die completely in vain because of lies our government told us about who was responsible for the attacks). The whole "support our troops!!!1!!!" meme that gets passed around is unsettling-- you don't hear that line from anyone who doesn't believe we should be murdering innocent civilians all over the world, who wish for real peace in the world. You hear it from people who get off thinking about how awesome guns and wars and Toby Keith are. People who talk about how backwards and awful brown people with funny religions are. I don't want to hear this so-called support for our troops from these people; I want to hear it from people who want our troops to stop being sent off to their deaths for reasons that go well beyond "protecting our freedom," from people who are upset that so many of our service men and women come home from multiple stints overseas and commit suicide. I want to hear it form people who take "support our troops" to mean "don't cheer for our soldiers to be murdered because of lies from the government." I want to hear it from people who actually care about our troops -- not from people who just love being at war and flexing their "America's the best!!!" muscles. Why don't more people who claim to be patriotic actually care about our country? No wonder we're all plagued with a deep sense of hopelessness and cynicism. What a joke we've all been told for so long.
It's not that I resent people memorializing the victims of this attack, or people remembering it (although I'll quote another friend of mine, who said this on Facebook: "Is it so wrong of me 2 say I don't wanna watch/hear stuff about 9/11 all day?? Its impossible to forget, I don't need anyone telling me "never forget" uggghh...."). I just want everyone to drop the patriotic bullshit and open their goddamn eyes.