Hot Button Issues, No. 2: Patriotism

Our current First Lady remembers the time when she first felt proud of her country.  I remember the time when I first felt ashamed.

It was my first term as a graduate student, when I was studying abroad in England.  I had made friends with some of the senior graduate students, and we were at their house, putting coals on the fire in the fireplace (I remember this vividly; it was the first time that I had seen a coal fire).  Something came on over the radio about the newly breaking scandal: certain Americans high up in the Reagan administration had been caught selling arms in exchange for hostages in Iran and then sending the money to Nicaragua in aid of the anti-Communist Contras.  My friends erupted in disgust and smug criticism.  One was English, one was Canadian, the third was American, but all were united in their conviction that America was evil and Americans even worse.  The scandal (as they saw it) confirmed all of their worst suspicions about what America meant on the world stage.

At least, that is the way I remember feeling; I'm not sure exactly who said what.  What I do remember is feeling so horribly naïve as to have ever believed that my country was anything other than evil.  Oh, sure, as an undergraduate, I sneered with the rest of the intelligentsia at President Reagan when I saw him speaking on the television down in the college pub (this was before 1986, when the drinking age in Texas was still 18), but I hadn't ever really paid much attention.  Of course, Reagan was silly, with that silly drawl and those simplistic phrases: "Evil empire."  "Star Wars."  "American superiority."  The Soviets as immoral, believing in neither "God [nor] a religion."  But he was just the president, not what America meant.  My friends would have none of that.  Americans were doing this despicable thing, trading arms for hostages with the Iranians, sending money to the enemies of communism.  Americans like Ronald Reagan and Oliver North deserved to be shot down for their hypocrisy and lies.

I tried to explain this reaction when I went home the next spring, and my family erupted in disbelief.  "Nobody hates America, we're the good guys!" my brother said (or words to that effect; I just remember the disagreement).  To which I said, "No, no, they hate us, they all hate us, the Europeans."  This after being subject to yet further conversations (I think I am mixing my chronology a bit here, it all blends) about Chile and American imperialism.  All of this was news to me (yes, I was that sheltered), and all of it stung.  Really?  Was my country really the bad one?  Were Americans evil for intervening in world affairs in the way that we had?  "Oh, yes," my sophisticated friends assured me.  "America is the evil empire, not the Soviet Union.  Reagan is crazy and is going to get us all killed."

I am exaggerating somewhat; I can't remember all of these conversations very well.  What I remember was the loss of faith and dismay.  My country, my beloved country, the home where I had grown up, was evil.  How had I not known?  What about the national anthem, the star spangled banner, the rockets' red glare?  Was it wrong to feel moved when I heard that tune?  "No, no," I ineffectually protested.  "We've done lots of good things for the world."  "Name one," my interlocutors would sneer.  Helpless, naive, undereducated, I'd say something inept, like "McDonald's" (really, I was that helpless), and then the scorn would erupt.  "America has funded dictators.  America gives arms to topple other countries' governments.  America is the greatest threat to humanity on earth."  And there I would sit, certain that I was the one who was simple-minded and naïve, unlike my more sophisticated European friends.

And there I sat, more or less, for over twenty-five years, ashamed of ever having loved my country like the naïve schoolgirl I had been.*  Until this past summer when I started reading Mark Steyn.  Suddenly, blessedly, someone who was standing up for my country.  Even better, someone who was himself Canadian and who had grown up visiting his grandmother in Belgium.  And what did he say?  America is the world's last best hope for freedom and prosperity.  America is where immigrants from all over the world come to be free.  America is the reason that millions of people in Europe are no longer living under communism, thanks to that purported doofus Ronald Reagan (no wait, I'm conflating Steyn here with Ann Coulter; you get the drift).  Far from being the greatest threat to humanity on earth, Americans were heroes.  We were the ones standing up for freedom, not the ones oppressing the world.  As Mr. Romney put it in the most recent debate with Mr. Obama, "Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators."

Could it be true?  Could it really and truly be true?  My country, the good one?  My country, the homeland in which I could be proud?  If only I had listened to my father when he railed against what happened to us in Vietnam.  Not that we lost, but that our own government betrayed us by insisting that we should.  At least, now thanks to Ann Coulter, I recognize this is what he was saying (in between drinks and taking care of the veterans at the VA).  He should know, he served in Thailand in 1971-1972 as a surgeon for the Air Force.  He was actually there.  But, no, my sophisticated friends would insist, we lost, and serves us right, sticking our nose into other peoples' affairs. Well, excuse me, but bullsh*t, as President Obama likes to say.  We didn't lose; we abandoned our allies because the Democrats, as always since World War II, lost their nerve. 

This is the way Coulter tells it (sorry, this is a long passage for an essay post, but it is rewriting everything I have ever believed about my country since my childhood--bear with me):
Nixon had been elected in part based on his promise to end the war [in Vietnam] honorably.  He would have done so, too, but for Democrats in Congress.  In January 1973, the Nixon administration negotiated a truce between Hanoi and Saigon, known as the Paris Peace Accords.  The war was over and our ally would be safe as long as the agreement was enforced.  The U.S. retained three trump cards to play if the Communist North violated the truce and invaded South Vietnam: Keep Haiphong harbor mined, furnish military and economic aid to South Vietnam, or resume the bombing.

In the most dishonorable chapter of the nation's history, the Democratic Congress led the United States to double-cross an ally.  Using hysteria over Watergate as cover, congressional Democrats openly turned their backs on the South Vietnamese, leading to a total Communist conquest of Indochina.  In August 1973--the height of liberal frenzy over Watergate--Congress demanded that the president seek their approval before resuming any bombing in Vietnam.  Within a matter of months, North Vietnam invaded the South.  Congressional Democrats refused to appropriate any aid for South Vietnam.  Still, with no U.S. support, the South Vietnamese valiantly held off the North for well over a year.

