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Superpatriotism by Michael Parenti (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2004, 160 paages)
Try to imagine the brainstorming session it took to satisfy the acronym, USA PATRIOT Act. The solution: Uniting and Strengt- hening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, is not only cumbersome, it assigns the patriotism label to those who support the squashing of civil rights. The subliminal influence of this paradox manifests itself in that vociferous breed of human often heard suggesting that critics of U.S. policies should either pipe down or leave the country.
Michael Parenti identifies this phenomenon as the readiness to follow national leaders unquestioningly in their dealings with other countries, especially in confrontations involving military force. He calls this trend superpatriotism.
Superpatriotism (the book) is, at essence, a how-to-manual. It seems that the America our super- patriots claim to love is neither a geographical or demographic totality, nor a cultural heritage as such, nor really a land of such unlimited freedom and economic opportunity and prosperity, Parenti writes. The superpatriots America is a simplified ideological abstraction, an emotive symbol represented by other abstract symbols like the flag. It is the object of a faithlike devotion, unencumbered by honest history.
When stated that way, it appears astonishingly transparent. But place it within the context of a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy like the USA and things get a bit more complicated. Parenti has spent his life trying to de-complicate such matters and this book is a crowning achievement in demystification.
For the superpatriot, he explains, those who do not share in this uncritical Americanism ought to go live in some other country. Weve all faced that one: Dont you love your country? If you hate America so much, why live here? Love it or leave it. My country: right or wrong. As President George H.W. Bush once intoned, I will never apologize for the United States of America. I dont care what the facts are.
Superpatriotism breaks down the reasoning behind such dogma and in the process dismantles the facile arguments and declarations of those who have hijacked the concept of patriotism. With a familiar blend of outrage and humor, Parenti provides the insights and the facts one needs when responding to emotional rebuttals like those above and those being bandied about more than ever since 9/11. He offers precisely the kind of information that could prevent a debate from turning into a personal quarrel...especially, as Parenti explains, when the protestors are made the issue instead of the policies they are protesting.
Even the most seasoned dissident can wilt under the pressure of being labeled anti-American. Even a critic armed with facts and figures may be drawn into a battle of personalities that distracts from the issues that spawned it. Parenti counters: We critics of U.S. policy are not directing our protests against that entity known as America but against particular U.S. leaders who, we feel, do not represent the interests of the American people or any other people, but who advance the goals of a privileged coterie.
Presumably, says Parenti, we should show gratitude for our freedom to dissent by refraining from dissenting; and if we speak freely and critically we are proving ourselves ungrateful and therefore unworthy of the right to speak.
It seems, he concludes, we abuse our rights by simply using them.
With chapters that address topics like religion, sports, the military, and the omnipresent Were number one mentality, Superpatriotism is clearly the product of many years of dealing with all angles of U.S. societyand the influences that have corrupted it to the point where our level of patriotism is judged by our level of obedience.
If the test of patriotism comes only by reflexively falling into lockstep behind the leader whenever the flag is waved, Parenti declares, then what we have is a formula for dictatorship, not demo- cracy.
In our upside-down world of ever-evolving word definitions, Michael Parentis Superpatriotism points us in the direction of truth, justice, and a far more equitable American Way.
Mickey Z. is the author of four books, most recently: The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press).
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