In Leo Tolstoy’s essay, “On Patriotism,” Tolstoy describes patriotism as the unnatural regard for one’s country, over and above every other country. Unnatural, because it must be stoked by governments through events, commemorations, and rituals. The latest “anniversary” of 9/11 has unsettled me, as most historical-political rallies do, because beneath the surface of the national requirement to remember this event is the subtext of war, and the unspoken assumption that we should be willing to sacrifice for any war fought in the memory of those who were killed.
In a news story by ABC on September 11, President Obama spoke of the men and women who have chosen to sign up for military service in the last decade, saying that too many of them “will never come home” from tours abroad. The article went on to talk about the ever-present danger of a terrorist attack, and our need to be alert. In other stories by CNN and CBS, September 11 was described as a reminder that there are nations who wish to destroy freedom, but that God was on the side of those who carry on the message of liberty.
This sounds like the Crusades! God is marching before us, ready to help us kill any who would get in our way.
In his essay, Tolstoy speaks at length about “the influence of..government over the people used to excite their animosity against other people.” He makes the bold claim that “in all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments.” In order to keep the ranks of cannon fodder full, solemn speeches are given about the danger of invasion or terror from other lands, and the need for the people to obey their government in order that the superiority of [fill in the name of your country here] may be demonstrated. There is an orchestrated attempt by the rulers of governments to create emotional agreement with the prospect of “dying for your country.”
As John Legend sings in Our Generation:
Our leaders make us fight.
We don’t know what for.
If they want people killed,
Let them fight the war.
It’s gotta end somewhere,
This killin’s got to cease.
If no one were to fight,
We’d all live in peace.
To sign up for the military, one must relinquish all personal power to the military leaders, and sign an oath to obey any military order, without any need to know what those orders might be. When patriotic fervor can be maintained at a high level (e.g. the ridiculous shouting of USA!USA!USA! at 9/11 events), the argument that military might is the only way to maintain peace (!) allows the rulers to satisfy their ambitions, all under the blessing of those who benefit from the continuation of the present state of the State.
I am particularly disturbed by the Church’s role in supporting the violence of the state, as I’ve written in my recent article, the church is the whore of the state. It is clear that Jesus and the early church were anti-establishment, anti-authority troublemakers, who would never agree to bless the state-sanctioned mass murder that we call war. We are to disregard the violence and arrogance of the state as Jesus did before Pilate, whose silence before his questions is an act of utter disgust and defiance for Rome and its punishments. The absolute incompatibility between authentic Christianity and war (which is justified through unquestioned patriotism) is not limited to Christians, however. Every religion has some form of the aphorism, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Surely, this includes murder. Yet, we make exceptions for military action. Let’s just be honest: Killing by people in the military is still murder.
Patriotism is a lie, and its potential for evil is continually stoked by governments in order to justify a never-ending cycle of war. Until we reject the unspiritual notion that any country is better than any other, and until we inspire a generation of people who will refuse to murder under orders from violent institutions (e.g. the state and the church), we will continue to kill each other without recognizing that we are all murderers in the eyes of the Gods of every religion.
Let us lift off the yokes which bind us. There are no countries! No group of people is superior to any other. All governments are complicit in violence and the threat of violence in order to keep us from realizing how truly duped we are.
This essay is a call for all people of faith to recognize the incompatibility between following religious teachings and participation in any event or ritual with a subtext of war. Refuse the Pledge of Allegiance. Refuse the Star-Spangled Banner. Refuse the countless parades and holidays which bind us to our narrative of military superiority. Refuse to believe that war is ever the only way to resolve conflict. Refuse to support in any way the strong arm of the rulers, including statements about “supporting the troops.” Patriotism is slavery. The military is packed with murderers. Speak out against this evil wherever you can, with all your might.