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The dangers of patriotism

Back in 2007, I was very troubled by the things that I heard about what was going on with the USA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" and other things about the Iraq War.  I actually wrote a research paper about the Iraq War in 2006.  Prior to writing the paper, I was in support of Bush and all the tactics we were using.  It was while I was studying the matter that I learned more and changed my position.  I include here an exchange I had with another individual about the matter to emphasize the point I wish to make in this blog, which is that questioning authority is often a good idea and that blindly following is quite often detrimental.
I can't say I feel good about what is going on at Guantanamo. I do not claim I know what is going on there, but this is significant evidence that it is inhumane. You were just telling me about how Saddam Hussein was trying to avoid UN inspections, well now the Bush administration is guilty of that as well. I cannot ever support Mitt Romney because, when asked whether he would continue or disband Guantanamo, he replied that it should be doubled. I agree with the Founders that cruel and unusual punishment should be done away, not supported.
About the question "what liberties of mine have disappeared" I am taken aback. Not more than a couple months ago I remember you telling me about how Russia has just recently returned to a near-fascist state and how that happened by pulling people's liberties one group at a time--all because each group was sure it was none of their business. Why should I have to wait until my own life is affected before I do anything?
Then the other person's response.
I fail to see how you can say that President Bush is hiding anything at Gitmo, the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and the entire media are and have been allowed in there, Congressmen have been invited, but only a few have chosen to go. They have seen everything and report the inmates are treated better than you would expect. If you really believe all this anti crap, maybe you should contact Rob Bishop and see how you might apply to travel there yourself. I am beginning to think that is the only way to break you of your new found religion in anti-Americanism. Hate America first, Blame America. All of the world's problems are caused, exaserbated, promoted by us awful americans. Do you really believe that drivel? Or are you just trying to play devil's advocate and mind games with me? The reason I worry is that from my point of view, the arguments you have been promoting have an odd similarity to arguments against the LDS beliefs.
The report on these interrogation techniques has recently been declassified and is now available to the public.  There is also this article which briefly lists a few key points made in the report that show that many horrific acts were done during this time.  There may still be people who defend the use of these tactics, even after the release of this report.  I would hope that there would be fewer, though, than there were at the time it was happening, when the details were kept secret.

I maintain now, as I did in 2007, that these things are a scar on humanity and a blemish on the annals of our history.  We cannot pretend to be in favor of freedom when we so easily disregard the liberty and life of people in other countries.  We cannot pretend to defend our Constitution when we make excuses for it--that it is acceptable to violate the principles therein when the people in question are not US citizens.  Cruel punishment is immoral regardless of the nationality of the victim.

However, the main point I wish to make is not that torture is immoral.  It is that patriotism is often immoral as well.  We so quickly condemn the Nazis as being evil and often think of them as all being evil.  The reality is that some of those at the top were misguided and the rank-and-file soldiers were merely patriotic.  They were following orders.  They were doing as they believed they should because they trusted (or feared) their authority figures.  That is precisely what our soldiers do.  That is what people do in any community--be it a corporation, a nation, an organization, etc.

Observe the all-or-nothing mindset of the rebuttal quoted above.  If someone questions the government at all, they become anti-American and hate America.  Just by suggesting that I think we are engaging in immoral acts, I am accused of being hateful.  This is the dark side of loyalty.  This is one way in which patriotism is bad.  Respect and revere any figure of authority in one's own group and demonize any member of "their group".  US interrogators are good guys and detainees are bad guys.  Black and white.  This binary thinking is harmful.  It obscures the complicated nature of reality.  It prevents much-needed self-critical thought.

Another reason it is harmful is the passion.  When an American soldier dies, a patriot is passionately saddened by the death.  When an American soldier is threatened, a patriot passionately calls for the death of the enemy.  When authority is questioned, it is met with anger.  There is no middle ground.  This is the same with religion.  When a skeptic questions a believer's beliefs, the believer often becomes angry.  When two people are discussing conflicting political ideas, they often both become angry, usually because each one feels loyalty toward eir own political party.

If we are to create a better society, we must be self-critical.  We must look at the things we are doing and ask of each individual behavior "Is this good or bad?  Should we continue this behavior or modify it?  What are the benefits of what we are doing and what are the benefits of changing?"  We must not look to all police officers as heroes and demonize anyone who suggests that police brutality exists or that some officers abuse their authority.  We must consider such accusations and decide when they are correct and when they are invalid.  We must not stand by every decision made by our president or our legislators as incontrovertible truth.  We must be able to examine ourselves and to criticize what we do as a society.  Indeed, if patriotism is defined as the love of one's country, then one is being a patriot by criticizing one's country.  This is the only way to ensure that the country becomes better in the future rather than worse.

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