Sunday Sermon: An Open Letter to an Old Cold Warrior Former Facebook “Friend”

You said I was unpatriotic, and that it was people that fought the cold war, who made the world safe for people like me, who sit comfortably and complain about their actions.

I suppose I should start with “unpatriotic” – since that’s certainly true. Patriotism is a belief in one’s homeland, a love for one’s country; and it’s something I completely lack. Not because I hate my country or anything as simplistic, but rather because I feel that it is not my country. I was born between these lines on a map, and was raised and nurtured within them; it was not my country that made me who I am, it was my parents, and my teachers, and eventually my friends, employers, co-workers, drill sergeants, employees, and my minor foes – the people who I’ve interacted with, for better or worse. Including you. You’re my country; you’re all my country. I’ve traveled all over the world, on foot, by train, by boat, by plane – first class and on a shoestring, and everyone I’ve met has generally been friendly, helpful, fair, interesting, and human. They are all my country. The lines on the map are not.

Our experience of “patriotism” – having a homeland – depends on the people we know, it comes from the people we know. Not from the government we live under. That government is not for the people, by the people – it’s for the few, by the few; it has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to give every tiny inch of social justice it has granted its weaker citizens. It took a massive civil war to resolve the fundamental injustices and lies that were embedded in its founding documents, and yet it continues to fight tooth and nail against doing what governments are supposed to do: serve their people. All their people, not just the white ones, or the males, or the rich, or the heterosexual, or the ones who were lucky enough to be born with sound minds and bodies, or the ones whose parents could afford to help them. You cannot be serious and chide me about my lack of patriotism for questioning the wisdom of America’s wars abroad, when it’s obvious that any real patriot would find a surfeit of oppression worth fighting at home. America – “your” country, and “mine” is a place of systematic oppression: initially the genocide of the native Americans, followed by chattel slavery for black Americans, a great big war to try to resolve that, followed by continual rear-guard action to re-litigate that issue in the form of Jim Crow, redlining, segregation, “voluntary segregation” and “The War on Poor People Mostly Black Who Do Drugs and Can’t Afford Great Lawyers” and today’s problem which is: “cops who shoot people, say ‘they were scary’, and get away with it.”

Why did you old cold warriors fight Soviet aggression, anyway? Was it because their police shot people and got away with it? Was it because they invaded and bombed other countries? Was it because they spied on other countries and interfered with their internal politics? Was it because they had a massive intelligence apparatus that listened in on their people and kept files on everything they did or said? Was it because they legislatively enshrined homophobia as the law of the land? Was it because their oligarchs skimmed vast wealth while portions of the population starved or drowned their sorrows in alcohol or drugs? Was it because they overthrew democratically elected leaders and replaced them with dictatorships? Was it because they handed out weapons to thugs and criminals where it was politically expedient, tortured people, trained death squads, and never hesitated to bomb civilians with high explosive if there was the slightest chance it might help change their political attitudes? What, exactly, were you old cold warriors fighting against if this is what you fought for?

The decisions of your generation are what they are, and cannot be unmade. Perhaps you made them as well as you could, given what you knew and believed at the time. The problem, as I see it, is your beliefs – you believed in your country. That is to say, you believed it’s your country: which it’s not. That’s why I’m still willing to talk to you at all: because I know that the decisions that matter, the important ones that shape and form the United States and its policies, are not your decisions. If I thought they were yours, I’d hate you.

Several generations of Americans fought the cold war mostly by sitting back and catching their breath and sparking a massive economic boom following the great sigh of relief Americans collectively heaved after WWII was over. The Europeans and the rest of the world didn’t get to sit back; they were busy rebuilding and cleaning up the rubble. Meanwhile, the US’ taxpayers paid for the construction of incredible war-machines capable of slaughtering billions of people in the most horrible manner imaginable. This was done to “fight Soviet aggression” by American leaders who knew that there was a “bomber gap” and later a “missile gap” except it was going the opposite direction from what they told the people of the United States. They lied and said they needed more and more nuclear weapons to catch up with the Soviets while they knew that we had several times what the Soviets had. You and I both grew up with the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads; it’s still there. Now, conveniently, it’s “Russian aggression” and “Iranian aggression” and “North Korean aggression” but the truth remains that our government used our lives, since we were children, as little tokens in a power-game of mutual assured destruction.

They lied to both of us, over and over again: The Cuban Missile Crisis was Soviet aggression, but the truth was that the Soviets attempted to place missiles in Cuba to counter-balance the medium-range ballistic missiles the US had quietly emplaced in Turkey and Italy. The US troops got “dragged into” Vietnam when the North Vietnamese attacked American ships in The Gulf of Tonkin, but the truth was it was a “friendly fire” incident. The US attacked Afghanistan because Osama Bin Laden was there for a while; but he was in Pakistan and what should have been a police action turned into a long-running war with no point and no end in sight. And Iraq was a threat because of WMD. And Libya. And Syria. And, and… If any of those wars and near misses helped anyone, other than military contractors, pentagon brass, and politicians, then I suppose we could talk about cost/benefit analysis, but you are defending a political system that held everyone in the world’s life as table-stakes in a great power game. They didn’t ask you. Not for a second. You know what they did? They told you it was “democracy.” The will of the people.