But by 1975, the situation was desperate.  Even President Gerald Ford, as weak a Republican as there ever was, repeatedly pleaded with Democratic Congress not to forsake our ally, the South Vietnamese.  Ford said, "American unwillingness to provide adequate assistance to allies fighting for their lives, could seriously affect our credibility throughout the world as an ally."  Congress didn't have to send troops, just aid.  The Democrats ignored Ford's pleas and abandoned the South Vietnamese.  Before the year was out, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon.  In a triumph of liberal foreign policy, Marine helicopters had to be dispatched to airlift American officials and a few fortunate Vietnamese from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon.  It was, historian Paul Johnson writes, "the gravest and most humiliating defeat in American history."**
In Coulter's words: "The Democrats did that."  Perhaps Mr. Romney should have said not "we have freed other nations from dictators," but "we when acting as Republicans have freed other nations from dictators."  My whole adult life I've believed the Democratic bullsh*t, that Europeans know better than Americans do about how to keep the world free.  That Europeans are right to sneer at us when we go the aid of our allies.  That Europeans are the more civilized, the more sophisticated, the more in touch with the complexities of world politics.***  Well, not any more. 

So you will forgive me, I hope, if I am a bit snippy at the moment.  Likewise, if I agree with Mr. Romney that it is time for America to stop apologizing to the world for standing up for our freedom and the freedom of the other peoples of the world.  I will quote him again in case it wasn't clear: "Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators."

And, by the by, it was Ronald Reagan, not Mikhail Gorbachev, who won the Cold War.

*And busy studying European history, because that was what the cool kids did.  Well, sort of.  The cool kids were studying modern European history; I was still a geek for being more interested in medieval.
**Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (New York: Crown Forum, 2003), p. 131.
***And, okay, I'm being less than subtle here.  Great Britain has stood by us numerous times.  I'm talking about the way liberal, particularly Democratic Americans tend to imagine "Europe," not what Europeans actually think.

Comments

  1. "Far from being the greatest threat to humanity on earth, Americans were heroes. "

    Coulter seems to be saying that *both* are in fact true - Americans who are Democrats are and have been a grave threat to humanity on earth, and Americans who are Republicans are and have been heroes.

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  2. Well, in her book, the starring Democrats are traitors for siding with our enemies (e.g. the Soviet Union in the Cold War), thus kinda disqualified as loyal Americans. But, yes, "we" as Americans are both heroes and not so much. It depends on which side you think better captures our essence as Americans. I side with the Republicans in her book.

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  3. "Helpless, naive, undereducated, I'd say something inept, like 'McDonald's'..."

    You may have been naive, but you weren't all that inept. I was in Moscow in 1990, when one of the most exciting experiences a Muscovite could aspire to was to consume a Big Mac. Fashionably jaded Western adolescents (of whatever chronilogical age) can sneer at the wealth and priviledge they enjoy thanks to the miracle of capitalism precisely because they have never experienced its absence. I'm more than a little persuaded that, regardless of what happens to the lunatic Kims, we'd be wise to keep places like North Korea around to serve as theme parks to allow idiot Western lefties to experience the consequences of the policies they espouse. If we could figure out how to do it without subjecting the innocent denizens of such places to the madness, I'd be fully convinced.

    It also aways astonishes me that any student of recent European history would imagine that Europeans are adept than Americans at...well...anything. - B.A.J.

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  4. It's also worth noting that the killing fields in Cambodia and the desperate exodous of the Vietnamese boat people and their Laotian counterparts (with horrific hardship and loss of life) was the direct result of the Democrats' indulgence of their naive fantasies about the nature of the communist regimes that came to power in those countries on our departure. The regimes we supported there may not have been perfect, but they were nowhere near as brutal as the ones that replaced them (something to remember as we find ourselves missing Mubarak). - B.A.J.

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  5. This is outrageous! Treason is a serious crime - off with their heads! (Metaphorically speaking, of course. We shouldn't bring back the guillotine, but charges should be brought and serious penalties should be enacted.)

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  6. @B.A.J. "Fashionably jaded Western adolescents (of whatever chronological age) can sneer at the wealth and privilege they enjoy thanks to the miracle of capitalism precisely because they have never experienced its absence." Touche! Yes, it is so very easy assuming that because you are jaded others don't see what you have as worth aspiring to. Thanks for reassuring my younger self that her instincts were right, even if she didn't have all of her arguments in order. I like the idea of Lefty Theme Parks--but we would have to make sure there were no McDonald's there! Re: Cambodia and Vietnam after the "agrarian reformers" took over, Coulter makes exactly the same point. We abandoned our allies the South Vietnamese and, along with them, the whole of Southeast Asia.

    @Anonymous: Let's just vote them out of office. We are civilized, after all. ;) But seriously, one wonders. Next on my list to read is Coulter's book about Clinton.

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  7. btw: thanks for deleting my extraneous "d" in "privilege." You'd think a lawyer would know how to spell that word, wouldn't you? - B.A.J.

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  8. Proofreading, my one real skill! : )

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  9. I have a better idea than the guillotine: target practice! At least then those liberals will be good for something -- using live targets is great preparation for any kind of well-trained militia. (lol!)

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  10. Now, now, you know what happens when you use images like that: the liberals use them to blame conservatives for the havoc that liberals wreak!

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F.B.

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