We would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols on Independence Day
-- its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that
God must single out America to be blessed.
Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce
it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism,
along with religious hatred?
These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood
on -- have been useful to those in power and deadly for those out of power.
National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in
military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and
many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons
of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant
nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.
Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others,
an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order
to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.
That self-deception started early.
When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts and
were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The
killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded
by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: "Ask of
me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost
parts of the Earth for thy possession" (Psalm 2:8).
When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and
children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: "It was supposed that
no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day."
On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our "Manifest
Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence." After the
invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: "We believe it
is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country."
It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.
We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans and went to war in the Philippines
shortly after, as President William McKinley put it, "to civilize and Christianize"
As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000
Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war,
was saying: "The American soldier is different from all other soldiers
of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty
and justice, of law and order and of peace and happiness."
We see in Iraq that our soldiers are no different. They have, perhaps against
their better nature, killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. And some soldiers
have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.
Yet they are victims, too, of our government's lies.
How many times have we heard President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs,
or are blinded, it is for "liberty," for "democracy"?
One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion.
The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing
240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes
the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and
And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed
by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years,
who announced on the campaign trail last year that God speaks through him.
We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior
to, the other imperial powers of world history.
We need to assert our allegiance to the human race and not to any one nation.