FOR A NATION TO BE, in the truest sense, patriotic, its citizens must love their land with a knowing, intelligent, sustaining, and protective love. They must not, for any price, destroy its health, its beauty, or its productivity. And they must not allow their patriotism to be degraded to a mere loyalty to symbols or any present set of officials. (Wendell Berry: from A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America).Friends,
I haven't checked the news today, although I' pretty sure that our mighty nation survived the Fourth of July. Based on the police presence just about everywhere I went on the 3rd, we were well protected against those pesky terrorists who (as I believe G. W. Bush once said) "hate our [disappearing] freedoms." I hunkered down and avoided the parades and fireworks displays yesterday as I get a bit twitchy when I see the flags waving everywhere in the nation that brought the world "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror" (thanks G.W. for taking it way over the top). It is not easy when one does not walk in lockstep with the patriotic crowd. Granted, declaring independence from the mother country was quite a big deal in its time, and we do, in fact, live in a nation of democratic ideals. The problem is that there are powerful interests that have undermined those very ideals.
The founding fathers understood the wisdom of avoiding foreign entanglements. As George Washington stated in his Farewell Address in 1796: "The Great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations is in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. . . . ‘Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign World." Thomas Jefferson elaborated, saying that the foreign policy of a free society such as ours must mean “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship, with all nations – entangling alliances with none."
John Quincy Adams, author of the Monroe Doctrine said that, "America... does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own." The founding fathers were unanimous in their opposition to forcefully exporting American values (particularly at the point of a gun). These were no country bumpkins. These were individuals who understood Lord Acton's Dictum that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Over the next two centuries our nation has all but forgotten the words (and intent) of the founders, and the quenchless thirst for resources and power has led to the creation of a phenomenal Military Industrial Complex and its mate, the National Security State that have allowed the U.S. to impose a global hegemony of unbelievable magnitude. With well over 700 military bases in roughly 150 countries (as of 2013, courtesy of Veterans for Peace), the sun never sets on the
The founding fathers were likely once again rolling in their graves on this past Fourth of July, and for good reason(s). For all the patriotic fervor (and associated drunkenness) of the Fourth, our nation has slumped into an absolute stupor as our "leaders" have squandered the gifts of liberty. John Quincy Adams warned us of this while celebrating the Anniversary of Independence on July 4, 1821:
Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
We are, indeed, no longer the ruler of our own spirit. As the corporate-military-nuclear-industrial monster swallows up the world, it also swallows up our nation's once great spirit, the spirit of independence. And so I call upon all who believe in the possibility of “peace, commerce, and honest friendship, with all nations – entangling alliances with none" (as Jefferson said) to recapture that revolutionary spirit of the founders (as imperfect as they were), and declare our independence from the powers of death that go out "in search of monsters to destroy."
It's worth citing Berry's quote one last time - "FOR A NATION TO BE, in the truest sense, patriotic, its citizens must love their land with a knowing, intelligent, sustaining, and protective love. They must not, for any price, destroy its health, its beauty, or its productivity. And they must not allow their patriotism to be degraded to a mere loyalty to symbols or any present set of officials" (from A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America).
As Berry says at the end of the same essay from which that quote comes, "If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we now prepare for war."
May it be so on this Fourth of July (and on every day).
Click here to read Wendell Berry's A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America (published in 2003).
Note: This post is a revision of one written in 2009.