May 15, 2003

by Joe Sobran

     War always seems to bring out a certain kind of 
patriotism we'd be better off without: the "love it or 
leave it" variety. A lot of people assume that patriotism 
means supporting any war your government chooses to get 
into -- or, in this case, any war your president even 
wants to get into. Some people took it even further, 
hoping for an even bigger war than President Bush had in 

     One reader wrote to me that if he had his way, we'd 
have "nuked Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran, and, for good 
measure, Paris." He also called the Iraq war "the best 
thing that has happened for world peace since Hiroshima"!

     This is, fortunately, an extreme example. But it 
does illustrate a common deformity of patriotism -- the 
way love for your own country can turn into hatred of 
other people's countries.

     Naturally, opponents of the war found their 
patriotism questioned. Wanting peace was called "anti-
American." It seems to me that equating loving America 
with desiring war might be rather unpatriotic, but I 
won't insist on the point.

     My own view is that people are naturally patriotic. 
It's normal to love your homeland. You almost can't help 
it, in the same way you almost can't help loving your 

     I was recently rereading one of my favorite books, 
THE FOUR LOVES, by C.S. Lewis. Lewis discusses patriotism 
in his chapter on affection, the love of the familiar 
just for being familiar. Affection is the humblest form 
of love: you feel it for your dog, your old neighbor, 
your home, just because they are yours, not because they 
are particularly excellent. You are apt to feel affection 
without realizing it; it sneaks up on you over time and 
grows gradually. You may become aware of it only with 
loss or separation.

     You can love your country without approving of its 
government. This is the hardest part for some people to 
understand. Bill Clinton once told us, "You can't love 
your country and hate your government." You most 
certainly can. Many perfectly patriotic Americans found 
Clinton himself loathsome, disgusting, and shameful. It 
was because they loved their country that they hated 
having him symbolize it to the world. Some people feel 
the same way about President Bush.

     Patriotism shouldn't be confused with national 
pride. Loving your country is like loving your mother. 
You needn't feel she is the greatest mother in the world 
in order to love her; the fact that she is your mother is 
sufficient. And insulting other people's mothers won't 
earn you much of a reputation for loving your own.

     And you keep loving your father even when you come 
to realize that maybe he can't beat up all the other 
fathers in the neighborhood; or that even if he could, 
you might not love him any better for that.

     America is as preeminent in the world today as Rome 
was in her day. This may be a matter of pride for 
Americans, but it is no reason for patriotism. We would 
love our country even if she were weak and insignificant 
on the world stage. We love her for many things, but is 
her power really one of them? I hope not.

     That's why the recent jeering at France for losing 
so many wars was so unbecoming. French defeats might be a 
topic of comedy and good-natured raillery, but they are 
hardly grounds for contempt, except in the minds of 
bullies. And too many Americans have shown such minds 
lately. They were really admitting that they wouldn't 
love their own country if she'd had the misfortune to 
lose wars.

     Our slogan should be not "My country, right or 
wrong," but "My country, win or lose." That's real 
loyalty. It was shown by the New Yorkers who rooted for 
the Dodgers, their beloved "Bums," through the long years 
when the Yankees were always winning the World Series and 
the Dodgers were taunted for losing. Remember "Brooklyn? 
Is Brooklyn still in the league?"

     When the Dodgers finally won their first Series in 
1955, their fans felt a joy inconceivable to those who 
had always rooted for the Yanks. And even today, aging 
baseball lovers admire the old Dodger fans.

     There's a lesson there for all of us.


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