15 Sep 2010
Measurements for Patriotism
This piece is an attempt to critically analyze the understanding of patriotism and its reflections of the societies of countries in conflict and regions in crisis.
The idea to prepare this piece arose after a small screening discussion in one of the NGOs in Vanadzor, Armenia by Peace Dialogue. The discussion was launched around the documentary “Neither War Nor Peace”[i] created by the joint efforts of a member of Peace Dialogue and his Azeri colleague journalist. The documentary tells about the tragedies of the Nagorno-Karabakh war and its impact on the lives of ordinary people from Armenia and Azerbaijan who were in the center of events in the conflict. During the discussion, the participants often touched upon the topic of patriotism and problems of patriotic education for the young generation.
Many of the participants, mainly youths, were sure that real patriotism needed to be shown. “It’s not enough to just love the motherland, this love should be proved.” From my perspective, many expressions of participants were closer to nationalism than to patriotism itself. According to them, a “real patriot” should not try to justify the enemy’s view, especially when the issue supposedly relates to the security of the nation.
One participant after the screening discussion asked, “What does this documentary give me? Does this mean that we should not make sacrifices to protect our country? Wouldn’t it be better to indoctrinate new generations of patriots from their youth? Patriots who are willing to give their lives for their country?” Actually, the fact that the participants had ideas such as this pushed me towards trying to understand the border dividing these two concepts between patriotism and nationalism.
According to Wikipedia’s definition, patriotism[ii] is a love and devotion to a country or homeland for no other reason than of being the resident there. My brief internet research did not give me other, more detailed definitions or one very different than the aforementioned. “Patriotism however, has had different meanings over time and its meaning is highly dependent on the context, geography, and philosophy,” continues Wikipedia. When analyzing the characteristics of patriotism, I am taking into consideration that patriotism is a feeling. As a consequence, it impacts human behavior as in any feeling. Patriotism is also defined by Merriam-Webster[iii] nearly the same way, but it adds that patriotism is also the “devotion or love for one’s country.” I believe this definition does not capture the true essence of the meaning of patriotism. This definition would be perfect if there were not other conditions factored in this complex equation, but it seems that patriotism is a double-edged sword. So, the more a person loves their country, the more they hate everyone who is not of their country. In other words, they tend to become close-minded toward other cultures and groups.
However, in situations of crisis, when the borders between “us” and “them” is especially visible, the state war rhetoric and propaganda start to actively form and dictate the criteria of patriotism and is easily adopted by the populations divided by conflicts. Adopted by societies, these criteria then become social norms for the given societies. The norms become the determining characteristic of these societies, showing the borders between “us” and “them.” Society starts to require these criteria from its members. In other words, it sounds very easy to say, “If you don’t hate ’them,’ you are not a patriot or you are not a part of ‘us.’
For me, it sounds foolish when the society where I live demands from me the approval of my love towards my country and dictates to me how to “correctly” love my homeland. How would it sound if my society told me how to correctly show my feelings towards my family? Or, how would it sound if the fact that I don’t hate the neighbors in my apartment building is perceived by my society as an unreal love to my family?
The dictated criteria of patriotism are changeable, and depend on the selected enemy. For instance, Soviet propaganda told that “official Soviet Society” (we), who had an enemy under the image of the US (them), and those whose voices were about good relations with the US were perceived as non-patriots. After the collapse of the USSR, the images of the motherland as well as the images of the enemy and “us vs. them,” were transformed. As a consequence, the criteria of patriotism in our societies were also changed. In the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in Armenian and Azeri societies, those who strive for reconciliation and peace are perceived as non-patriots – even traitors. Today, even those responsible for war crimes against each other’s societies during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are seen as patriots and heroes because of a simple reason: They killed the enemy and protected “us” from “them.”
My conclusion is very simple: in the situation of conflicts and crises, the border existing in society’s perception towards patriotism and nationalism is intentionally erased with militaristic rhetoric. Who does this? “In time of war, the loudest patriots are the greatest profiteers,” said August Bebel[iv], in his speech to the Reichstag in November, 1870.