by Gary G. Kohls, MD, 9//9/08 • Okay, so you call yourself a patriot. But what exactly do you mean by that?
As the 2008 election approaches, TCDP is receiving many thoughtful opinion columns about candidates and issues. The Soapbox blog offers a space for local opinion on (mostly) national and world issues, including elections.
Do you mean the patriotism that says “My country, right or wrong?” Or do you mean the patriotism that says “Might Makes Right?” Or the patriotism that Samuel Johnson defined as “the last refuge of the scoundrel?”
Do you mean the patriotism of the 16th century Protestant reformers who believed that every leader of every nation, no matter how evil, was ordained by God to rule and therefore Christian citizens were to be unconditionally obedient to those leaders?
Or are you the patriot that loves your country so much that you won’t let tyrants or the corporate war machine take it over without a fight? Are you the type of patriot that is willing to have a lover’s quarrel with your nation, especially when your leaders meet what can be defined as “international war criminals”?
In order to find out which type of patriotism you or your country’s leaders adhere to, consider the following “hypothetical” situation:
Suppose you are a white, church-going, bible-believing citizen in a country that has prided itself in its inventiveness, its literacy, its art, its culture, its glory in past wars and its superpower status.
Say that you saw powerful corporations and their cronies who are in positions of political power grab control of your democratic nation’s legislature, judiciary and military by the use of deceptive propaganda and rigged elections. Suppose that you and your fellow citizens were being consistently lied to about your nation’s foreign policy.
Say that these business and political leaders somehow gained control of the highest executive office in the land and then started taking away, in rapid succession, the civil rights of many of your nation’s citizens. Suppose that the installed leader started accusing progressive, peace-loving citizens of being traitors; started silencing dissenters and imprisoning people of conscience; started purging anti-fascist resistance groups and co-opting the “liberal” press; and started censoring out opposing opinions from the public consciousness
Suppose the artists, song-writers, poets, film-makers and creative thinkers of your nation were all silenced, drugged or imprisoned.
You would be in 1930s Germany and the anti-democracy tyrants would have been Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. So now the question becomes: what would you have done if you were a 1930s-era German seeing your democratic nation going fascist?
If you were an average white, affluent, straight male citizen, with all the privilege and power granted to you by that majority status, you would have said virtually nothing in opposition, even as the rights of groups other than your own were being taken away and the members were disappearing in the middle of the night into the gulag of prisons and mental institutions.
As an average bible-believing Christian, you would probably have obeyed your war-supporting bishops or pastors in their support of Hitler (almost all of whom had pledged a solemn oath of loyalty to the Fuhrer). You, as a conservative Christian, would have been expected to also be obedient to the rulers in Berlin in times of national crisis rather than faithfully adhering to the ethical teachings of Jesus, who forbade homicidal violence to his followers and who said that his followers were to love, rather than fear and kill, their enemies.
If you were an average German lawyer, physician or psychiatrist, you would have joined the Nazi Party, for doing otherwise would have jeopardized your practice and income. And you would have kept your mouth shut when witnessing the fear and anguish of your Jewish, Slavic, socialist, liberal, or gay clients as they were forced to march toward, and disappear into, the concentration camps and gas chambers.
So the question remains: if you saw your nation going fascist, would you have done what average German patriots did and been unconditionally obedient to your leader? Would you have been on the wrong side of justice by saluting the swastika rather than resisting the tyrants?
Knowing that any person who opposed Hitler’s wars of aggression was considered an enemy of the state, who would you have supported? Would you have taken the side of the innocent victims? Would you have suffered in solidarity with them, or would you have stood with the oppressors?
Would you have joined the freedom-fighters (labeled “terrorists” or traitors by the State) who were courageously and patriotically trying to save their beloved nation from fascism, or would you have joined the militarists and corporatists and right-wing politicians who thought that they were choosing the “winning” side?
Now think over the similarities between the blatant fascist Germany of the 1930s and the politics and governance of the nation you live in. If you do so honestly, you may realize that fascism may be closer than you think. And in the process of pondering these issues, your personal politics and theology AND the politics and theology of those who want your vote, your business AND your silence will be revealed.
And then the course your political and spiritual life will take: active resistance against tyranny? collaboration with it? or silence in the face of suffering?, in response to the title question will also become clear.
Dr. Kohls is a Duluth, Minnesota physician, an avowed anti-fascist and therefore a peace and justice activist who has an aversion to human slaughter from any source, whether in times of war or in times of peace. He is also a member of the faith-based peace organization, Every Church A Peace Church (www.ecapc.org), which will be hosting a regional conference at St. Thomas University on Saturday, September 20, 2008.