The Truth, Mainly - 07/01/1991

Unbridled patriotism like ride on unbridled horse
by Leon Satterfield

I saw it again the other night on television. I'd almost come to believe it was something I'd been dimly remembering from a particularly bizarre dream, but there it was, just as surreal on the screen as the image I'd been carrying around in my head for a month or so: Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf, still dressed in desert fatigues, looking uncomfortably exploited as he stood arm-in-arm with Mickey Mouse, swaying back and forth to "God Bless the USA."

Mickey was wearing an Uncle Sam hat.

Stormin' Norman appeared to be looking for the colonel in charge of public relations who had arranged the scene, but the real culprit was us. We are caught up in a contagion of what a radio announcer, reporting the New York tickertape parade last month, called "unbridled patriotism." It's breaking out all over like some crazy flu epidemic.

So it's just as well that I'll be out of town for Lincoln's "Operation Homecoming" on the Fourth. I'm glad our military has come home, but I'm afraid, tightwad that I am, I might be tempted by the free picnic to dig out my old Ike jacket, then find myself being embraced in mid-hotdog by Donald Duck wearing a Statue of Liberty costume.

OK — you probably detect a little attitude problem there, so before I go any further, let me make the obligatory disclaimer: I intend no disrespect for the military men and women who were a part of Desert Storm. For the President and Congress, maybe, but not for the military.

It's pretty easy, knowing the astonishingly low casualties we had, to make light of their peril, but we need to remember that when they shipped out, experts were predicting a bloodbath. The Pentagon didn't ease anyone's fears by sending 16,099 body bags to the Gulf just before the war started in January. There were rumors of poison gas and botulism toxin, but the military went anyway. Whatever you think of the wisdom of the war, you can't question the fortitude of the people we sent to fight it.

While the majority glory in having kicked the Iraqis out of Kuwait, we stew over the cost. We remember what George Bush said over and over last fall and winter: Our quarrel was not with the Iraqi people but with Saddam Hussein. But look at the results.

The guy we had the quarrel with, the guy worse than Hitler, is not only alive and well, he's still in power, still unrepentant, still menacing.

But between 100,000 and 150,000 Iraqis were killed in the war itself, and health officials tell us that by the end of summer another 100,000 Iraqi kids may die of malnutrition and gastrointestinal disease caused by our bombing of safe water supplies and sewage treatment facilities. And those, remember, are the people we had no quarrel with.

That's a successful outcome? That's something to celebrate?

But the deeper reason we spoilsports don't join in the revelry is that unbridled patriotism gives us the fantods. We like our patriotism bridled.

Unbridled patriotism is what led Ollie North to lie to Congress and subvert the Constitution, then stand, Patton-like, in front of a 40-by-60-flag and tell the Southern Baptists last month he was the victim of a congressional "inquisition." Unbridled patriotism is what motivated the country to put Americans into internment camps during WWII because they happened to be of Japanese origins and to outlaw the teaching of the German language during WWII as an act of disloyalty.

Because it's always easier to see these problems when they're in another country, remember the worst case of unbridled patriotism in the century: Adolf Hitler declaring his countrymen a master race, then acting on that declaration.

We malcontents believe that unbridled patriotism asks us to use even less of our brain than we normally use, to turn off our crap detectors and pretend we don't notice when our emperors are naked as jaybirds. It leads us to say we fought the Gulf War to defend American freedom instead of to wrestle one smarmy anti-democratic oil oligarchy from the greasy clutches of another.

But weenies who see things that way don't advise the president. If they did, they might tell him that riding unbridled patriotism is like riding an unbridled horse: We may be exhilarated for a while but we hardly ever get to where we need to go. And he wouldn't listen to that advice anyway because he's like Bob Dylan in at least one respect: With all those flags flying, he doesn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind's blowing.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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