March 1, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)


This heroism at command, this senseless violence, this accursed bombast of patriotism-how intensely I despise them!

Albert Einstein

We are still in the midst of a wave of intense patriotism. It happens periodically and when it does happen, it frightens me. What is frightening about patriotism? To answer that, I would like to go back a short way in our history.

During World War I our patriots went after the Germans and anything that even sounded German. During W.W.II it was the Japanese and many a Californian was sent to an internment camp and many had their property stolen by patriots who would make a buck any way that they could. Now it is anyone who looks Middle Eastern. It is the American way, and when I think about it, it makes all of the phrases about our country being the land of the free seem empty. While most people here, as in all countries, are decent, we also have our share of bigots. What is a bigot? A bigot is someone who passes judgment on a person he doesn't know based on the color of his skin, his nationality, his religion, what clothes he wears or whether he has a beard or not. It was bigots who lynched Negroes, murdered Indians , desecrated churches and so on. I judge people by their actions and, as Martin Luther King said, "by the strength of their character."

I was at the receiving end of bigotry when I grew up in Little Italy in the Bronx. It was a long time before I found out that "dirtyjewbastard" wasn't one word. As a consequence, I identify with anyone who is picked on because of some accident of birth.

Samuel Johnson(1709-1784) said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Johnson was wrong; patriotism is the first and last refuge of a scoundrel. When I meet a patriot, I look around for cover just in case.

There is no other country in the world that I would rather live in. Is that because the US is the best country in the world? No, it is because it is my home. I was born and raised here and, except for a year in Nigeria and visits elsewhere, I have lived here. Would I feel the same way if I was born elsewhere? Probably.

There are a number of countries that I would not like to live in. Some are dangerous and some have so much poverty and disease that it would be very troubling to me. With the exception of Canada and perhaps Australia, there aren't many countries where a person of modest income can own a small mountain and build his own house on it. But the main reason that I love to live here, as do most people in the world in their own native countries, is because it is my home. I love my wife and children for no reason other than that I love them. I love the US because it is a part of me and I am a part of it. There is no logic to it; it is pure emotion.

Would I risk my life for my country? No. But I did do just that when I was young and didn't understand that I might get killed. It wasn't patriotism, it was youth and the foolishness that goes with it.

How do I feel about flags? I don't feel much of anything. If someone wants to fly an American flag, that's okay by me. I would think no more or no less of a person who flies one. When a businessman flies a flag, I figure it is because he expects that it will improve his business. The post office flies a flag because it has to, as do all government agencies. I feel (or don't feel) the same way about all uniforms whether they be a marine dress uniform, a suit and tie, or a leather jacket. It tells me little about the person wearing it. I have known some very fine people in uniform and some real scum. And it was the same uniform that covered either a potential friend or a potential enemy.

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