And you believed it. They told you it was important to make the world safe. You believed it. You’re a sucker.

Don’t you dare fucking lecture me about patriotism and making the world safer or better. If you believe your actions were making the world safer or better, you were flat-out wrong. You were a blunt tool in the hands of ruthless people, who used you and who would have thrown you away without even noticing you had ever existed. They would have used and thrown away anyone that was convenient, just as they have used and thrown away every soldier who died on either side of those many pointless wars. Don’t you dare wring your hands and grieve for the thousands and thousands of American dead, unless you shed a thousand times more tears for the Vietnamese, the North Koreans, the Afghanis, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Libyans, the Granadans, the Panamanians, the Haitians, the endless millions of casualties of America’s “keeping the world safe for people like me.” I didn’t ask for it. You probably didn’t ask for it, either – I’ll assume that, because otherwise I have to declare you an enemy of humanity.

As taxpayers who help fuel the US economy and keep its military spending at a level that is nearly equal to the rest of the world put together we bear some responsibility for this mess that we’re in. I take some shelter, and have some pride that I didn’t ask for it – that I don’t support it – that I’m not a dumb-ass blunt tool patriot. If you had any idea how stupid I think you are, to say what you said, you’d burst into flame and burn to ashes of sheer embarrassment. “Patriotism,” to steal Smedley Butler’s phrasing, “is a racket.” It’s the big con, the great white lie. It’s the excuse that keeps on giving. Shake your head and re-assess the buffet of propaganda you’ve been fed all your life, and stop making an idiot out of yourself by going around accusing people of being “unpatriotic” on Facebook.

PS – That is why I just “unfriended” you.


  1. says

    I have no use for patriotism, and in particular, no use for American patriotism, because it isn’t – it’s jingoism, all the way down. I’m reading Public and Private Lives of Animals right now, and in the second story, a Parisian Sparrow is trying to figure out a better system of government. To this end, he visits several other governments. The government of ants was bone-chilling, it fit America that well. The book was written in 1842, and I expect the ants were more pointed at the British Empire, but still. The only thing that mattered to the ants, with their powerful military and oh so expendable citizens, was if a place was of benefit to them. If there was a bounty of returns to be had, more places they could export their goods, and so on.

    It was a nasty reminder of just what a rotten fruit this country has been since the colonials showed up.

  2. mesh says

    Couldn’t agree more, Caine. Genuine love for your country will inspire serious discussion on the merits of its actions in order to improve governance, not the impulse to exculpate it and shout down dissenters. This is a case of lacking nationalism rather than patriotism.

    What’s truly perverse about the war industry is that it sets up veterans as its most fervent apologists. To justify the substantial psychological investment and loss of life, the sunk cost, in the minds of many means reacting against anything that might diminish the rosy rationale of the cause because the alternative would be to accept sacrifice in vain.

    Meanwhile, as our soldiers wrestle their doubts, the industry steams full speed ahead with the pretexts for violence becoming flimsier and less coherent in our post-truth era race to the bottom led by a guy who creates new facts with each tweet and pushes the boundaries of acceptable conduct in every possible venue of organized society.

  3. cvoinescu says

    I really appreciate seeing this put into words.

    It’s much easier to feel this way coming from a country that fought with the Nazis in WWII, then swapped sides near the end, had the Red Army liberate it (and liberate everything, nailed down or not, on their way out and then back too, from watches and food to farms and factories); then went through nearly half a century of varying degrees of dictatorship and suppression of opposition, last decade or so filled with increasingly egregious, transparent and pointless lies*, followed by a plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose change of regime that transitioned from one kind of rot and corruption to the kinds that may be more familiar to you. Still, it’s disheartening to see many of the same things everywhere.

    * I remember the congratulatory news on TV about a further record increase in the production of sugar beets, owing to the heroic labor of the farmers’ cooperatives in my county. I calculated that, to get that level of production, assuming spherical beets close-packed (that is, touching each other), they would have had to be the size of beachballs, or regular-sized but stacked three deep in the field.

  4. Raucous Indignation says

    It’s Grenadian, by the way. That war at least had the clearly stated goal of rescuing the American and International medical students who were under house arrest in the dorms.

  5. keithb says

    And, AIUI, we got into Viet Nam in the first place because we let the French go back after WWII – another cold war thing. If we would have left Viet Nam to stay independent after the war, they might have not felt the need to go communist.

  6. says

    I couldn’t help but be reminded of this quote, when I read this:

    Hannibal: You fell in love with the bureau, the institution, only to discover after giving everything you’ve got, that it does not love you back. That in fact, it resents you. Resents you more than the husband and children you gave up to it. Why is that you think? Why are you so resented, Clarice?
    Starling: I don’t know.
    Hannibal: Well, isn’t it clear? You serve the idea of order, Clarice. They don’t. You believe in the oath that you took, they don’t. You feel it is your duty to protect the sheep; they don’t.

  7. says

    You serve the idea of order, Clarice. They don’t. You believe in the oath that you took, they don’t. You feel it is your duty to protect the sheep; they don’t.

    Yes – they convince naive and optimistic people to believe a set of ideas that they don’t believe themselves. Ideas that are convenient.